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Opinion: India's rape problem needs a rewiring of society's attitude

By Anjana Menon, Special to CNN
January 3, 2013 -- Updated 1858 GMT (0258 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 23-year-old woman in critical condition in Delhi after being raped, beaten by gang
  • The case has provoked widespread protests against authorities in India's capital
  • India reports a rape case every 22 minutes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau
  • Menon: Many Indians believe that women invite trouble on themselves by being careless

Editor's note: Anjana Menon is a journalist who has worked in diverse markets from Asia to Europe. She has worked at Bloomberg, was one of the founding editors of the business daily Mint, and a leading television anchor and executive editor at NDTV Profit. She has now joined New Generation Media to help launch a national English news channel in India.

(CNN) -- Four years ago, a young female journalist driving home from work at 3 a.m. was shot dead in her car in India's capital, New Delhi. The state's chief minister, Sheila Dixit, a woman, remarked that the girl was returning home all by herself "at night in a city where people believe ... you know ... you should not be so adventurous."

This week, a 23-year-old woman, accompanied by a male friend, boarded a bus on a busy road in the capital at 9 p.m., only to be brutally raped by a group of men. She was then savagely beaten, stripped and thrown onto the road. The girl and her friend, who was attacked for trying to protect her, were returning home after watching a movie. She is battling for life in hospital, according to her doctors.

India's rising rape cases -- one every 22 minutes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau -- betray what is wrong with society.

Millions of Indians continue to believe that women invite trouble on themselves by being careless. Mothers often chide daughters for wearing provocative clothing, in most cases a sleeveless garment or a pair of hip-hugging jeans.

Anjana Menon
Anjana Menon

In cities such as New Delhi, easily the most-policed state in the country, few women will take public or private transport unescorted after nightfall. More than 600 rape cases have been reported in New Delhi alone this year, according to government records.

Worse still, many more go unreported because a large number feel insecure about reporting rape or even sexual harassment to lawmakers, either because they are not taken seriously or because in several cases the protectors have turned perpetrators.

Earlier this month, a girl who was raped in her village by four men, was then allegedly raped by a police officer who was handling her case, according to medical examiners. She had to be rescued by a police team that raided the hotel where she was being held.

Read: Indian girl seeks justice after gang rape

The incident happened in Uttar Pradesh, which borders Delhi.

The truth is, when most women report sexual harassment in India's cities, towns and villages, they are typically met with a shrug.
Anjana Menon

Around the same time in Punjab, another northern state, an officer who was protecting his daughter against sexual harassment -- locally referred to as "Eve teasing" -- was shot dead in public view, allegedly by a local political party member who was troubling her.

The truth is, when most women report sexual harassment in India's cities, towns and villages, they are typically met with a shrug. Slowly, but firmly, the onus of remaining safe seems to have shifted to women, instead of being shared by society and law-keepers.

At a protest rally held in the city on Tuesday, when women waved placards saying: "Don't teach me what to wear, teach men not to rape," it was meant as a wake-up call for society, for mothers and fathers, for law-keepers as well as lawmakers. Other posters saying: "Don't get raped," with words crossed out to read: "Don't rape," were a chilling reminder of how vulnerable and isolated women feel in India.

India's apparent nonchalance towards sexual harassment has escalated into a major crisis. And we're not just talking about the odd sly remark or attempt to grope a woman but far more serious assaults. India's misplaced tolerance has helped this cascade into a brutal, violent menace.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anjana Menon.

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