India accounts to have the most cases of sexual assault and rape around the world. But sexual assault survivors are done with it and are now standing up against the repressive rape culture that has terrorized women and the stigma that empowers the perpetrators.
Thousands of sexual assault survivors flocked the streets of India’s capital, New Delhi, as they demand systemic change against rape and sexual assault.
Sexual assault has become a tinderbox social issue in India after the horrific rape and killing of a student on a New Delhi bus in 2012 that made global headlines.
Changes were promised, but for many, the shaming and blaming of victims remain and the stigma still persists.
‘WOMEN ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR RAPE’
Authorities, priests, community members, and even the perpetrators have blamed women for rape. As a matter of facf, one of the perpetrators of the 2012 attack blamed his victim, saying women who went out late at night attracted men.
“A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” he said, as he and other defendants fought the last court battle to escape capital punishment.
BRIBED, BLINDED AUTHORITIES
Mahinder Singh, sister of one of the victims of rape in India, traveled for a month with demonstrators, who covered some 10,000 kilometers around India to highlight the cause before arriving in Delhi.
“I have come to support this attempt to end the stigma surrounding rape victims,” said Singh, from Madhya Pradesh state, whose sister was attacked in 2017.
“My sister is innocent, but she’s been punished by society for being a rape survivor.”
Singh alleged that police had “accepted bribes” from the defendant, and since the end of the trial his family had faced death threats.
In rural India’s predominantly patriarchal system, powerful men often use sexual violence to assert control or oppress poorer classes or India’s marginalized lower-castes.
“Unelected but powerful caste or village councils often adjudicate rape cases, “punishing” perpetrators with small fines or simple verbal reprimands,” a report wrote.
FEAR AND SHAME
In the last five years, more than 1.4 million crimes against women in India, with 325,000 reported cases in 2016, 36,500 were rape cases.
Many experts believe that these figures are just the tip of the iceberg since many of the survivors refuse to come forward out of fear and shame.
Many are ostracized by their family and friends if they do, leaving them with no choice but to fend for themselves.
“Survivors face shame in the community, from their family, from their relatives. Perpetrators get lots of support,” said Asif Shaikh, an organizer of the march.
Bhanwari Devi, a 60-year-old from a small village in Rajasthan state, said her decades-old struggle had echoes in the #MeToo campaign that has tainted Hollywood and prominent business figures around the world and now becomes the largest and most influential movement against sexual abuse.
Five men from powerful upper-caste the community raped Devi after she stopped a child marriage in the village.
Amid national and international attention to her case, her rapists are still roaming free.
“We don’t have to remain silent. We have to raise our voice and not be scared,” Devi said.