Being Female in India: A Hate Story

Her epitaph should read, simply, without any personal reference: India hates women. For I can think of no greater way to do her honor, the 23-year-old victim of a particularly grisly gang rape who died, after a battle for life that lasted nearly two weeks, in a Singapore hospital in the early hours of December 29.

Jyoti Singh Pandey was attacked with her male companion while traveling on a public bus in India’s capital, New Delhi. Both were savagely beaten, the woman raped and then, together with her companion, thrown from the moving vehicle. Her intestines had been ruptured by an iron rod that her attackers inserted into her vagina; her brain and internal organs had suffered massive damage. I can only honor the supreme horror that she faced in the dead of her night by speaking the supreme truth in the light of our day, by laying it, a funeral wreath, at her feet and the feet of millions of her sisters raped in India. Like the teenager allegedly raped and set on fire by her attackers to ensure her lasting silence, like the 10-year-old raped and her body thrown in a garbage dump, like the woman raped in one city and dumped in another.

India hates women. That is the ugly, unvarnished truth.

It is also what Indians lie about the most, except perhaps our other self-told fairy tale–rather similar to the lies Euro-American society tells itself about “post-racial” America–that caste discrimination is a thing of the past. I can think of no brace of lies more ubiquitously told by Indians to ourselves, and they are often connected, as when the rape of this urban young woman galvanizes national and even international attention, but the rape of a tribal woman, Soni Sori, whose attackers’ tender attentions included the thrusting of stones into her vagina and rectum, is almost totally obliterated from public scrutiny because of Sori’s disadvantaged status as a tribal woman and the fact that her rape occurred in police custody. But both rapes speak to a pervasive, deeply entrenched misogyny whose roots run bedrock-deep in our society and are directly proportional to the extent of our denial of this very misogyny.

“We worship women as goddesses.” Lie. Women are not worshiped as goddesses; goddesses are worshiped as goddesses. What all the vaunted goddess-worship really does is to create an impossible ideal for women, similar to the Madonna-Whore dichotomy of the Christian world. It also serves as a veil, a burka to cover up the awful reality that, far from being goddesses, women are less than even fully human in India.

“We’ve had a female prime minister, a female president and several female chief ministers. How then can we hate women?” One is tempted to ask, in the earthy North Indian idiom: Am I to make pickles out of your so-and-sos, your precious ministers and chiefs? What good has their being in power ever done to any ordinary woman? How many rapes, dowry deaths, beatings, sexual harrassments has it prevented? What has it ever done except to prove that a privileged few women can get status, wealth and power?

“It is getting better; these things take time.” Martin Luther King would have smiled wryly at these words; they are not unlike those he was told by well-meaning Southerners anxious to maintain Jim Crow. “It” (notice, “it” is not even named, it is she-who-must-not-be-named, this specter of the suffering of women) is not getting better. “It” is getting worse. A rape reportedly occurs every 20 minutes in India, and we are carrying our hatred of women right along with us into the 21st century. For, as I have said, the roots of such hatred are deeply Indian. This is no imposition of foreign rule. We can’t blame our old bugbear, the British Raj. This is pukka, indigenous, Made With Pride in India stuff. We came up with it all by ourselves.

And that is why this rape should come as no real surprise to any adult Indian. Anyone who has grown up in India knows about India’s hatred for women. And most of us are guilty of lies, hypocrisy and denial about India’s misogyny–and therefore complicit in this rape and in every other. Our lies are not harmless or inconsequential; they have real, and gruesome, consequences. Our lies helped to beat and disembowel that young woman, helped to send her crushed and bleeding to die. Our denial made that heinous act possible, created a space for it to happen. Each of us could write volumes if we chose on the ways in which India hates women, so to my Indian readers a let’s-count-the-ways-we-hate-women would be vieux jeu. For non-Indian readers, however, a brief adumbration might be useful.

The hatred of women starts in the womb, when we abort hundreds of millions of female fetuses each year. For Indians, girls are a burden; the desire for male progeny is as natural to us as breathing. Even before conception, we utter prayers, make vows, observe fasts, bow before this or that divinity, all so we might not remain childless or burdened with the debit side of the account–the girl child. For burden she is;  practically every Indian, barring a few communities where matrilineal systems still exist, must be familiar with the idea that a girl is “paraya dhan,” the treasure of another’s home. The word “treasure” should not fool us. We are commodities, chattel, goods. Why else would we have to pay the groom’s family a dowry for the favor of taking the girl-child off our sinful hands?

