The fatal gang rape of a physiotherapy student in New Delhi last month sent shockwaves across the world. News reports were filled with horror stories detailing the brutal attack, and the shocking indifference of Indian police to rape victims.
Photograph via ABC News
India is a country steeped in staunchly conservative tradition. For many centuries, India was rooted in the traditions of the strict caste system. This system stratified society and dictated every aspect of life. It imposed severe behavioural expectations upon society. Though caste-based discrimination is now illegal, centuries-old attitudes and traditions linger.
The Delhi rape case was not an isolated one. Many rapes were reported before, and many have been reported since. Reported rapes form a fraction of the total. This is true the world over. This rape was brutal and tragic – but it was not a stand-alone event. The difference is that this time, the circumstances and appalling consequences, made India take notice. It made the world take notice.
In the weeks since, Indian society has erupted with anger. Anger at the police; anger at the indifference and disdain with which victims are treated; anger at the slow and stagnating rate of change in Indian societal attitudes. Indian society, so long blinkered and stalling in the face of women’s rights, is awakening. Men and women throughout the country are sitting up and taking action. The laws, traditions and attitudes that enmeshed and restricted society are slowly falling away. Change is coming to India.
Throughout the past two centuries, bravery and anger have gone a long way towards righting so many deeply rooted, historic wrongs. Many of the traditions and laws which kept humanity in a state of iron-clad segregation on the basis of colour, race, beliefs and sexuality, have slowly begun to melt away.
In the developed world, past divisions seem unthinkable now. Progress, both political and social, has brought us so far from where we once were. In India, as in so many developing countries, we can observe that very same trend occurring. Human society is never static; it is forever in turmoil, changing and adapting. When people are made to open their eyes, to see what has been hiding in plain sight, and to care, they can enact change.
What happened in India last month was horrific. It was enabled by political indifference, coupled with deeply ingrained societal traditions. The vitriolic demand for justice by the Indian people in the aftermath is proof that this is a country on the brink of historic change. Women in India, as across the world, deserve equal rights to freedom and independence. Jyoti Singh’s death was senseless, appalling. We can only hope that something positive can be born of such an event: justice, equality and change.