I have been thinking about the gang rape — and death — of an Indian woman on a local bus last month. The incident made international headlines. Tweets and Facebook posts abounded. An old middle school teacher of mine asked me about it, and I didn’t answer her; I didn’t know what to say.
I wish I could say it was an isolated incident. I wish I could say this is not the norm, that this is not India. The gang and death part may be atypical, but the rape part surely isn’t. A few weeks later another gang rape occurred on a local bus in Delhi. This incident, like many others perhaps, did not make headlines. I have been told that women should not be riding local buses in the big cities such as Delhi. Better take a scooter rickshaw or taxi.
18 years ago I was in India for seven months. During that time I and my traveling companions met up with a college group for a few weeks or so. One student, a woman, was taking a long-distance bus trip when she was sexually assaulted — if I remember the story correctly, gang raped.This may have been atypical in that it was a long-distance bus, but even then, foreign women traveling alone had to be careful for many reasons.
Mother India, they call it. Look at a map — they say the country is in the shape of a woman — wide hips, big thighs, legs together. A mother, demanding respect and reverence. Yet women in India, like in America, are not treated as equal to men. This has been going on for centuries of course, if not thousands of years. The practice of Sati, female infanticide, and other customs play a part in how women are treated today, even in the more Western big-city culture. The issue is bigger than a few women, bigger than all women. It symbolizes the rape of an entire country.
I won’t say perhaps the recent incident will start a revolution — I think the revolution has already begun, slowly, over time; however, perhaps the incident will move it into a faster gear. My skeptical side, which is not very strong — I am optimistic by nature, says that nothing will come of this. But I hope I am wrong.
Personally, I believe the female sex is the stronger sex. Men should stand in awe over women. Why shouldn’t a woman expect to be treated with respect, and why wouldn’t a man provide it?