A beautiful 17 year old Indian college student didn’t respond to the advances of three fellow students. So one day the young men came up to Sonali Mukherjee and threw acid in her face. Her face literally melted away, and she instantly lost the ability to see, hear, eat, walk and talk.
The men who maimed her for life? Two years in jail. They’re out now.
Welcome to life as a woman in India.
It’s a gruesome story with horrific images. But you really need to watch it. At the very least, click through and look at the photo at the top of the page on CNN. It’s horrible. Ghastly. Disturbing. And necessary for you to see, so that you can share this story with others. It’s a story about the officially-sanctioned misogyny that is India, and it’s something that really needs to stop, now.
By now, many of you are probably familiar with the problem of rape in India, and more generally, the officially-sanctioned mistreatment of women by men in private families and in government.
I’d written about one particularly nasty recent story, which led to nationwide protests, in which an Indian woman, traveling with a male friend on a public bus, was attacked by six men who beat and raped her, and even went so far as inserting an iron rod into her body. She was left with a lung infection and brain damage, and died shortly thereafter.
The official Indian government react to the rape was, shall we say, somewhat lacking. The President’s son described the women protesting the rape as “dented and painted,” comparing them to a damaged car. And India’s Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde equated the protesters to Maoist rebels.
As for the authorities generally, India’s police have a long history of ignoring rapes. They routinely belittle rape victims and refuse to file cases against their attackers.
In one famous incident, an Indian woman was gang-raped last November, and police of course refused to file charges and instead started harassing the girl who was raped. The women committed suicide a month after reporting the rape to the police.
India is now more than 17% of the world’s population. So in a very real way, the abuse of women in India is abuse faced by nearly 1 in 5 of the world’s women.
Fortunately, people are beginning to pay attention. India’s growing reputation as a place for foreign women to be gang-raped has not exactly helped spur tourism. And the solution needs to be far beyond passing news law. It’s about changing a culture of sexism and misogyny:
Analysts feel that India needs more than just a new rape law that came into force in March this year as rape incidents continue to make headline.
Women’s rights activist Madhu Mehra said: “Have we ever looked at the kind of Indian masculinity that is promoted in this country? What is considered normal for an Indian man is predatory and offensive to Indian women. I think that needs to change. We need to tackle the way we bring up our boys. We still live with very strict gender stereotype and if we are expecting men to be kind, benevolent and protective towards women, that’s not equality, that’s paternalism. We don’t want paternalism.”
And let’s not even get into India’s long-standing problem with female infanticide, where young baby girls are murdered because, of course, it’s better to have a boy than a girl:
One-month-old baby girl Khushi, which means “happiness” in Hindi, would not have been alive had her mother, Sumanjeet, given in to pressure from some relatives and neighbors.
“They would cry and yell, ‘What are you doing giving birth to a girl? Push her off the roof of the building, kill her! Why are you keeping her?’” the 25-year-old mother says.
Sumanjeet says people kept telling her to get an ultrasound check and abort all four of her daughters. They told her she wouldn’t have enough money for a suitable dowry. Although Sumanjeet wasn’t quite sure how she was going to raise them, she knew it was a crime to get rid of them.
At some point, India has to pay an international price for its inaction on this issue. Foreign trade is reportedly 35% of India’s GDP. Perhaps it’s time that India’s politicians were put on notice that they’re no longer going to be given a pass on mistreating 1/5 of the world’s women. Enough is enough.