The brutal gang-rape and death of a 23-year-old female medical student in India has prompted outrage and horror around the world. The physiotherapy student was tortured and raped by a group of six men on Dec. 16 armed with a metal bar on a private bus in New Delhi. She died from her injuries in a Singapore hospital on Saturday. Tuesday morning, as per Hindu custom, the ashes from her cremated body were scattered in the Ganges River.
Police have detained five men and a teenager, and are seeking the death penalty against the accused. The woman was raped for nearly an hour before a metal rod was pushed inside her, critically damaging her internal organs.
The incident has sparked marches across India where a woman is estimated to be raped every 20 minutes, with Delhi being labeled the "rape capital" of the country. Huge protests and demonstrations voiced people's anger against the treatment of women in India, demanding tougher laws on violence against women.
The death of the young woman has become a rallying cry against the violence all Indian women face in society despite making huge economic and social strides. The 23-year-old's death symbolizes a clash between the India which has the highest number of women in local government, and the India with the world's largest coerced prostitution rates.
The dichotomy is fascinating because it exposes a country in which women simultaneously have so much and so little power. India is a country where women are worshiped as goddesses, celebrated as prime ministers, yet also raped to death on public transportation.
Why is violence against women so pervasive in the world's largest democracy? In The Hindu, author Ratna Kapur tries to offer Indian men's "sense of displacement" as an explanation for the violence:
... What is the anger that motivates this level of violence? Is the sight of a young smartly-dressed educated female professional generating a sense of displacement in men? Over the past several decades, women's rights have proliferated and they are claiming their subjectivity, asserting their identity as women as opposed to being someone's wife, daughter or sister. And with the opening up of the market, women are more visible in the workplace. That they are entering male bastions of power has challenged the sense of superiority and entitlement of the traditional Indian male ... This idea of a woman as a fully formed human subject remains a difficult concept to embrace.
As a Bangladeshi, I can understand this "sense of displacement" men may feel especially when they are not used to seeing women in the public sphere. But I am also fed up with us excusing men. You feel threatened by women accessing education, asserting their rights as human beings so you rape them with a metal rod? You rape them until their intestines come out? You throw her body from the bus and leave her for dead?
Violence against women and girls, in India and around the world, must stop. There is no point of stacking our government with women, letting them run our country and worshiping them as religious deities if they are not safe on our streets, if they are killed at birth for being born girls.
When I think of the pure torture this young woman went though in the last hours of her life, when I force myself to look at her picture before and after her attack, all I can think is that she looks like me. She looks like my sister. She looks like my daughter. She could be in my family. As a South Asian woman, I hang my head in horror because although I know this rape happened in India, I can only imagine how many similar incidents are going unreported right next door in Bangladesh.
We as an international community need to say "No" to the violence, just as Indian society is clearly doing. But we also need to stop the excuses. It is 2013 and women in India and around the world are only going to get more educated, more powerful.
People need to get used to it. Men need to get used to it. It is just a fact of life that from India to Indiana, women are only going to become more prosperous. It is the natural progression for a sex that has been denied their health and rights for centuries. Women around the world will continue their climb upwards, and men need to stop using violence as a means of holding us back.