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[Editor's note: Madeline wrote this essay prior to the death of the victim from her injuries on December 29, 2012.]

In the aftermath of the recent, highly publicized rape of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi, we have heard a roar of public outrage. This is a good thing. People should be angry and horrified that in 2012, a woman, heading home from Life of Pi, can’t get on a bus with the certainty that she won’t be beaten and raped with a metal rod until her intestines spill out of her, and then dumped on the side of the road to die. I suppose it is, for lack of a better word, heartening that so many people around the world are standing up and demanding justice, and demanding that this incident be taken very, very seriously.

Still, while following the discourse that has emerged, I can’t help but be disheartened by so much of what I hear. Reading the scores of news articles and editorials that have sprung up in the wake of the attack, I keep thinking: It makes sense that these things happen in a world where we constantly have to reiterate the rights of women as if they’re a novelty.

Partly I’m talking about the “she deserved it” argument, mercifully absent from the mouths of reporters and talking heads but visibly virulent on Twitter. As RobertMacMillan reports in Reuters, tweets from a “@shivendraINDIA,” who works as an assistant review officer in the Allahabad High Court, read:

    @saritatanwar why that gal was enjoying with her boyfriend? is it indianculture?girl,who was raped in delhi, shud not have followed western culture

    @maheepkapoor. sorry but I think that delhi gals r too modern so that delhiis becoming rape capital

This is disgusting. I wont even insult readers by explaining what’s wrong with this attitude and reiterating its many incidences. (If you want more evidence, just read Tehelka’s report, The rapes will go on.)

But it seems to me that this argument is only the most obvious, most repellent expression of victim-shaming. Beyond is a quiet, widespread attitude that runs deep through Indian society, and indeed, across the world.

Much of the reporting has focused on the horrible regularity of rapes and sexual harassment in India. As the New York Times reported, “Tens of thousands of rapes are reported each year in India, while many more go unreported because rape victims are often shunned and unable to marry. Even so, reports of rape are on the rise, up about 25 percent in the past six years.”

For the two plus years I lived in India, sexual harassment was a constant menace. In Jaipur I was painfully squeezed and groped on Holi, to the shrugs of my American male companions. In Bombay I was trapped in a small alley by a man on a bicycle who reached forward and grabbed my breast, and finally rode away grinning. If I’d had a gun, I would have pulled it out and shot him in the back of the head. I can’t begin to fathom what the victim of the Delhi rape is feeling.

Yes, this is the reality of life as a woman in India. But the underlying issue is global. We are kidding ourselves if we, in America and beyond, believe that we don’t live in a system that takes women’s availability for sexual exploitation for granted. There’s nothing new in pointing out the ubiquity of advertisements, movies, video games, and songs that carelessly toss around women as objects to be fucked and discarded. The Delhi rape was a very literal instance of a very common trope.

In one widely reported case in Haryana in September, a father committed suicide by drinking pesticide after his 16-year-old daughter was raped by eight men. For right or wrong, I feel anger at this father who killed himself, presumably out of shame, rather than stand by his daughter, support her, and prosecute the offenders. Along with everything else, she may now feel complicit in and responsible for his death. It reminded me of a scene in the popular film Dev D, where a father shoots himself after a tape of his daughter giving a blowjob goes viral.

It also reminds me of a comment made by Sushma Swaraj, a member of parliament, regarding the victim of the Delhi rape, that “uski zindagi maut se badtar hochuki hai” — “her life is now worse than death.” It’s in every way an insult to note that the victim (as now unnamed) wrote to her mother when she regained consciousness: “I want to live.” And an insult to the victim herself. It makes me sick, as a woman, to think about a rape victim being treated as somehow ruined inside.

In England in 2012, a 16-year-old girl killed herself after having to show her g-string underwear to the court while testifying for rape. Also in 2012, a Moroccan woman killed herself because she was forced to marry her rapist. In the amazing 2012 documentary, The Invisible War, scores of women soldiers testify to being charged for adultery and dismissed — after being raped by another officer and reporting it. Rapes are disgusting; the reactions to a rape often are, too.

Violence against women is the terrible, terrible consequence of the problem, and not the problem itself. The problem is misogyny, and the seemingly immortal idea that women are weaker, somehow less-than, and always available for the use of men. Violence against women is like the sickening black soot and exhaust that gets pumped out of a wheezing, clunking, dying old jalopy. I suppose the actual vehicle is what is commonly referred to as The Patriarchy.

Discussing punishment for the rapists is important. I want the victim to feel that she has received justice. But it’s no more important than talking about the cause. And discussing the cause is meaningless if we sit around and point fingers. When it comes to rape, we have to look at ourselves very long and closely in the mirror, to admit to what deep degree women are controlled and fetishized around the world, before we will be able to address the regularity of rape.

