We speak to our colleague in India, Artika Ashdhir, about the position of women in Indian society.
Yesterday saw a horrific gang rape in Mumbai, which is generally considered a safe city for women. The case thrust the problem of violence against women in India into the spotlight again, as it reminded us of the brutal rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi last year.
Police responded rapidly this time, and are making a concerted effort to identify and arrest the perpetrators. This may be because of criticisms of the way the previous case was handle. There are signs that violence against women is being taken more seriously.
However, attitudes to women are very deeply engrained, and hard to change. They have deep cultural roots, and are reinforced and distorted through the lens of neoliberal globalisation. While robust action by the authorities is important, activism and campaigning is essential – and this must aim at a fundamental, long term change in the way women are treated.
This is a long term project, and will not happen overnight. The Delhi rape case cause outrage and a massive public outcry, with protests across the country. However, very little of this translated into long term campaigns to change society, and the protests were largely over within a month.
Much of the response to the crisis of violence against women has been patriarchal, with the onus being put on women to protect themselves: they are urged to dress modestly, and to not walk alone at night. Artika rejects this and asserts her right – and the right of other women – to express themselves while living in safety.
Artika feels that the role of feminist and women’s organisations is essential to challenge the essential patriarchy of Indian society. Young boys learn sexism very early on: if they see their mothers, aunts and other women standing up for themselves and fighting for their rights, it will begin to influence the attitudes of the next generation.
It is also worth remembering that other countries, such as South Africa, have an even more serious problem with gender violence.
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