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Portraying certain countries as ‘most dangerous for women’ leads us to believe that rape is a problem only for ‘third world’ countries. That’s certainly not the case, nor can it be an excuse.
I had recently met an African-American woman in Rishikesh. Not many are aware that Tapowan in Rishikesh is a popular hub for foreign tourists, mainly Israelis. Many of them stay here for a longer duration and visit almost every year. Among them, there are a large number of solo-woman travellers or an all women groups. For the woman Sasha, this was the fifth time in India.
“Fifth time!” I asked her incredulously, “What brings you back here?” In the back of my mind, the racy news headlines about rape and molestation were flashing. Strange though it may sound, that day, a non-Indian taught me about my country, made me relook at things which I had always viewed with a prejudiced mind.
“In America”, Sasha said with a mouthful of porridge, “If a traffic cop stops us for a traffic violation (even if there is none), we quietly obey because we know that we may get shot otherwise. Our colour makes us second class citizens in our own country, everywhere we are judged with suspicion. Rape is a regular thing; many of my girlfriends have been raped – we don’t bother to report it, because we know no one will take us seriously.”
“How about here, do you feel safe in India?” I asked her. She had reached Rishikesh after a month of trekking in the Himalayas and a short break in Pushkar.
“Oh yeah. Yes, I do get groped at times, or cat-called, but you see, it is the same everywhere. I have learned to be extra-careful. In India, at least people receive us warmly, with an admiration for the exotic”, she laughed.
I would have dismissed her opinion as an anomaly, but she was not the only one; there were female British, Germans, Israelis, Polish tourists too. The fact that they keep coming every year to India (despite it being portrayed an unsafe country for women by the media) proves that the truth is larger than the statistics.
The campus rapes in the US are a huge problem which the administration conveniently ignores. The recent case where a promising football star was acquitted of rape illustrates the skewed statistics. Or take the the ‘culture’ of sexual assaults in the US Army, where 41% of women in the military reported being raped by fellow soldiers at one clinic. And the rapists are actually saved by their commanding officers on the grounds of their asset-worthiness to the country.
Hello! Here in the Indian Army, forget sexual assault, molestation or even making a sexually suggestive remark to a lady officer dooms the career of an officer, however decorated he may be. In India, the media actively reports cases of sexual assault. In the past, many cases have actually echoed the national sentiment and become the foundation of important changes in government policies. So widely have some of the brutal cases been publicized in India that that they become top news in the BBC and CNN, even though in the UK and America too, rape is an extremely common crime.
Let me twist the question: Is India a safe place for women?
Well, the answer to both is a big NO.
Rape is a huge blot on humanity. It will be wrong to bracket it as a ‘third-world problem’. Anywhere in the world, wherever a woman is attacked, it is shameful and even more shameful than that is the attempt to justify it; whether it is the ‘short skirt theory’ or the excuse of intoxication or that of regional trends. So instead of tackling it, if we take refuge in skewed statistics, who are we trying to fool around?
Image via Pixabay
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