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In India, rapists walk free as victims "shamed" into suicide

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 25 Sep 2012 14:40 GMT
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By Nita Bhalla 

Of course, it's hard to imagine being raped (and who would want to). But just for a minute try and think about it.

Imagine you are returning home from work, walking down a busy road in early hours of the evening, perhaps from the train station or the bus stop to your home as you usually do.

Suddenly a car pulls up slightly ahead of you and as you walk by, the rear doors open and two men get out. Without any hesitation, they grab you and bundle you into the back seat.

You struggle with all your might and shout and scream, but none of the passing cars stop. No one sees or hears you, or perhaps wants to.

As the car pulls away with you inside, you lash out but you are in the middle between the two men, and they slap and punch your face, rip your clothes and pin you down before forcing themselves on top of you. They are strong and for the first time in your life, you feel truly helpless.

One at time, they rape you mercilessly with their hands over your mouth, in the moving car for what seems like hours on end, before dumping you on the outskirts of the city.

Before driving off, they warn you not to go to the police or tell anyone, adding that they have video clips and photos of the rape on their mobiles which they will disseminate publicly if you go to the police.

In a culture where chastity is expected before marriage, where a woman's sexual behaviour is how she and her family are judged, where such an incident will "shame" you and bring dishonour on your family, what do you do?

You keep silent at first, but eventually, unable to bear the mental anguish of this horrific experience alone, you kill yourself.

POISON, SELF-IMMOLATION, WRIST SLASHING

This is not a made-up scenario.

It is a reality which unfortunately is being increasingly reported in India's towns and villages where suicides are often linked to rape with victims emotionally blackmailed or "shamed" into ending their lives.

A quick search under "rape" and "suicide" on maps4aid.com -- a website which documents news reports of crimes against women in India -- gives an idea of the extent of the problem and the torment that some victims go through.

Young girls and women have drunk poison, set themselves alight or slashed their wrists in the aftermath of such sexual violence.

But it's not just rape victims. Even their families are pained or shamed into killing themselves.

Last week, a poor, lower caste man in the northern state of Haryana committed suicide after he discovered his young daughter had been gang raped by eight upper caste boys in their village and had circulated video clips of the rape.

The man reportedly drank poison out of the shame of his daughter's reputation being ruined -- sparking protests in the village over police inaction with only one arrest so far.


JUDGMENT CULTURE

In India (and other South Asian nations), public knowledge of the rape of a woman is seen as a blot on the victim, which not only scars her emotionally and physically, but most likely determines the course of her life (and often that of her families and her siblings).

This is a deeply conservative and patriarchal region where age-old customs such as payment of hefty dowries at the time of marriage and beliefs linking a female's sexual behaviour to family honour have made girls seem a burden.

Women here are still judged -- not so much on what they say or do, their job or education or views - but whether they have had sex out of wedlock or not and how they dress and behave with other men.

A girl who has engaged in pre-marital sex will often be seen as a disgrace and her family may be shunned in the community. If she has sisters, like her, they will face problems finding a husband to marry them -- one of the key issues parents worry about as soon as a daughter is born.

With rape, this twisted judgment persists.

People (which include government officials and police) still judge the victim -- often criticising her for her clothes, where she happened to be, the time of day -- rather than sympathising with her and supporting her.

As a result, few women are willing to report rape cases due to the lack of support, but more so the shame they face by going public.

In 2011, 24,206 rape cases were reported, according to India's National Crime Records Bureau - a figure which gender rights activists say is a gross under estimation.

Until society as a whole realises that it is the perpetrators who should be shamed by their horrific deeds, rather than the victims, India's raped women will continue to suffer ... and will needlessly continue to commit suicide.

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