Indian official says rape problem is overblown

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Protests in India

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It was late one night in December of 2012, and a young medical student was walking home late one evening with a friend. As they made their way through Dehli’s crowded streets, still far from deserted at this time of night, a mini-bus carrying five men and a 17-year-old boy stopped and offered them a ride.

Once they were on board, the men beat the two severely and raped the young woman before throwing them off the bus. The woman had been forcibly assaulted with an iron bar and died in the hospital 13 days later.

The shocking crime set off a massive series of protests as people all around called on the government to address the problem of rape in India.

India sees a woman raped every fifteen minutes. People have blamed this shocking statistic on everything from the practice of female infanticide resulting in a population of sexually frustrated men with no chance of finding a wife, to a general lack of respect for women in Indian society.

The interview conducted of one of the perpetrators of the Dehli gang-rape case, where he suggested that the victim deserved it for walking with a man late at night, suggests that there are at least some men in the country who lack respect for women’s rights.

The prevalence of sexual assault in India is even becoming an economic issue. The issue is becoming so widely known that tourists are avoiding India due to the threat of sexual violence.

Maneka Gandhi, the Minister for Women, however, argues that the problem is overblown. At a recent summit, the minister related a meeting she attended where she was told that India’s rape problem was putting off tourists. In response, she argued that India actually has some of the lowest percentages of rape per capita of any country in the world.

In her estimation, the problem is that the global media is biased against India, and reports too heavily on cases of rape there while ignoring it in other countries.

Yet, many studies suggest that she is simply wrong on this issue. In 2012, a survey of global experts argued that India was the worst country in the G20 summit to be a woman, due to the social disadvantages, prevalence of female infanticide, and risk of sexual violence.

And the low reported numbers of sexual assault are in fact, not an indication of a low rate of rape. Gandhi argued that India’s numbers were low compared to a country like Sweden, which has more recorded rapes than India. Yet, considering the huge disparity in population between Sweden and India, it should be obvious why that is not the best metric to measure rape statistics by.

Sweden has extremely wide laws on what is considered rape and each incident of rape is tracked as a different incident. The atmosphere in Sweden which suggests to women that their allegations will be taken seriously and they will be protected from recrimination, would also likely make them more likely to report rapes.

By contrast, a deep-seated social stigma against rape victims in India where even government ministers participate in victim blaming undoubtedly make women less likely to report rapes.

One thing is clear: Until the government of India is willing to address these issues seriously, India will suffer, both economically and socially.

Wyatt is a writer and your friend. You can follow him on Twitter @WyattRedd.

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