Many of us are still shocked by the brutal abduction, gang rape and murder of Damini, a female student, on a bus in Delhi this December. I was in India during the New Year, and I witnessed a nation’s anger and a country forced to openly acknowledge its unfavourable attitudes towards women.
It’s often acknowledged that Delhi can be a particularly unsafe city for women. My British friend, who’s happily worked in India for many years, was the victim of an attempted kidnap in the city. She regularly runs marathons, and chose to run down the side of a Delhi highway during the 8am rush hour – on the premise that it would be safe. However, a car door opened, and a group of men tried to drag her inside – nobody in the other cars took action but she managed to escape. That’s not always the case.
Police Commissioner Kumar has admitted that instances of rape in Delhi are at a 10 year high. Worryingly, the Hindustan Times has reported that there were 706 rapes reported in the city last year – and that 40 happened a few weeks after Damini’s death. Kumar says that the number of convictions is rising, but they’re clearly not providing a deterrent.
Personally, I felt at ease in Mumbai during a week’s visit. I travelled around the capital alone without any problems. However, there are plenty of women who live in India who talk about being judged for being in open public spaces.
I recently read an article called the ‘Virtue of Visibility’, by Chaya Babu. Babu reflects on her love of Mumbai, but how she always felt watched. In her words, she says that “the romance of modernisation and glamour in Mumbai hides a culture that can make women feel restricted. Policed. Robbed of choice”. What she’s explaining is that women in public spaces are seen as fair game and are even stared at for walking with a man.
In Why Loiter?, the authors talk about the prevailing notion that women who inhabit open spaces are seen as the opposite to ‘private women,’ and are commonly referred to as ‘public women’ or ‘prostitutes’. Why Loiter? explains that the “freedom to be seen and the implications of that visibility” are that you’re in some way “consenting to sexual behaviour”. Indeed, rape victims are frequently criticised for being in public spaces, – including Damini.
It’s timely that following Damini’s death, One Billion Rising is telling the world that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime and that one billion women will be violated in an atrocity. On the 14 February, or V-Day, men and women will be actively demanding an end to violence against women by encouraging people across the globe to organise local events and to share testimonies online.
In the spirit of OBR, a wave of women is rising across India and taking to the streets to loudly protest and to quietly reflect in vigil for Damini and other victims of sexual violence. OBR was launched in Delhi in November, and women will rise again on V-Day to raise awareness.
I’ll be attending local events in Brixton and Central London – and I hope that you will too.
A blog piece by Sarah Rabbitts, a campaigner in Lambeth.