On January 24th, I read an upsetting story about West Bengal, India on the NYTimes. The cliff notes version: a village council ordered gang rape of a woman whose ‘crimes’ were: 1) agreeing to marry someone outside her community, and 2) not having the funds to pay the fine for the ‘crime’.
No amount of adjectives can fully capture the depth of my feelings as I think about the horrific reality the young woman suffered and will face upon recovery from hospitalization. As I write this, thirteen individuals have been accused and by the time this post goes live, I hope the wheels of justice have taken a quicker pace than what happened for the college student in Delhi in 2012.
The more depressing reality is that Indian women aren’t alone in being subjected to unimaginable atrocities. In the last year alone, major NGOs and activists have shed light on gang rape and brutal violence experienced by women living in slums of Nairobi. Just in the last week, Morocco passed a law where by marrying the victim of a rape does not free the rapist from legal prosecution. North America doesn’t fare better either in protecting women. A data point I remember well from college screamed that 1 in 5 women would be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.
A truly complex and contextual reality is behind similar fates of women who live miles apart. If you dig into the causes, poverty is often deemed a contributing factor, independent of the location. I leave the analysis of the causes to more informed and experienced brains. From my perspective, I think we need to talk about these despicable realities. More awareness about these horrendous crimes will spark action and if nothing else, it will create a new norm where women are not discouraged into silence. At a system level, policies as well as practices need to change. A legal framework is critical, but implementation is equally important. The public service sector also needs to be reliable so that women can report crimes without fear of judgment. Moreover, women themselves need to feel empowered. Support of loved one’s and personal courage to demand as well as seek justice will play a critical role in setting things right.
I have not said anything new here and that’s my bigger concern. The scope of change in making this world a more equal place for women seems overwhelming. Even so, I truly believe that if each person commits to being more aware and standing for what’s morally right in his/her part of the world, stories like the one from West Bengal could soon be history. I leave you with some of my favourite words by Gibran: “…the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also. So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.”
– Surkhab Peerzada, Jr. Board Member.