Why the International Outcry on India Rape Victim?

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8 Jan 2013 | London

The gang rape case in India dominated international news headlines last month. The story is shocking and at once all too familiar- a young woman, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, falling victim to the most horrific of violations.

Jyoti Singh Pandey was the embodiment of the modern Indian dream, working tirelessly to achieve her dreams of a medical career and lift her family out of poverty, the perfect modern Indian girl. However, her life was cut short in the most primitive, cruel way. The sheer incongruity of the crime has shocked India to its core, and prompted mass introspection on the simple fact that attitudes to females have fundamentally failed to alter with modernity.

[gdl_gallery title=”Protest” width=”275″ height=”250″ ]     Protesters outside Indian High Commission,London on 7 Jan 2013    | AGI

With Jyoti’s father set to make his first international media appearance today on the UK breakfast  program Daybreak, it’s clear that there is much yet to say in both the east and the west.

The sheer incongruity of the crime has shocked India to its core

Violence against women isn’t just an Indian problem. Here in the UK, according to the organisation Rape Crisis England and Wales, there are 80,000 reported cases of rape annually, along with 1 million recorded victims of female domestic abuse. In cold clinical terms, the Home Office cites that the amount of money spent as a consequence of violence against women and girls in the UK (including health and social care, lost workforce productivity, and legal costs) runs to £36.7 billion annually.

Images of candles of the Ganges, where the ashes of the Jyoti were scattered last week, circulate around international press. In these pictures, we see symbolically not only the tragedy of one girl in Asia, but the exposed failings of modernity to resolve ingrained patriarchal structures that inherently define gender relations; the voyeur and the subject of voyeurism, the physically strong and the weak, the rapist and the victim.

Images of candles of the Ganges, where the ashes of the Jyoti were scattered last week, circulate around international press

The retrained, respectful attitude of the Indian media towards the case is noteworthy. In the past, outcry over rape cases has verged on the hysterical, or worse, sensationalist. Media outlets at first unilaterally declined to release the victim’s name until her family gave their permission, and as yet no photos have been released. Referring to Jyoti as ‘the victim’ may have even served to focus the gaze on the crime- nameless, she could have been anyone’s daughter, sister, or mother. A multiplicity of indenties could be applied, making her a symbol of the vunerability of all women in society.Uma Subramanian, a social worker, told the BBC that the fact that she was seen as “spotless,” the perfect Indian girl, may have had a strong influence on these decisions. She speculates on whether the scenario would have been the same had the girl been less conservatively dressed, or been a little further from the middle class dream.

As the ‘slut walks’ which took place around the world showed, the concept of victimhood is a fluid, malleable entity. Would we be following the case had the girl been dressed in Western clothing, or travelling home from a nightclub?  How might social discourses formulated on archaic gender binaries construe her innocence then? As India mourns its loss, the world looks on- and inwards .

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