Human Rights


 

About The Author

Madeline Gressel

Madeline is a writer and journalist currently based in Hong Kong. Born and raised in New York City, she's lived in Montreal, Udaipur, Mumbai, and Hong Kong, and has traveled to over 40 countries across North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Her website is www.madelinegressel.com.

  • Scott Hartman

    Very well said.

  • Claire Gillis

    There is also the argument that the need to have “control”over women has come as a backlash to communities in countries which have rapidly altered eg from feudal systems to capitalism causing confusion and maybe even chaos in terms of cultural beliefs and traditions. Not an excuse but a sad consequence.

    • Scott Hartman

      I just read that in the U.S. alone there are 1.8 rapes per minute/over 1800 per day/683,000 per year (reported rapes.) As a five-timer to India, almost three years there in all (between ’82 and ’06) I’ve seen the changes. Thinking of the U.S.’s treatment of women, the vote hardly 100 years old, there is much, so much to be done on this front. I pray for the family of the victim and that brings about much needed change in both thinking and action, in India and elsewhere.

  • Sneha Bhat

    Very well expressed, Madeline; and I am sorry for the molestation and harassment you faced in my country. I am an Indian from Mumbai, currently living in the South (Chennai). Having been raised and lived in Bombay all my 25 years of life, I can assure you the mentality of most Indians will not change for at least 10 years. The laws may change, rapists may actually face penalty, molestors will get beaten up in public places within minutes of their actions… but the mentality of most Indian men and women that “women ask for it” or “women need to watch what they wear and talk” will be dominant. These will be the same people who will publicly condemn this and other incidents, but behind closed doors, will order their daughters to “behave in a proper manner keeping in mind Indian traditions” and to “not do things that will encourage men to do bad things to them”!

    I have been molested, groped, leched at, pinched, rubbed up against, and commented on since I was 9 (when I was still a child!). I have been told by society to not wear skirts, not wear sleeveless, not travel alone, not go drinking, not attract attention in public, not behave “un-ladylike” — none of this rubbish “advice” worked. I still faced the brunt of being a woman in a misogynist and patriarchal country like India.

    • Maddie Gressel

      Well said!

    • Kartikaya Srivastava

      I dont really agree with you.. i live in noida and girls in noida and delhi wear sleevless, short skirts short jeans a lot and is quite common and i have never seen a girl in such clothes even when they are with thier family. you come to any of the mall in summers and girls with these kind of dresses are common and to be seen everywhere and atleast i have never felt an urge to rape a girl wearing spaghetti top . The perception that you’re talking about applies more to the small town population, villages and the labour class population living in the big cities. And the rape victim that dies sadly i assume must had been properly dressed because the incident took place on december 16, i need not to tell you and the writer of this article that december in delhi means a chilling winter so there is no point that the 23 year old women was skimpily dressed that evening. So i dont see any sense of relating rape to dress code of a women. The other thing i would like to tell you is that a more horrific rape incidence had taken place in japan so called “JUNKO FURATA” case and cases in usa , UK AND AUSTRALIA are countless where bikinis and less clothing are common and is not a taboo. So relating clothes and rape is senseless as well relating rape molestation with your own country is idiotic. You would be assaulted even in a western country if you’re in a bunch of goons. The main reason for rape are-1st mentally that symbolize women as the sex object ( causes-> pornography, old cultures like dance bar, strip clubs etc and the biggest “bollywood item dance”, play boy magazine etc…now with this things in a society a women will be raped even she’s wrapped in bedsheets totally covered) and 2nd reason is a pulse of controlling and winning over the other person, this one is more a psychological reason but not too hard for me to explain but only on demand. my knowledge about rape is little scientific because i had been involved in studying about this phenomenon called rape from more than a year. I think we need to keep children away from pornography, teach them about morals and “religious perception” about sex and help them building respect towards women and sense of self belonging at the young age. Moreover self defense classes should be made mandatory for girls in schools to deal with the second reason of rape.