We are a “treasure” nobody wants, and once we are here our interests are often subordinated to those of the real treasure, the male sibling. If there are brothers, they inherit the property; very often, the daughter gets no share in it. Her nutritional and educational needs, like her emotional needs, are made subservient to those of her brother. Often the mother and the father, along with the extended family of uncles, aunts, and grandparents, are equally complicit in this form of abusive discrimination. The male offspring gets the last glass of milk; his are first dibs on the money to study abroad; he gets the house. She gets the second-best, the dowry as a farewell gift, and the push. He is Lord; she is vassal.

Her marriage is a gamble; if she happens upon husband and in-laws who treat her well, she is lucky; if not, too bad, she cannot return to her parents’ home without incurring disgrace. Many Indian parents will coax and even force a woman, perhaps in fear for her physical safety, certainly suffering from stress, emotional abuse and indignity, to return to her marital home because haaa, haaa, for shame, shame, puppy shame, what will the neighbors think? And even though there are millions of Indian women who now go out to work, many of them don’t make enough to keep themselves and their children, should the need arise to do so. And even single women living on their own are regarded with suspicion, and can often be refused rental accommodation by prospective landlords. She could, you see, be a slut! No male protector, no male owner. Wouldn’t you be suspicious of such a loose wench? And getting alimony out of a husband in the event of a divorce is another Sisyphean task in itself, into which we need not go further.

So you see, in the face of such an all-enveloping climate of misogyny sustained by an equally pervasive denial, “It’s getting better,” and “These things take time,” don’t get us very far.  An Indian man, after having offered me a variation on such patronizing bromides, asked me, not very seriously I think, what “we” could do to help “our” women.

Well, I said. For a start, we could stop lying.

Some feminists in India have clearly had enough. Witness the young women out on the streets protesting peacefully against the climate of hatred for women of which this rape and murder, and millions of other assaults, are the inevitable and bloody fruit. It is also heartening to see so many young men with them, who reportedly rushed forward to take upon their own bodies the blows rained on their sisters by baton-wielding police. But the real battle against misogyny in India has to be fought in our homes and hearths, our hearts and minds. It has to be fought in our own families, with our fathers and mothers, our uncles and aunts, our cousins, friends, colleagues. Misogyny–the idea that makes it OK to pray for male children, to save for a daughter’s dowry, to make sexist jokes and pass them off as “humor,” to watch avidly innumerable television sitcoms and movies where courting is essentially coercion and where women are routinely portrayed as “lesser”–is always with us. It sits across the breakfast table from us in the morning. It works alongside our desk in the office. It meets us after work for drinks, goes shopping, clubbing and to the movies with us. Misogyny stares out at us from the mirror.

India hates women. We need to face this fact in order to change it. It is the highest tribute we can pay to the young woman who died a few days ago today. Admitting we have a problem is the first step towards change, towards healing, towards hope.

Photo of candlelight rally in Kolkata against the gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey, from Wikimedia Commons licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.

Comments

  1. Excellent post. As a young indian woman I find this post like a breathe of fresh air. I have been reading more and more posts lately about how terrible India is for women and I am so glad that people are finally speaking out! I have been saying it for years in my house and no one seems to get it! We need to stop lying to ourselves and face the truth! It is only then that we can change the perception of women being unequal.

    • My thoughts exactly. We need to be real. How many times do we get the “Indian values” bullshit from older relatives?

      I flat out refuse to go back to India. I have traveled to other asian countries and I have never been harassed, followed, groped. The problem is denial. The reason this occurs is that the rapists and misogynists get away with it and they know it.

    • What’s-up with these male Indians. A new stereotype has been born which is obviously deeply cultural, nothing to do with simply inadequacies in the justice system there. Naively – believe it as you will, I had some notion that Indian men (within a misguided patriarchal legacy) were possibly more respectful of women than their UK (non-Indian origin) counterparts -my random reference point. This has been dissolved in the last few years by these news reports. Shame on my own ignorance an naivety.

  2. strong. whoa. tough commentary. truth.

  3. INDIA does not hate women- some men hate women and other men and women do nothing about it. THINGS

    • If India did not hate women, go back to its history and see what happened to women when their husbands died. This abuse exists today. Only wealthy Indian women have a chance to be removed from India’s disgusting non-protecting laws. Although not to such an abhorrent degree, it reminds me of how those
      “Holy” Republican warriors who voted against American domestic abuse laws because it would allow Indian tribes to have more say when non-Indian men raped Indian women even though these disgusting men lived on tribal land.

    • Jill Fiore says:

      OF COURSE India hates women! Misogyny is all-pervasive. It is cultural so as not to be questioned at all. Did you read a different article? I think she said something about the need to face the truth. Denial just perpetuates this sick and brutal system.

