Meera Syal on the Delhi rape-murder: one year on, what is really being done to protect women?
One year ago today, the gang-rape of a 23-year old woman on a Delhi bus caused shock and outrage around the world. Her horrific ordeal - she subsequently died from injuries inflicted during the attack - drew attention to the scale of rapes and sexual assaults in India, and prompted much soul-searching about the status of women in that country.
A year on, Meera Syal asks whether enough is being done to change attitudes to sexual violence - and violence to women more generally - in India, and elsewhere.
Read the blog, and do share your thoughts on the thread below.
Comedian, writer and actress
Posted on: Mon 16-Dec-13 11:27:25
(18 comments )
Exactly one year ago tomorrow, a 23-year-old student boarded a bus in South Delhi with her friend, intending to travel home after seeing a movie. What then happened to her is the stuff of nightmares, and has haunted many of us since. This innocent young woman was subjected to a gang rape of such sustained and horrendous brutality by her six attackers that she died 13 days later of her appalling internal injuries.
Tragically, news of a rape was not news to most people: recent statistics suggest there are 66 rapes committed per day in India, with Delhi known as the rape capital of the country; incidences of rape have doubled between 1990 and 2008, and that is only the reported cases.
But this one was different: maybe it was the casual brutality of the attackers who had taken over a private bus prowling for some fun and who then tried to run over their victims after they dumped them like rubbish on the roadside; maybe it was the image of the dying woman and her injured companion lying half naked and ignored by passing cars until a passer-by came to their aid; maybe it was the depressing realisation that this case would end like so many other rape cases - another statistic buried in an inefficient maze of bureaucracy and a legal system which still often assumes it’s the woman’s fault: if she’s dressed like that, if she laughs too loud, if she’s out so late, what does she expect?
But I remember how I felt that day: sick to my stomach, shocked to the core, and so enraged I wanted to rip up the sky. And I wasn’t the only one. As the news of this appalling attack became public, it was as if the simmering embers of so many people’s anger burst into furious flame, and they took to the streets. Thousands of women and men - ordinary people sickened by the never ending roll call of shame of rape and violence against women and girls - took to the streets, in Delhi and in many other Indian cities, in London and Paris.
I want to be proud of my Motherland; but how can a country which prides itself on mother devotion and goddess worship, a culture with thousands of years of glorious history and civilisation - how can it be truly civilised when it allows its women and girls be systematically brutalised like this? And before any other countries get too smug, rape is every country's shame - violence against women and girls is a truly international disease.
In so many places around the world, the fate of this young woman became a symbol for all the women who suffer brutality and sexual violence, simply because of their gender. For legal reasons this young woman could not be named, so the protesters and media gave her one: Nirbhaya, meaning Fearless One. As Nirbhaya hung between life and death, the anger grew into a movement, an uprising where questions so long suppressed or ignored were now being shouted out, demanding answers.
Questions about why rape is so often ignored and mishandled by the legal system, endured and hidden by women themselves out of shame or the knowledge justice will never be done; questions about female infanticide, honour killings, dowry and patriarchy - and how they feed the subjugation of women.
When Nirbhaya, tragically, finally died, my grief was mixed with shame: I am proud of my heritage, I want to be proud of my Motherland; but how can a country which prides itself on mother devotion and goddess worship, a culture with thousands of years of glorious history and civilisation - how can it be truly civilised when it allows its women and girls be systematically brutalised like this? And before any other countries get too smug, rape is every country’s shame - violence against women and girls is a truly international disease. One in three women around the world will experience rape or some form of violence in their lives.
This keeps hundreds of millions of women and girls trapped in poverty, which is why I’m speaking out alongside ActionAid and other organisations who are working tirelessly to provide long-term support programmes for survivors and campaigns to put a stop to violence for good. The fact that women around the world came together to mourn Nirbhaya tells us it is all our shame, and all our anger shouts the same message: enough is enough.
In a final act of courage, Nirbhaya’s family waived their right to anonymity and came forward, because they wanted the world to know about the beloved daughter they had lost. She was born and raised in Delhi; her family were from a village in Uttar Pradesh. She was the first in her family to attend college: her proud father sold his agricultural land to fund her education as a trainee physiotherapist. And her name was Jyoti Singh.
