By Alpana Varma in Switzerland
ZURICH: The dire situation of Indian women is now under the spotlight in the European media and daily incidents of violence are being reported with alacrity along with statistics and analyses to show India’s disastrous record in ensuring women’s safety and their rights.
‘Too few women, too much violence’, is the running theme of discussions as the long held deference for India’s ancient culture and spirituality crumbles before the stark images of a country perpetuating ‘rape culture’.
While the heinous crime of December 16 has rocked the nation for its brutality, violence against women is part of daily life in India, according to Swiss daily `Tages Anzeiger’. The incident has clearly stirred a lot of emotion here as well.
For the last few years, the Swiss media has been chronicling the rise of India as a growth engine, an economic power, with occasional negative reports of corruption at the time of the Commonwealth Games, the Telecom scandal, etc.
But since late December, it is just statistics, interviews and reports to prove that India is a misogynist society that has totally failed one half of its billion-strong population as it strives superpower status.
Earlier trips to India for ayurvedic treatment or a visit to the Taj Mahal, while evoking shock at the poverty, were followed by a quick atonement, “but the poor in India are so happy.’’
Now there is a touch of neo-colonial patronising in the coverage, implying ‘us’ the civilised Europe are different as such things do not happen and it is the ‘other’, the primitive societies (like India), which tolerate atrocities against women.
Even as figures show high rape and low conviction rates in the US or the UK, the European media has also found other reasons for India-bashing: its skewed gender ratio and the practice of dowry which is causing ‘parents to kill their daughters’.
“If she has not been killed in the womb, she lives with the inevitable fate of being raped,’’ Ms Dagmar Hellman Rajagayanam, professor of south Asia affairs at the University of Passau, was quoted as saying in the popular German magazine ‘Focus’.
And such a simplistic understanding of Indian society comes from an expert who claims to have been visiting India for the last 40 years. Such is the confusion that often questions are raised about the rape victim’s caste and if she was attacked because of her caste.
Dagmar, an ardent India basher, describes India as the world’s most ‘anti-women’ nation. “Nowhere in the world, not even in Afghanistan, Somalia or Saudi Arabia, are women treated with such contempt and brutality as in India,” according to her. This remark drew strong reaction from some readers.
She recalls watching movies in India and discovering to her horror, “as soon as the rape scene began, all the men started jumping and clapping.’ She adds, “Rape is not a crime in India, rather a peccadillo.”
It is if the dirty linen has not been washed in public, each day the European media reports on a new skeleton coming out of the cupboard with a fresh report of a gang rape committed in some part of India.
Prime-time Swiss news program, ‘10 to 10’ showed a woman called Shabnam who had been gang-raped at age 17 and 10 years on is still awaiting justice. Her father, meanwhile, killed himself unable to overcome the shock and sorrow.
The apathetic police and justice system all collude to maintain a patriarchal order and deny women their right to be free and safe, according to the program.
Some publications tread more cautiously and try to tone down prejudice by getting Indian writers to do the talking. Thus Der Spiegel Online, the English supplement of Germany’s news magazine of the same name, carried an article by Kishwar Desai on the subject. As did Tages Anzeiger by carrying a full-page interview with Sonia Faliero.
Both writers described the harrowing experiences that women undergo daily, especially in Delhi and other parts of north India, with explicit lechery, lewd remarks and the groping and rubbing.
Eve-teasing, the Indian euphemism for all this, is also inviting jeers in the media here, as it implies that women provoked their harassment, much like Eve tempted Adam.
Dagmar continues her diatribe by describing how it is impossible for a single woman to live alone in India without being completely harassed and hounded out.
Tages Anzeiger carried a report about women workers at construction sites near Delhi, saying how the sign says, ‘Men at Work’ but all that one sees is women at work while their children are playing amid heaps of cement and other building material. The report adds that women construction workers in India earn wages far below the men even as they are far more vulnerable to exploitation.
Clearly, ‘incredible’ India has suddenly slipped into an area of darkness and it may require a huge effort and considerable time before India can restore its image and launch another tourism campaign.
While the success of Europe in guaranteeing equal privileges to women is being flaunted, there is little mention of the persistent misogynistic elements in every society and how these get compounded by poverty and underdevelopment in India.
Perhaps the recent economic success of India had blinded the world to its enduring, extreme poverty. And now suddenly all myths have been broken.