    • Kartikaya Srivastava

      I dont really agree with you.. i live in noida and girls in noida and delhi wear sleevless, short skirts short jeans a lot and is quite common and i have never seen a girl in such clothes even when they are with thier family. you come to any of the mall in summers and girls with these kind of dresses are common and to be seen everywhere and atleast i have never felt an urge to rape a girl wearing spaghetti top . The perception that you’re talking about applies more to the small town population, villages and the labour class population living in the big cities. And the rape victim that dies sadly i assume must had been properly dressed because the incident took place on december 16, i need not to tell you and the writer of this article that december in delhi means a chilling winter so there is no point that the 23 year old women was skimpily dressed that evening. So i dont see any sense of relating rape to dress code of a women. The other thing i would like to tell you is that a more horrific rape incidence had taken place in japan so called “JUNKO FURATA” case and cases in usa , UK AND AUSTRALIA are countless where bikinis and less clothing are common and is not a taboo. So relating clothes and rape is senseless as well relating rape molestation with your own country is idiotic. You would be assaulted even in a western country if you’re in a bunch of goons. The main reason for rape are-1st mentally that symbolize women as the sex object ( causes-> pornography, old cultures like dance bar, strip clubs etc and the biggest “bollywood item dance”, play boy magazine etc…now with this things in a society a women will be raped even she’s wrapped in bedsheets totally covered) and 2nd reason is a pulse of controlling and winning over the other person, this one is more a psychological reason but not too hard for me to explain but only on demand. my knowledge about rape is little scientific because i had been involved in studying about this phenomenon called rape from more than a year. I think we need to keep children away from pornography, teach them about morals and “religious perception” about sex and help them building respect towards women and sense of self belonging at the young age. Moreover self defense classes should be made mandatory for girls in schools to deal with the second reason of rape.

    • Kartikaya Srivastava

      I don’t really agree with you.. i live in noida and girls in noida and delhi wear sleevless, short skirts short jeans a lot and is quite common and i have seen girls in such clothes even when they are with their family. you come to any of the mall in summers and girls with these kind of dresses are common and to be seen everywhere and atleast i have never ever felt an urge to rape a girl wearing spaghetti top . The perception that you’re talking about applies more to the small town population, villages and the labour class population living in the big cities. And the rape victim that died sadly after that incident i assume must had been properly dressed because the incident took place on december 16, i need not to tell you and the writer of this article that december in delhi means a chilling winter so there is no point that the 23 year old women was skimpily dressed that evening. So i dont see any sense of relating rape to dress code of a women. The other thing i would like to tell you is that a more horrific rape incidence had taken place in japan so called “JUNKO FURATA” case and cases in usa , UK AND AUSTRALIA are countless where bikinis and less clothing are common and is not a taboo. So relating clothes and rape is senseless as well relating rape molestation with your own country is idiotic. You would be assaulted even in a western country if you’re in a bunch of goons. The main reason for rape are-1st mentally that symbolize women as the sex object ( causes-> pornography, old cultures like dance bar, strip clubs etc and the biggest “bollywood item dance”, play boy magazine etc…now with this things in a society a women will be raped even she’s wrapped in bedsheets totally covered) and 2nd reason is a pulse of controlling and winning over the other person, this one is more a psychological reason but not too hard for me to explain but only on demand. my knowledge about rape is little scientific because i had been involved in studying about this phenomenon called rape from more than a year. I think we need to keep children away from pornography, teach them about morals and “religious perception” about sex and help them building respect towards women and sense of self belonging at the young age. Moreover self defense classes should be made mandatory for girls in schools to deal with the second reason of rape. I personally feel more proud to be an indian after the incident because the way people of delhi reacted the incident with the violent protest followed by the whole nation igniting a mass public outrage towards the safety for women–this is a revolution that has happened in this world for the very first time and the rest of the country would definitely learn from INDIA in upcoming years. But i feel sad and sorry for women like SNEHA who would never learn to fight for themselves instead will only pass blame on society and the nation. This is the true difference between delhi and mumbai people

  • Katka Lapelosová

    Eloquently put and affective. Spreading this article around like wildfire. Thank you.

  • Jonathon Engels

    Powerful thoughts, Madeline. Thanks for having the courage to continue representing a voice that obviously remains largely unheard.