  4. Well..very true..the very least i can do is to accept this fact and try to be even more respectful to women.

  5. Dr. Arlene Zide says:

    A bit simplistic, though I mostly agree. Men in India are really not very different from men in say, the US or UK. They are simply encouraged by a male-favoring society to be more open about how they do not value women.
    But the recent and current vitriol against women (and rape, or abortion) — i.e., the ‘War On Women’ in the US is backed by fundamentalists and orthodox Catholic (and orthodox Chasidic and Muslim) men as well.
    India is much more interesting and diverse (and frequently progressive) than this article would imply.

    • Supporter says:

      It feels a little like you are trying to show off with your comment. Had I written this passionate, important article, I would be insulted by it being called “a bit simplistic…” Please try to support dedicated and heart-felt writing!

      • I agree and why diversity has any place in this discussion I don’t know. And please explain to me how a country is “more” progressive when multi thousands of women are raped every year.

  6. Men hate women. If men didn’t hate women this would not happen. Men need to take responsilibity for all the violence perpetuated towards women, past and present!

  7. “The hatred of women starts in the womb, when we abort hundreds of millions of female fetuses each year.”

    And how do we separate that from the opportunity that anti-choicers will undoubtedly seize upon to call for banning abortions altogether?

    • Goldmarx makes the real simplistic quote into a comment. I’ll reply to Pronoy also. What men and the men and women of India hate is women and their power over their bodies. What is India? The men and women of India. What is woman? her identity, her body, her mind. Put it all together. Result – India hates women. Men hate women.
      Solution? Evolve.

    • Anti abortionists are not anti-misogyny. They want to have control of the female body as much as or more than “protect” any unborn. Being forced to have a child will not make that child more loved and respected. Minds must grow to embrace the worth of all born children, particularly female. It may take many years of forcing “fairness” of thought, more than just equality. Banning dowries with hefty punishment for the father and mother-in-laws might be a good way for the government to start.

    • You should look at the laws India has passed to prevent sex-selected abortions. India has lower rates of males to females than almost any other country due to sex-selected abortions. But they have a very strong right to abortion.

    • The Author Probably should’ve made a Comparison of the Lack of ‘Choice,’ and Similar ‘Sexual Violence’ that is being Played in India, much like in the United States. Along with the Hatred of Anything Female, is Wrong, but not the ‘Act’ of Abortion.

      And Sad as it is to say, those Many Future Girls would’ve Suffered And/Or Murdered Surely In Life like Jyoti, if Not Aborted. So much for “Pro-Life,” if Abortion were made Illegal. Abortion is surely NOT THE ISSUE.

      I see this Situation as a Pro-Abortion (As Opposed to the Pro-Life Scenario in the U.S.), rather than a Pro-Choice Decision of the Specific Abortion of Female Fetuses. Abortion, like Pregnancy, isn’t bad, until Society’s Culture (Lack of Economic/Political/Social Independence and Power.) or Other People FORCE you to make either “Choice.”

      Pro-Choice has Always Been About ‘Women’ Deciding to Keep their Pregnancy or Abort. Abortion was never about “Selection” of Baby Sexes, but the Women’s Ability (Example: Is she Physically, Emotionally, and Mentally ‘Ready’ to Parent?) and Opportunity (Example: Is she Financially Able, Stable, and Independent for her Family?) Not Enough to Suffice Proper Care for her Future Child/Children Or if she is just Not Wanting to go through the Physical Turmoil of a Pregnancy and Birth (Regardless of her Baby’s Sexual Makeup.).

      To make a REAL ‘Choice,’ Education and the Opportunity to Choose Any Other Option (One, have the Resources to Seek Other People For Adopting Their Future Child, Two, No Glass-Ceiling and Maternal Services like ‘Maternity Leave’ so they are Able to Afford Keeping Their Future Children, and Three, have Readily Available Abortion Clinics, if they just don’t want a baby, at all.) have to be Available. India, from the Articles, has a Culture that makes it Hard to Be Female and Have Females. If it weren’t for that, I Doubt Women Would Feel so Coerced (And Self-Hated) into Aborting ‘Only’ Females.

      Pro-Lifers, like Pro-Abortioners, Aren’t really about Education and Opportunity for Women to Make the Fullest of Any Option, such as Adoption, Keeping the Child, and Abortion. Pro-Lifers, Despite their Name, just care about Babies being ‘Born (And Later “Recruited.”),’ they don’t care much of them afterwords.

      “Pro-Lifers and Pro-Abortioners are Different Sides On the ‘Same’ Coin.”

