Updated: Sep 30, 2020
In a primarily patriarchal society, women are rising up to demand change. To demand a certain level of respect. To demand that their bodies are exactly that- theirs.
It started in 1972- when a teenage orphaned Adivasi girl- Madhura, was brutally raped at a rural police station. Although she was living in poverty, working to feed herself through slapping animal dung on walls with her bare hands to sell as fuel, she dared to take her case to court. Yet the court did not believe her and chose to overturn the convictions of her attackers, two police constables, who were ultimately set free. This act was a catalyst for the first-ever public protest about rape in India, and not only did it lead to the reformation of sexual assault laws but stood for a change in the mindsets of India's women. From there began the rise of the women's movement in India, leading to the creation of hundreds of groups designed to empower its female inhabitants.
Although many kept fighting, it seemed like overtime, the majority of society forgot about Madhura and her fight for justice. That is until 2012, when 23-year-old physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh was brutally gang-raped on a moving bus in Delhi, which sparked another round of protests. A few months later, society seemed to forget again. Yet in 2019, when Instagram flooded with posts about a 27-year-old vet that was raped, killed and burnt in Shadnagar, something felt different. It was as if India said enough is enough, and the outrage from women and men alike demanded an end to such inhumanity. Almost a year later, we are still fighting. Maybe it's because now I am old enough to understand, or perhaps its' because technology allowed for the world to speak up and hear the truth about what has been happening, but this feels like a step forward unlike any Indian society has taken.
Today hundreds of thousands of individuals are standing up against the patriarchy; they are standing up against a society that traditionally told them they were less than, and are looking to not only stop the rape cases but stop the mindset that leads to such acts of violence. In 2016 a village council not far from Delhi asked girls not to wear jeans, tight-fitting clothes, or use cell phones as they can "land girls in problems and lead to teasing." In 2015 The Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav battled against capital punishment for rape, stating, "Ladke, ladke hain… galti ho jati hai" (boys will be boys… they commit mistakes).It is a lack of education along with this attitude that women are to blame, and boys have no control that's being spread by many of India's most influential that is contributing to the mindset of the public. Virendra Kumar, a 37-year-old father that sells flowers on the side of the road, is one of many that believe women "Must be covered and look respectable. That way, no man will try anything. A man will only have bad thoughts about a woman if she is showing a lot of flesh. Not otherwise." Therefore, groups such as Sayfty and the Karuna project have emerged to not only fight against acts of violence on Indian women but educate and end the stigma associated with rape that is said to bring "shame" upon the entire family. Individuals who feel like their communities need protection have even gone as far as to create their own "rape-deterrent garments." Computer Science students Rijul Pandey and Shalini Yadav, created sandals that would give electric shocks to molesters, and Diksha Pathak and Anjali Srivastava developed electronic tracking devices that can be sewed into jeans. All designed to protect their peers.
Although these are incredible organizations and remarkable individuals who are doing fantastic work, I cannot seem to get past the fact that in December of 2019, after the news broke of the young vet being raped and killed, thousands of people around India united. They came out from their homes and protested to make sure that those responsible were not let free like Madhura's assailants in 1972. Even Indians that couldn't be there in person came to support from every corner of the globe and protested using social media accounts to bring awareness to the cause in an attempt to make real change in the future. Since then, millions have become aware of not only the rape that continues to happen around India but also the education needed to stop it. Parents are beginning to teach their children that women are equal to them as well as giving them sex education, that India schools shy away from, to showcase that consent is not a choice but a requirement.
Although I believe that as a country, we are far from ending this fight, we have taken steps in recent months to truly make a change. The first step to changing the happenings is awareness, and many individuals are taking even further measures by implementing equality teachings in their homes, showing support through social media, or volunteering their time and/or money to activists groups. Any small change is progress, and as we start to educate and unite, we are genuinely going to see a difference.