I spoke today at a public memorial event organised by ActionAid to honour and remember Jyoti, our Nirbhaya. We hold onto our anger, and demand that the Indian Government enforces all the promised changes of its recent Criminal Law Amendment Act (which changed laws to expand the definition of rape and incorporated new offences including acid attack, sexual harassment, voyeurism and stalking).
We reach out in solidarity to all the other organisations around the world working to stop violence against women and girls in every country. And in Jyoti’s name, we can all work for a world where we, our daughters and mothers and sisters can grow and thrive in safety, dignity and equality.
By Meera Syal
Nirbhaya, the Fearless One. It is a travesty that millions of women the world over have to live in real, numbing fear of sexual violence. Until the day comes when men fear the consequences of rape, there will sadly be many Nirbhayas.
Good luck in your efforts, Meera.
Thank you for this inspirational message. I hope that we will all remember Jyoti (our Nirbhaya). And in future women will have the respect they deserve.
Very powerful; brought tears to my eyes. I will do anything I can to help, in any small way.
Thankyou for a thought provoking article, one person can make a difference.
Thank you for this powerful message and for maintaining the momentum that is needed to keep these issues in people's minds so that we continue to fight for the right to be safe and respected all around the world.
Can anyone suggest the name of a man who is Indian, resident in India, a cultural icon, and internationally respected, who could head a campaign to re-educate Indian men?
This idea comes from Monty Don's Shared Planet BBC radio 4 series, which talked about illegal poaching leading to threatened extinction. There, the view was expressed that someone like Kofi Annan, could speak to the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Thai people, (markets for ivory/tiger bones/sharkfin..) from a cultural perspective, explaining that the demand for ivory, etc, was threatening the African heritage, and it was thought his words would carry great weight. (I really hope Kofi Annan will take this on, and that our dcs and their dcs will be able to see elephants and tigers in the wild). The experts thought that the people targeted, would listen more to someone like that, than to any politician whose views might be discounted as a vested interest, and also, it was thought that any views/campaigns from the western world would be disregarded because of the different cultures.
just caught the end of your programme, is there any specific medical charity that could help restore that poor girl's face? I was horrified, I would donate.
i hope things change. they need to change.
Moving post, beautifully written. Jyoti will never be forgotten.
"...in a country which prides itself on mother worship and goddess devotion".
That really resonated with me.....in a country with those ideals how did it all go so wrong?
I will never forget Joyti's case or what she experienced at the hands of these men.
The Indian actor (sorry, don't know his name) who played the evil child snatcher in "Slumdog" "spoke" out in that he appeared in the production of "Nirbhaya" at the Edinburgh Festival. It was the most moving play I have ever seen and this article reminds me so powerfully of how much I was moved by the play. However, I don't know if he is Indian or British of Indian descent.
Powerful and moving piece. I still disgusted and sick to the stomach whenever I think about this incident and the daily violence women/girls experience on a daily basis in India and around the world. I truly hope things change for the better soon.
It is a very important issue and not just in India. Egypt and much of the middle east is terrible. Japan has similar issues. Never mind the countries where 80% of women have had their clitoris cut out or other forms of FGM. There is huge work to be done on this planet to improve the position of women.
The solution includes education and educating women in particular so they have economic power (as well as the traditional tactic if you're groped on a train of kneeing him in the groin or spiking him with your hat pin). Publicity really helps too so men see they cannot get away with things. This is where mobile phones and youtube come into their own.
England is much better than many countries, but even at my age I get men shouting when I cycle. Also a few months ago just walking from a London hotel to the tube (literally a 5 minute walk) first a 20 stone obese Middle Eastern man lurched over towards me - didn't speak and I rushed on and then 2 minutes late 2 drunk English lads shouted something obscene at me (I am old enough to be their mother). Then in a meeting with one client (a business meeting.... ) an ex MP asked if I wanted "a bonk" at the end and touched my hand (I am over 50). Okay none of that is rape, but if I am subjected to that stuff at my age you can imagine what my 20-something daughters are and how much worse it is in many countries abroad.
[Hello, MS. We were at university together and I think in the same university choir 33 years ago, an age ago and both now still trying to do what we can for women and feminism.]
Thankyou Meera for keeping her spirit alive and campaigning for change.
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