A video of two sisters, fending off harassers on a bus, while bystanders stood by and did nothing, has now made the rounds on the internet. From the streets of Delhi to offices in Washington D.C., millions of viewers have seen footage of the two brave young women, who fought back against men who physically and verbally harassed women who were simply riding the bus. While the public, media and those in power were still heaping praise on these two girls for their brave actions and the videos helped spur long-overdue conversations about the violence so many women experience, yet another video of the same sisters involved in a similar incident emerged. With the emergence of a new video, the public's discourse about the incidents and the violence that is ever-present in women's lives took a complete U-turn, with those who were previously lavishing praise upon the girls, now taking back their words.
Further, rewards announced by the government of India to honor the girls' bravery, have been withheld, making the girls look like criminals, a move designed to undercut their brave actions, even in the face of harassment.
What's more, some have criticized the girls' decision to defend themselves in a so-called "masculine" way and others have raised questions about the girls' intentions, suggesting that these incidents were somehow manipulated or engineered by the girls themselves, a particularly egregious claim considering what we know about women's experiences of violence on buses, trains, and the majority of India's public spaces on a daily basis. Further, it's shocking to see that some are vociferously defending boys, regardless of their violent behavior or actions and the debate is unfortunately getting polarized with the public losing sight of the real story, which is the ever-present violence and aggression that women in India experience every day.
The truth of the matter is that the stories coming from India's women and girls are shocking, and the hard-to-watch video footage of the attack on the bus provides us with a stark visual of the horrific reality that women in India must endure while simply riding the bus and moving through public spaces. Indeed since the two videos have been released, reports have surfaced from Delhi that a 25 year-old woman was raped by an Uber driver, who went on to drop off the woman at home and threatened her not to tell the authorities.
With stories like these, it's no surprise that data has shown that throughout India, many women don't feel safe in public spaces. Trains, sidewalks, buses, markets, and other public spaces provide little sanctuary for women, often serving as spaces where it's appropriate for men to leer, shout at, grab, or otherwise sexually harass women. Intervention by bystanders is reported to be incredibly low, with few people willing to interfere when they see violence, harassment or aggression toward women in public. Indeed, little response from others on the bus, as seen on the video, speaks volumes about the high level of apathy toward violence against women in public.
And with data from the National Crime Records Bureau showing that 92 women are raped across India every day, it's not hard to understand how some women feel as if they have little option but to physically fight back.
The reality is that when it comes to violence against women, the response from bystanders, police, and even local and federal governments have been woefully inadequate. In order to tackle a systemic problem, such as gender-based violence, the government must do more to hold perpetrators accountable, take seriously challenges to women's safety, and ensure that women are free to move about public spaces without the constant fear of experiencing violence. As long as the burden continues to remain on women and girls to prevent harassment and single-handedly change the public's attitude about the value of women and girls, they will fight back, even at risk of their own personal safety, just as the girls in Rohtak, India have done.
The viral videos provide just one snapshot of the reality faced by India's women and girls, but the real causes and consequences of this ever-present violence have remained absent from the conversation. The backlash exhibited by some in public show just how quickly society is to place blame on women and girls, even when they themselves are the victims of violence.
From the public's reaction to the videos and the backlash and media's trial of the girls, it's clearer than ever before that without changing attitudes towards women and girls and without a truly 'just' criminal justice system, which takes seriously the documented threats to women's safety, India's women and girls will always be the ones forced to defend themselves for their actions. And one should not be surprised if more and more videos keep springing up.