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Two years After The Nirbhaya Case: Have Things Changed For Women In India?

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Picture: Protestors taking part in Valentine’s Day 2013 actions in Delhi. Photo Credit: Anoo Bhuyan

The 2012 Delhi gang rape case brought India’s track record on gender to global headlines. In #Focus95, Mark Furlong spoke to Amrita Sastry, Assistant Professor at Delhi University, about gender based violence in India.

According to Reuters Foundation, India is the fourth worst country in the world for women. How can a rapidly developing, middle income country with a stable government be a worse place for women than Somalia?

I feel what makes India the 4th worst country in the world has nothing to do with the economy or income, but to the Mindset that is inherently “Patriarchal” in nature. Patriarchy and the norms associated with that add to the vulnerability of women in India. From the beginning they are socialized that they are inferior and subordinated to men which in long run leads to “ideological subordination.”

This further leads to other types of subordination like Economic and Political”. Women never take part in decision making within the family and are confined only to the “Domestic / Private sphere”. And this process of thinking is developed over a period of time through the process of Gender socialization. Similarly, Men too internalize their role and try to dominate, making women’s place worse in our society.

The Nirbhaya \ Delhi Rape Case brought the issue of sexual violence to centre stage in India. Did it highlight an increasing problem or just focus the nation’s attention?

The Nirbhaya case in our country is just another case which got a lot of media attention because of the strategic location i.e., Delhi. No doubt the issue of sexual violence is a social problem and increasing day by day as the TOI report says,” one Rape occurs in every 30 minutes in India”.

Are all women in society equally vulnerable to gender based violence and who are the perpetrators of this violence?

I feel that women across all sections of society are vulnerable, although the degree may vary. Also, low caste women may be less likely to speak out against sexual violence and access the justice system because of the caste based stigma they already face. Also, the perpetrators are not necessarily always men. When it comes to violence against women, I feel “woman is also the biggest enemy of woman”. In the case of “classic patriarchy”, it is actually a power dynamics between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law. This hierarchy between the two again creates a situation which paves the way for making the women (inferior in status) more vulnerable. It is equally the responsibility of the mother to train her son rather than only training her daughter to be well mannered.

Can you explain a bit more about the relationship between the mother and her daughter-in-law. Why is it problematic?

When a women gives birth to a son, she gains enhanced social status and identity within the eyes of society and her family. Also, the son is responsible for looking after the mother in her old age. Women in Indian society are dependent on men to protect them from birth until death. With the responsibility moving in turn from father to brother to husband and then to son. When the daughter-in-law comes into the family she becomes a threat to the mother’s control over her son, who is the mother’s main protector in old age and a source of her social status. This is the source of the conflict between mother and daughter-in-law.

Going back to the first question, if we accept that cases of equal brutality to the Nirbhaya case happen frequently in India. Why did this case led to popular protest, massive news coverage and legislative change, why did it move the country so much?

In present time, media is playing a pivotal role in everyone’s life. Media is aiding us to be more sensitive and encouraging us to think rationally on many issues. Earlier even though these kinds of brutal acts were happening, it was not getting reported and as a sociologist, I feel the reason behind this was the entire notion of “Stigma” attached with the notion of rape. Girls were trained to be submissive, docile and subordinated to boys. Their life cycles were surrounded by men as protectors. But things are changing now, with modern education, logical and critical thinking, girls are questioning the age old notion of patriarchy. They are coming out of their shell and fighting for their rights. Probably all these things together has led all of us to do a lot of introspection and make us realize that change won’t come from outside but deep within.

Do you see the state, media’s and society’s reaction to the Nirbhaya as encouraging?

Definitely it is a strong message to all countrymen that we are heading towards change. And the best part of this is that everybody is realizing that “-I am the change”. The seed of attitudinal change was planted with Nirbhaya’s sacrifice


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