  8. Thank you for putting together this honest and powerful article. I am an Indian woman and absolutely agree that India hates women, that is the truth. There is no hiding behind political correctness to make India appear modern/bettern in the western eyes. Indian culture is deeply misogynistic, behavior/attitude and actions of every day Indians endorses crimes against women and is absolutely responsible for this horrible tragedy. This is not an isolated violent incident by a few lunatic drunkards, this is the result of very Indian culture and society with no respect or value for women as independent individuals. Rape victims in India have to prove they are virgin/sexually pure for their rape complaints to be taken seriously, read about “two-finger test” for rape victims done by police in India, absolutely disgusting. Yes India hates women, I am an India women and will say it out loud without fear, that is how we can honor the victim of this tragedy and many others like her.

  9. Can we PLEASE STOP saying ALLEGEDLY RAPED. Why say this? There is no other crime were a victim is an “alleged” victim of an “alleged crime”. You can say that the perpetrator is “alleged” because of libel laws but by putting “allegedly” in front of a “rape” or “vicitm” you are saying that the veracity of the survivor’s story is in question. It takes courage to report a crime. And rape, statistically, does not have higher rates of false accusations then other crimes. In fact, it is so underreported, and many people recant because the MAJORITY OF THEM KNOW THE PERPETRATORS.

    Please. Stop.

  10. A very passionate read, however, please correct the name of the woman at the center of this discussion, her name was Jyoti Singh and not Jyoti Singh Pandey [I believe 'Pandey' is the last name of her male friend who was in the bus with her.]

  11. We separate “that” by instituting a policy that sex selection is not a valid reason for an abortion regardless of which sex is preferred. Then we get “choicers” and “anti-choicers” to work together to promote sexuality education, including pregnancy and std prevention, thereby removing the need for abortion.

  12. This was a very thought-provoking article and I love the title because it spoke volumes. They definitely need stricter laws in India because these men need to be held accountable for their actions. The sad thing about it is rape is a worldwide issue and until we teach men to “respect” our gender, it will continue to happen. I hope Indian men and women will continue to protest because what happened to that woman was incomprehensible.

  13. Catherie Campbell says:

    Rape is the new ‘old’ remedy to keep women home…gathering water, cooking and cleaning for the men when they get home, even if they are only wandering the streets with their boys. What men ‘hate’ is not having his wife/servant there when he wants food and sex.
    Women are rising above men in India as in all war/poverty torn country because as always she feeds the family, usually out of the back yard. but more and more women see the fight for social justice…and the men natrally want to side with the men and keep trying to impress the men above them (who are almost as dangerous to them as they are to these men’s wives, sister snd mothers.
    But men’s egos are assuaged by wealthy men and the home of climbing up keeps them from joining the cause of social justice with their women. As we know, most revolutions are begun by women and when the dust settles men push them back to the hearth.

    Wives are oft thought of a punching bags, especially if he feels powerless int he world. Men judge each other power defined by wealth and luxury (the ultimate luxury being a beautiful woman)…and man’s illusion of superiority is always confirmed by his Religion any man who is told by his religion that she is your servant—

    Unemployment is soaring in India like elsewhere and the 1% keep access to $$$ out of circulation they know it will decrease populations…they are playing a waiting game. Then they can manufacture less and charge more…and still have their slave trade. Hunger is rising and Monsanto has caused 230,000 male farmers to commit suicide when the Monsanto seed crops failed just in the past few years.

    Men are idle and feel useless…watch out for a man who’s not making money or getting laid…he is looking to injure a woman to feel his prowess. The failure of the capitalistic system is in the eye of the storm safe and warm.

  14. i appreciate the anger in this commentary, but men hate women all over the planet. it should be noted that a large # of men came out and protested alongside women in delhi against rape, weak laws, politicians, and police inaction. to say all of india hates women is inacurate in my opinion when so many men and women were being beaten together by policemen’s lathis during the 2 week protests.

    headlines like these make people who don’t reside in india feel good about themselves by thinking it doesn’t exist in their culture – “in india they hate women, but in my country the law protects women”. rape culture and injustice is a global problem, not specific to one nation, just as caste inequality (another issue people try to pin point on one country or culture) exists worldwide.

    as for the comments about women being forced to die with their husbands and remember that in america 200 yrs ago they burned witches at the stake. i’m not justifying one wrong with another wrong but merely pointing out that hatred of women transcends national boundaries and should not be simplified to think that it only happens in one country or one culture. we should fight it worldwide.

    • Dr. Arlene Zide says:

      Yes, that was partly what I was trying to say; it is not merely in India — the war on women here in the US is very real. And rape is rape/ not allegedly, but in truth everywhere it happens. But as here, in India not ALL men are pigs, and the law isn’t much good if it is not enforced against the rapist, because she ‘was asking for it’ because ……… [fill in the blank with your favorite archaic platitude.]

