Turning to Community, Indian Women Are Organizing to Fight Sexual Violence

Search form

Turning to Community, Indian Women Are Organizing to Fight Sexual Violence

Turning to Community, Indian Women Are Organizing to Fight Sexual Violence
Mon, 9/9/2013 - by Farah Hyder

NEW DELHI – Monique serves milk tea to her guests as they arrive. Small talk goes from cricket to family, with each of the eight other women telling of their sons' and daughters' recent accomplishments. But there is a weary feeling in the air as they discuss their daughters’ future. Will they get married? Will they find a good job? Or will they become the latest statistic in the country’s ongoing pandemic of sexual violence against women?

These are the questions women are now asking in “local support 101” – a group of nine mothers that meets weekly in the Delhi neighborhood of Jor Bag, where they discuss the latest news and reports of violence meted out against young women and girls across India. It is one of numerous "support groups" that have sprouted up across the capital city as families attempt to deal with a wave of sexual violence targeting females nationwide.

Occupy.com attended three different sessions, talking with mothers about the future of the country and how to end the rise in violence against women. No group was the same.

At the Jor Bag group, Monique was the most outspoken, though her anger and frustration became more apparent with each passing comment. The group has gone to the police, she said, to ask for more night patrols and protections around schools.

“The police listened, but they haven’t done anything yet that makes us pleased,” said Monique, 32, who is the mother of three daughters aged 14, 12 and nine. “We worry about our girls going to school and being in public. It is what all parents do, but in India it is getting very bad.”

She and other women here referred to the internationally known case of the young woman who in December was gang-raped and murdered on a local bus by a group of teenagers. The case sparked a massive outpouring of protests and demands from women’s rights groups across India, who called on government and security forces to do more to halt the pandemic of sexual violence.

While a Delhi court handed down stiff jail sentences for the guilty men, Sunita, a 29-year-old mother of a 10-year-old girl, said the ruling hasn't done much to protect women and girls in the country. She told of being at a local supermarket when two men began harassing her and then assaulting her.

“I was just shopping for some flour and vegetables when these two men, maybe in their early 20s, just started asking me for sex,” she revealed. “Then they began touching and groping my breasts and genital area before I could get away. Nobody in the market moved and even as I screamed, I was helpless. Thankfully they ran off.”

But other women in India are not so lucky. The number of reported rapes has increased, including those of girls as young as five. Without adequate legal recourse, Monique and Sunita said they see little hope for women in the country, which is why their group is leading weekly marches to educate people on the street about how to stop violence against women when they see it.

“We are working with other groups across the city, and we’ve heard of similar groups in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune and Calcutta to name a few," said Monique. "We want to get out there in public and start making people rally for women’s rights and protection."

Local and international organizations have joined a growing movement to help make Indians aware of the crisis. In May, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, spent 10 days in the country visiting numerous states to learn about sexual violence in public, in the home and in the workplace. Her statements shocked people internationally -- though they did not come as a surprise to many women in the country.

“There is a generalized sense of insecurity in public spaces, amenities, transport facilities in particular," she said. "And women are often victims of different forms of sexual harassment and assault.”

Manjoo's visit to India came four months after the fatal gang rape of the 23-year-old student on a moving bus spotlighted the lack of safety and security for women, as well as the social attitudes towards them. The incident prompted the government to tighten laws against sexual violence and to mandate stricter punishments including, in some cases, the death penalty for rape.

The envoy expressed concern about the declining female sex ratio in India, which is widely blamed on discrimination against girls. She said the state’s failure to prevent violence against women has helped make violence a reality in their lives. Manjoo said that although laws exist, women are often unable to register their complaints. She also said the problem cuts across economic classes, and blamed the crisis on deeply entrenched norms of patriarchy and cultural practices.

With reference to the new law against sexual violence, Manjoo said India had lost an opportunity to establish a broader law that would ensure equality and nondiscrimination against women.

“It was a golden moment for India to examine whether the legislative policy measures are sufficient to address deep systemic structural aspects, and that is what I regret, that it was a lost opportunity," Manjoo said. "India has an amazing Constitution, equality and nondiscrimination, special measures, etc.

"The challenge is how do you translate constitutional guarantees to make sure that they can be enforceable.”

For women in the country -- which has already seen a massive drop-off of female tourists in the past year -- support groups seem, for now, to be the only way to voice concerns while protecting girls from abuses by the public.

“We feel strongly that these groups will create new windows that can open -- and allow people to be open about -- the problem," added Sunita.

"We need to recognize that there is a serious problem in this country and men and women have to come together to get it done and stop the rape and assaults."

Article Tabs

One of the slogans of the Occupy movement was "capitalism isn't working." Now, in an epic, groundbreaking new book, French economist Thomas Piketty explains why the movement was right.

As credit card companies try and spur consumer spending in the United States with introductory perks and cash rewards, they have raised interest rates on other customers to a remarkable 21 percent.

Inmates will refuse work, calling for education, rehabilitation and an end to overcrowding, life sentences without parole – and “the free labor system.”

Oil spills are the reality of transporting oil – and in the Pacific Northwest, where workers from the fishing to tourism industries depend on oil-free waterways, the threat is all the more grave.

The rage and nihilism that come from the frustrations of American life are expressed through violence.

Revolts are shaking the world, bursting in the most unexpected places, but they rarely take power. Is the big explosion still coming?

Posted 5 days 15 hours ago

The Vermont Senate passed a bill to require labeling on all GMO foods sold in the state – signaling a wave of nationwide victories against the Gene Giants may be underway.

Posted 5 days 15 hours ago

Life in tent encampments, vehicles, motels, and storage units - REAL CHANGE focuses on four men who sell Real Change News, a street newspaper in Seattle. Follow ROBERT, GEORGE, DANIEL, and BUDDY as they navigate the less visible side of homelessness in America. Despite their struggles, they persevere. Each sells newspapers to get by.

Posted 6 days 15 hours ago

From climate change to Crimea, the natural gas industry is supreme at exploiting crisis for private gain.

Posted 5 days 15 hours ago

A new Cold War has arisen between Russia and the U.S. over the future of Ukraine.

Posted 2 days 16 hours ago
Off Our Computers and Into the Streets!

There are many innovations changing how we think about what online organizing is capable of - and building clear pathways to support offline, real-world actions.

Where oversight and accountability have failed, Snowden's leaks have opened up a vital public debate on our rights and privacy.

Two years ago, in scores of encampments across America, a new generation found its calling.

"Water is a Human Right" has made history as being the first European Citizen Initiative to have collected over one million signatures.

One June 17, a crowd of 30,000 marched in silent, somber protest against the New York City Police Department's of Stop and Frisk policy, a controversial practice that has targeted 90% minorities and has resulted in nearly 700,000 people being detained, questioned and illegally searched. Officers do not need to provide probable cause or a reason.

Sign Up