  • Alice Zaharian

    Why should a woman be blamed for rape? It sing her fault. Why a man cant control his urges is because he is restricted in a hot country. It is anger and the belief that he can take any woman and the woman will not defend herself cause she is too nice and sweet and she doesn’t have it in her to fight cause it is learned from a young age not to talk back, not to fight. But hell ladies lets fight and if we have to beat the shit out of the guy till he is bleeding in his groin area then just dso it to save your life. I don’t condone killing or fighting but for self defense purposes fucking kill the jerk asshole. Yes I agree also self defense needs to be taught to the girls to be able to protect themselves, cause we cant always depend on a man to do everything. We Are Woman who can do anything and everything. Lets also t each these young girls confidence in themselves to make sure they know how to defend themselves and to not left someone else’s negative actions or thoughts bring them down, because God put them on this earth also for a reason and its not just for the males entertainment or his possession. I lived in vegas for 6 months and I was approached by a young man was talking nice to me and so I am friendly also and talked back, and I had met up with him another day cause he asked me to hang out and I said ok meanwhile my head said no, but I still went cause he made me feel guilty not coming to hang with him. He was trying to pimp me trying to get me involved with being a prostitute. Lucky for me I dint take the beer he offered me and the way he was talking bad to me I was like forget this I’m not going to stand here and let this man insult me, so I left quietly with my insides scared but I didn’t show it, so I got away calmly, and I wasn’t dressed in a way to show any skin I was with jacket and pants cause it was cold out. Goes to show u there are perverts everywhere to try to control the woman with drugs alcohol and money. Lucky for me I don’t drink and I don’t care for money so much to get involved in such disgusting behavior. I don’t ever look down at woman who do that work because I know its not their fault that they are in that dirty business. Some man forced them into it, and with fear and drugs they have caught them up in a big lie promising them the world. WOman have to be smarter and on top of it to learn to use our internal gut instincts. We have forgotten that these days. But in time with concentration and meditation we ca achieve that inner sixth sense once again.
    Please people stop blaming the woman. If u keep doing that the rapes will not go away. we need to change our old ways and perceptions about why this shit id going on around the world. Have the men no shame in what they do such pure evil. I ask who is to blame? So I as a woman will take it upon myself to protect my body my mind from any negative actions by speaking up and not being afraid to speak up. When someone tells u to be quiet or shush speak louder and yell it out and don’t let anyone that u dislike or don’t know to touch u. Men have a nice way of talking to get what they want but don’t listen to them cause they are conniving and sneaky. Make sure u know u have the confidence to deal with the nasty actions of some men out there. This is all I got to say.
    Self defense and confidence in ourselves is what we as woman have to get to show we are serious and no one can bring us down or do any harm our injustices to us. Show them who is BOSS.

  • Christinalyn Tengco

    This is most unforgettable and unforgivable hideous crime ever. Why don’t they just stick their own *&(* and just stay away from women. I just really don’t understand. 8 men? 8 fucking horrible and montrous men and after that they decided to kill her and leave her in the highway. Justice will serve as the Lord says and those men will surely will be given punishment for what they did to her. And all those men who did these horrible crime may our Good Lord saved their soul. I feel hurt as being a women. Damn!

  • Alice Zaharian

    I just re read this article and I want to say something about those so called old fashioned indian thinking as to say the reason the girls got raped is because they are following western culture. What a bullshit is that so not u going to blame it on westerners? WTF is wrong with peoples mentality? This guys who wrote that on twitter I don’t know what their age is but they are not thinking well, cause its like they are raping the woman again with their hurtful disgusting words. Woman I mean all women need to learn self defense to protect herself cause there wont always be a man by our side to protect us. Also I hope those men who committed this crime should die suffering with a rod the same thing they did to her they should force it on them and also for those backward thinkers who always blame the woman for their wrong actions , well All I got to say is Men u all need to grow the fuck up and stop blaming your shortcomings on women that is being cowardly and low person who is ignorant and stupid. Woman in other countries who do cover up like in some muslim countries also get raped cause men don’t know how to be. they get angry they take their anger out on woman and to overpower them and ruin them for life. I say a woman should be brave and cut his damn Peepee off ands throw the penis out to the dogs to eat and see how they will feel when someone destroys a part of them. Let them feel the pain let them know how a woman feels when this kind of crap is done to them. I have no mercy on men u touch me or say something wrong to me u better watch out cause u don’t want to mess with me u will end up in the hospital and u will never heal.

  • Alice Zaharian

    I just re read this article and I want to say something about those so called old fashioned indian thinking as to say the reason the girls got raped is because they are following western culture. What a bullshit is that so not u going to blame it on westerners? WTF is wrong with peoples mentality? This guys who wrote that on twitter I don’t know what their age is but they are not thinking well, cause its like they are raping the woman again with their hurtful disgusting words. Woman I mean all women need to learn self defense to protect herself cause there wont always be a man by our side to protect us. Also I hope those men who committed this crime should die suffering with a rod the same thing they did to her they should force it on them and also for those backward thinkers who always blame the woman for their wrong actions , well All I got to say is Men u all need to grow the fuck up and stop blaming your shortcomings on women that is being cowardly and low person who is ignorant and stupid. Woman in other countries who do cover up like in some muslim countries also get raped cause men don’t know how to be. they get angry they take their anger out on woman and to overpower them and ruin them for life. I say a woman should be brave and cut his damn Peepee off ands throw the penis out to the dogs to eat and see how they will feel when someone destroys a part of them. Let them feel the pain let them know how a woman feels when this kind of crap is done to them. I have no mercy on men u touch me or say something wrong to me u better watch out cause u don’t want to mess with me u will end up in the hospital and u will never heal.

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