  15. Powerful article. A big, stunning truth. I feel more like this headline: “Being Female in The World: A Hate Story”, because it is not just in India. Let’s change.

  16. A thought provoking post. I’ve been following this dreadful story in the media, and I have to question how easy or hard it will be to change culture and attitudes in India, and indeed other countries with similar experiences. I salute the women who have been brave enough to stand up and voice their feelings and disgust toward the authorities. By doing this, they have certainly raised a greater awareness throughout the entire world. I fully support their actions and commend their bravery and determination. Fighting for Women’s rights is not a new thing, as we only have to look further back in history and make reference to the Suffrage movement, which is still extremely active today. I wish and hope that the women of India find some way to ‘break’ the long, deeply embedded attitudes and behaviour within the male culture sooner rather than later. Would the West help? Would they want to get involved? I wonder….

  17. CosmosChild says:

    Many things have been written, protests are happening but is anything really changing ?? nothing in fact. The fact is, men are very self-centered , so they do not see women as humans- just a natural machine who is ‘different’. i do not see any change in society – nothing at all. And hinduism is the root of all misogyny elements . Check old texts – women are told to be treated as inferiors, denied of education and treated as animals. Frankly speaking, I have been a victim myself, and very easily people blamed me for being characterless. I do not even have least empathy left for men after that episode, just pure hatred. I do not understand why women are being so stupid; tolerate everything and never come forward demanding equal rights and human treatment. It all started with birth of India and it will end with complete demolition of this country.

    • Men are not alien creates.. they’re as much of a human as females are…. its only because women actually tolerate this shit instead of just protesting together..

      Its both men&women’s fault that society follows such misogynistic “traditional values”

      and i also should point out that women in Islam aren’t treated any better.

  18. Hello. I have also written an article on women empowerment on my blog. So if you can give a back link to my article from your website. I will be highly thankful to you. Here’s the link to the article.

    http://rumbuddy.blogspot.in/2013/08/women-power-can-make-all-difference.html

    Thanks a lot for greeting me.

  19. why are womans the one who have to suffer

  20. Alexandra says:

    Thank you for writing this. I got in a fight today with a colleague from India. In the past he has made some very degrading remarks about me and my other female colleagues. Today I could not take it anymore and had to stand my ground. I know that we can’t make a generalization about all Indian males, but this article is helping me to understand why he is so hurtful to women.

  21. Shame on the indian society. And recently i came across a matrimonial site in which a guy wrote ” want a slim, fair girl with no attitude. Should cook, and take care of houshold chores and take care of me. Preferably working. Lol. Shame on this man. This is how indian society is. They want girls with no attitude??? Meaning shut their mouths and not question any kind of abuse or harassment. How typical. Indian men like and respect dumb robots who cleans house, cook, satiates sexual needs and never question. And DOWRY is the root cause of all the problems women and facing. All the problems root from it. Ban dowry and enforce the laws strictly. I wish and hope for a day when indian women can speak up and have equal opportunity in the society. I pray lord to bring the change soon. Ban the matrimonial sites that use so offending language.

  22. I now realize why most Indians IGNORE that the elephant in the room because they don’t want to feel disgusted about their our culture,religion and their own morality!

    What kind of attitude is this VICTIM blaming anyway ?

    IS IT BECAUSE MEN ARE LIKE HUNGRY DOGS WHO WILL POUNCE AND RAPE WOMEN THE MOMENT THEY SEE WOMEN ?

    WHERE THE F IS THE ACCOUNTABILITY OF MEN HERE ?? HOW MENTALLY HANDICAPPED ARE YOU TO SUGGEST THAT WOMEN SHOULD DRESS a certain way to avoid being RAPED?

    THAT IMPLIES THAT MEN ARE BEASTS! when in reality MEN ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEY DO!

    What kinda of fucked up society do i exactly live in ??

  23. It’s not just India, misogyny and the horrendous treatment of women is a worldwide problem. It is a great tragedy not just for the women who are victim of it but for the men too. Men might think they benefit from it but the truth is that everybody loses, because when women are down the whole society is down, because women are the center of the society and the biggest most powerful force for social transformation on the planet. You can observe how everywhere around the world without exception when women get liberated even one bit and given more opportunities the entire society is elevated in every possible aspect: economic, democratic, social, peace, stability and prosperity.

    What happens to women is not simply a matter of morality and niceness it’s quite frankly the difference between barbarity, ignorance and sufferung for everybody and human progress.

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