Thursday, January 10, 2013

Rape and Kitchen Fires in India

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woman with her face scarred from an acid attack in IndiaThe world was outraged by the heinous rape and murder of a 23-year old medical student in New Delhi, the capital city of India, three weeks ago. The murder, along with mutilation, of women in India is nothing new, it has just reached a zenith with the brutality of this latest crime and the lax criminal justice system that neglects to punish men who commit violent crimes against women. Thousands of rape and suspected murder cases are collecting dust in the court system and it can sometimes take years for a case to come to trial, if ever.

According to statistics, one woman is raped every 20 seconds in India. Most go unreported due to the perceived shame brought to the woman's family and, if they are reported, the police are slow to follow up or make any arrest. But rape is not the only form of violence, nor particularly the most violent act perpetrated against women.

Visiting Jaipur, I stayed for two weeks with some Indian friends I had met in Agra and each morning as I read the India Times I was struck with how many women were killed in 'kitchen fires.' It seemed very suspicious and it wasn't plausible that all these kitchen fires would occur over the course of a few days. When I asked my friends about these fires they said that the women, most likely, had been killed by their husbands or their husbands' family. I had never heard of such a thing until then.

In India, over 100,000 women are killed in kitchen fires each year and the majority of the deaths are related to domestic abuse and dowry extortion. These deaths are usually reported as accidental deaths. The husband's family sometimes tries to extort more money from the bride's family and if the bride's family don't comply, or more money cannot be extracted from them, the bride is frequently assaulted and/or killed. These murders are labelled bride burnings or dowry deaths. Women are doused in kerosene and set on fire and left to die from their horrific injuries and if they don't die, receive little or no medical treatment.

Another form of torture and a common crime in India is to throw acid in the face of a woman, leaving her with a cruel disfigurement and chronic pain if she happens to live.  'Eve teasing,' which consists of public sexual humiliation through teasing and groping, is another form of emotional and physical terror visited upon women who may be considered 'loose.' 

Women are viewed as second-class citizens in India, as property of their husbands and fathers and traditional thinking isn't going to change quickly. According to well-educated professionals and spiritual thinkers in India, Miss Pandey was herself responsible for the horrible crime committed against her and her male companion in New Delhi. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Manohar Lal Sharma, the lawyer representing some of the men charged with the rape and murder of Miss Pandey, has said that he has never heard of a 'respected lady' getting raped in India.

woman with burned skin becauase of kitchen fire 2. Asharam, a respected spiritual guru, said that the victim was equally responsible and should have 'chanted God's name and fallen at the feel of the attackers' to stop the assault. She should have said 'I consider you as my brother.'

3. A Rajasthan lawmaker has called for a ban on skirts as uniforms in order to keep girls safe from 'men's lustful gazes.'

woman with burned skin because of acid attack in India4. A woman scientist, Dr. Anita Shukla, says that 'had the girl simply surrendered and not resisted when surrounded, she would not have lost her intestine. Why was she out with her boyfriend at 10 pm?'

5. And finally, it's in the food. Jitendar Chattar says that '...consumption of fast food contributes to such incidents. Chowmein leads to hormonal imbalance evoking an urge to indulge in such acts.'

By these quotes, it's clear that an innocent woman is being accused of provoking her own attack, as is usually the case. If the above quotes are considered valid opinions from the educated class, change won't come soon enough this year for thousands of women in India.