*Trigger Warning: contains potentially disturbing material of rape and violence against women
Last year, I wrote a post saying that rape was not just India’s problem. It was my response to the gang rape of a 23 year old woman in Delhi during December 2012. More specifically, it was my response to the Western media who at the time painted a picture of Indian men as some kind of monstrous sub-species who rape and brutalise their women. One article even described them as “hyena-like”. At the time, I couldn’t help but feel that the media were conveniently dismissing rape as a Third World problem.
Sadly today though, the news stories of crimes against Indian and South Asian women keep coming. The gang rape and hanging of two Indian teenagers; the stoning of a pregnant woman in Lahore, killed by her own family for marrying for love; the Pakistani woman with learning difficulties who was forced to marry a Pakistani man just so he could stay in the UK– and forced to have his baby. And these are just the ones that made the news. Think of the hundreds of incidences of forced marriage, rape and domestic abuse against Asian women that simply don’t get reported.
Perhaps there is a bit of media frenzy right now, but we cannot deny the increased frequency of these stories. Moreover we cannot afford to be in denial that South Asian culture has a problem. In my post last year, I naively said that rape and misogyny are two separate issues. Today I stand corrected. It’s precisely because of Asian misogynistic culture that our women are raped, attacked and brutalised. Not all Asian men are like this I am compelled to add at this point. But we all know that these attitudes exist in our culture.
And let’s be clear about one more thing: rape is not about sex, it’s certainly not about love, it’s not even about lust. It’s about male entitlement: the fact that the attacker thinks he can simply take what he wants from a woman’s body, without her consent and without any regard for her.
And while, perhaps Asian men are not more hyena like or more monstrous than other race, it seems our culture lets them get away with more incidences. The Indian press recently claimed:
“…for centuries upper-caste Hindus were free to attack, rape and even murder those in low castes with impunity. Known victims of rape are often ostracized by their families and villages, so for years many rapes were kept quiet and never reported.”
It sounds familiar doesn’t it? Fear of shame and humiliation brought on the girl’s family keeps her quiet. As Asians we all know that honour, and subsequently shame are such a big deal in our culture that victims won’t speak up. And this perpetuates male dominance over women.
I’m certainly not saying that it’s just India or South East Asia that has these problems. Just two weeks ago, American Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree, in ‘retribution’ against all the women he claims rejected him and wouldn’t sleep with him. He killed men and women, but in his manifesto he explicitly blames women for his crime.
And then I’m saddened even more that misogyny is not just confined to one corner, one continent of the globe. We see that it can’t be explained away by being a Third World problem, stemming from so-called backwards Eastern religions or cultural practises. No misogyny, rape, male entitlement, violence against women are rife everywhere, in every society and every culture. But it makes me hang my head in shame to think that there seem to be so many occurrences amongst South Asians.
One commentator on Twitter said we need to stop the rape of Indian women. Well we need to stop the rape of all women, full stop. This is much is clear. But we also need to address the attitudes behind the acts in order to see that end. Only a cultural shift stemming from a complete change in mind- set will do this. Our sons need to be taught to value women. Crass comments against women (like that of footballer Joey Barton on last week’s BBC Question Time) need to be exposed as sexist and frankly unacceptable- not laughed away as a good analogy or because he later apologised.
And no more so is this true in the Asian culture. We need to change this dehumanising culture against our women.