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Jan 4, 2013
Check out this incredible Democracy Now segment on the reaction to India’s gang rape case.
In the first half of the segment, women’s studies scholar Elora Chowdhury offers a particularly relevant critique of the media’s coverage of this tragedy:
“I would suggest that we bring a dual critique to these events. On the one hand, we see in the Western media some reporters taking this moral high-ground and pointing fingers and demonizing Indian culture as though sexual violence against women is pervasive in only certain parts of the world, and that it’s somehow reflective of deeply inherent cultural traditions of that part of the world. Of course, what that obscures is that both rape and domestic violence are pervasive in the United States, domestic violence being one of leading causes of injury to women, and exceedingly high numbers of rape that mostly go unreported in the United States. Embedded in these kinds of reporting is a certain colonial mindset. There is a long history of these kinds of mindsets; [the notion] that women are the measure of the progress of a society emerges from colonial practices…[and] these ideas were used to legitimize both colonization and also imperialism. So that’s something that we have to keep in mind in reading these reports.
At the same time, however, I think that while the massive protests that have occurred in India around this particular case are very significant, and one can hope that this will lead to also significant changes in women’s position, I think we also have to think about the particularities of this case and how, embedded in the reporting on this case are also certain class-based assumptions about the poor. One of the things that I have found striking is how so many of the reports are referring to the slum colony where I think at least 4 of the perpetrators lived as some kind of a breeding ground for criminals…Referring to poor men as illiterate, as violent, somehow normalizes these kinds of violent attacks and associates them with poverty, and it ends up criminalizing the poor, whereas rape and sexual violence, of course, is pervasive, is systematic, is routine. And we also have to think about the ways in which rape attacks and violence against women reported in middle class communities, in certain elite communities are not exposed or talked about, or do not elicit quite as much moral outrage. So I think the class-based assumptions in this reporting are also…quite striking.”
Word. I’ve read a lot of internet chatter over the past few weeks that seems to fixate on patriarchal aspects of Indian culture and to make problematic class-based assumptions about migrant workers while conveniently ignoring the larger ethos of rape culture in which all cultures are complicit. While it’s true that there’s a lot of ground to be made up in India where women’s rights are concerned, this is hardly an excuse to feel warm and fuzzy about Western culture. Feministing blogger Maya pretty much sums it up:
“While India’s rape culture has its own culturally, historically, legally specific dynamics, it shares this with the rape culture in the US–which, I don’t think I need to remind you, is also really, really bad: It will only be truly defeated by those who believe that, as Laurie Penny recently wrote, “rape does not have to be a fact of life,” that male violence is not inevitable, and that women are not truly free until they are “free from fear.”’