No Place for Women: India’s Female-unfriendly CitiesBy Rasna WarahThe gruesome rape and murder of a 26-year-old vet in the Indian city of Hyderabad has once againhighlighted the issues of women’s safety in urban areas and the rape culture that allows these kindsof heinous acts to take place. The woman was gang-raped by four men who approached her on thepretext of fixing a flat tyre on her scooter. When they had finished raping her, they doused her bodywith petrol and set it alight. Her charred body was found in a highway underpass.Women’s rights activists have once again taken to the streets as they did in 2012 when anotherbrutal gang rape led to the death of a female student in New Delhi. The rape of Jyoti Singh, theparamedic student who was repeatedly tortured and thrown out of a moving bus by her tormentors,galvanised India. Vigils and protest marches were held in her name. “Nirbhaya” (Fearless) – thename that was given to her as she struggled to stay alive in hospital – remains a symbol of women’sresistance in the face of misogyny.But seven years after that horrific incident, rape statistics in India remain as high as ever; about onehundred women and girls are raped in India every single day. Most of the perpetrators never facejustice.In Jyoti Singh’s case, the trial of the perpetrators was fast-tracked because of the public outcry, and
stricter laws were passed to deter rapists. The immense shame suffered by the families of theaccused even caused one of the rapists to commit suicide while in prison. But that case has clearlyhad little impact on the Indian male psyche, which is apparently wired to view every woman as apotential target for rape and other forms of violence. This in a country where female Hindugoddesses like Durga, Kali, and Saraswati are worshipped.However, like all organised religions, Hinduism has a contradictory view of women. The Madonna-Whore dichotomy, which worships “pure, virginal” women, on the one hand, and diminishes thoseconsidered “impure”, on the other, is very much prevalent. Hindu mythology is rife with stories ofwomen being “punished” for disobeying their male family members or for straying out of the home.In the epic Ramayana, Sita, the wife of Lord Ram who is revered for her self-sacrifice and purity, isabducted by the demon Ravan after she crosses an invisible line outside her dwelling, thus breakinga promise she made to her brother-in-law Lakshman to not venture outside her homestead. (Themessage is clear: women leave their homes at their peril, and like Eve who ate an apple in theGarden of Eden despite having been warned against it, there is a price women have to pay fordisobeying an order.) Sita’s kidnapping and eventual return to her husband’s kingdom (where sheundergoes a trial by fire – agni pariksha – to prove her chastity) is one of the central themessurrounding the Hindu festival of Diwali.