Comment writer Hannah Lay explains why she feels it was right for Iceland's 2018 Christmas advert to be bannedWritten by Hannah Lay on 29th December 2018
The Darker Side of Delhi
Upon her recent trip to Delhi, Comment Writer Jadzia Samuel reflects on the ingrained sexual violence against women across India
India is a country celebrated worldwide for its vibrant and exciting culture. For its incredible architecture and exquisite cuisine, stunning scenery and wildlife, the country is revered. However in more recent years, a far darker side to Indian society has slowly started to emerge. Most people are aware of the prevalent issues of corruption, social division, and poverty but another rarely discussed problem remains a silent killer: the utter subjugation of half the nation.
Women’s rights in India are violated in almost every sphere of society; from social status and familial role to basic human rights, women are seen as secondary citizens and are treated as vastly inferior to their male counterparts. However, sadly the more well-known violations, such as forced marriages and poor access to education, are only the tip of the iceberg. The taboo topic of sexual abuse is a plague upon Indian society which affects women in the millions. It is such an institutionalised and systematic problem that it has almost become a norm in Indian society.
“Walking through the streets was a terrifying experience; within less than an hour of being in Delhi I was feeling utterly dehumanised
The sexual abuse of women has been described by the Guardian as “the biggest violation of human rights on Earth” and a study has shown that at least 42% of women and girls experience abuse before they turn 19, whilst the majority of offences take place in the hands of a family member or partner. Horrific stories have slowly begun to emerge and now, on almost a weekly basis, reports appear of attacks, abuse, or violent gang rapes of women and girls, some as young as two years old. With victim-blaming ingrained into social consciousness (as a woman’s perceived purity is culturally perceived to hold such significant weight), very few rapes are even reported due to women fearing rejection from their communities.
While attitudes are changing to a certain extent as more cases beginning to be reported, the general attitude seems to be to simultaneously ignore such horrors and to accept them as a part of daily life. In a culture of impenetrably tight-knit family life, abuse within families is mostly denied, ignored, or tolerated. In a recent Guardian study of around 600 Indian women, nearly all had been abused by a close member of family and the few whom had reported such an instance to their mother or parents were met with dismissal. And with almost flippant attitudes to actual abuse, aggressive street harassment is barely acknowledged to be a problem.
This August I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Delhi with my family. It was an eye-opening and shocking experience in many ways. Upon arrival I almost laughed at the seemingly absurd statement emblazoned on our taxi window in bold red lettering: “This taxi respects women” - as if the notion were a novelty. However, after driving along the motorway and noticing that every other road sign had the women’s helpline advertised in neon, I began to realise that the idea of “respect” towards women was in fact a novel concept. I had been warned of the need for a more conservative attire, and therefore despite the 40-degree heat I was covered almost entirely.
“To be a woman in India is to be in constant danger
Even so, walking through the streets was a terrifying experience; within less than an hour of being in Delhi I was feeling utterly dehumanised. While walking next to my father, busloads of men driving past would lean out of windows with intimidating, domineering stares, calling out to me, and sometimes even waving cameras. Throughout the rest of the holiday my sixteen-year-old sister and I were subject to scrutiny by almost every man we passed, all while leaflets for women’s shelters littered the pavements, billboards advertising women’s shelters were pasted across buildings, and headlines on every newspaper stand cried of yet another rape of a two-year-old girl.
The very fact that women’s helplines and shelters are available of course indicates a degree of progress. The Indian government are indeed implementing measures to help victims; however, this does nothing to change the culture, it merely accepts that sexual abuse is a constant reality. I am lucky enough to be able to leave India, vowing never to return, but for the millions of young women and girls who are born and live in Delhi, leaving is not an option. They are forced to survive the systematic violation of their human rights in a society which turns a blind eye. To be a woman in India is to be in constant danger. It is to have your own female-ness used as an excuse for abuse. And in a country where femininity is a punishable offence, no woman is safe.