The Plight of the Indian Woman

I’m angry today and I’m afraid I’m probably going to make you angry too. A reader sent in a link last week that took me down a path from amusement to annoyance to flat out rage. So, of course, I had to share. (TRIGGER WARNING for descriptions of rape & victim blaming).

Here’s where it started. A government official in the Indian state of Haryana is blaming fast food (among other things) for the high incidents of rape in the state. Jitender Chhatar claims that hot food (both in temperature and in spiciness) contributes to the faster production of sex hormones and this evokes urges to commit these crimes.

I’ll just let that sink in for a minute.

“To my understanding, consumption of fast food contributes to such incidents. Chowmein leads to hormonal imbalance evoking an urge to indulge in such acts. You also know the impact of chowmein, which is a spicy food, on our body. Hence, our elders also advised to consume light and nutritious food,” The Times of India quoted Jitender Chhatar as saying.

“When we eat fast food, heat is produced in the body and this leads to faster production of sex hormones. There is no doubt about this. We should therefore consume cold things. And we should adopt Indian culture,” Chhatar said, according to Outlook India.

Right. Because traditional Indian food is so well known for being bland… and… cold?

So yeah, there’s that and it’s stupid and bad science but it’s just one guy and stupid happens. Unfortunately, the article piqued my interest and I wanted to learn more. As it turns out, Chhatar was responding to another proposal being voted on to help with the problem of rape in the state. Haryana saw an average of 60 rapes per month in 2011 and the community has been vocally calling on government leaders to do more to solve this problem. So, in an almost textbook display of victim blaming, other leaders are advocating lowering the marriage age for girls from 18 to 16.

Last week, khap panchayats had evoked outrage after Sube Singh, a khap leader, advocated lowering of age of marriage for girls from 18 years to 16 years on the grounds that young girls are vulnerable to rapes and should be married off earlier.

This is a fantastic example of the ability for people in power to be blind to the actual cause of issues. Instead of focusing on the lack of action against rapists. This post over at the New York Times discusses some of the other ridiculous ‘reasons’ that are being given for the rapes. Aside from spicy food, television and the freedom that young people have to mingle with members of the opposite sex are being blamed. And some are saying that the rapes aren’t really rapes at all:

Dharambir Goyat, spokesman for the Congress Party in Haryana, said that he thought 90 percent rapes began with consensual sex.  ”I don’t feel any hesitation in saying that 90 percent of the girls want to have sex intentionally but they don’t know that they would be gang-raped further as they find some lusty and pervasive people in the way ahead.”

Time and again, women in India (and, indeed, around the world) are being blamed for the crimes being committed against them. A 16-year-old girl in Haryana was raped by 12 men in September who threatened to kill her if she told anyone. She did not tell anyone but her attackers recorded the incident and the girl’s father saw it and committed suicide.

When a 13-year-old school girl in Fatehabad reported that she had been repeatedly raped by a 60-year-old fruit vendor over the course of 4 months, the man was arrested but the girl and her two sisters were expelled from school. And time and again, government and law enforcement simply refuse to acknowledge the rapes at all.

“The whole attitude of the police is so anti-women,” says Kavita Srivastava, national secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties,“There is the breakdown of the criminal justice system on one hand and the lack of an enabling environment for women on the other. In this kind of environment there can be no justice.”

The prospects for change aren’t looking great. A recent global survey ranked India at 115 out of 128 countries when it came to economical empowerment of women:

“The country has anti-discrimination legislation in place designed to protect women, yet implementation has a long way to go. Each year, approximately 1,000 ‘honour killings’ are perpetrated against Indian women.

“Along with female feticide and infanticide, acid attacks, rape, and sexual harassment, honour killings are both the symptoms of and catalysts for women’s dis-empowerment.

“Forty-five percent of women believe that they’re treated unfairly at work because of their gender; many others struggle to rejoin the workforce after giving birth. More than 50 percent of women report safety concerns related to commuting.”

Over and over, I found examples of how the world’s largest democracy continues to treat half its population as second-class citizens in every aspect of daily life. There’s currently a campaign to change traffic laws in the country because women on two-wheelers are not required to wear helmets. Public transportation has ‘women’s coaches’ and very bad things happen to women who refuse to use them.

Luckily, the world is changing. More and more Indian women are breaking free of the male-dominated societal norms. They’re getting educations and working outside the homes. The IT industry in particular, has been pivotal in this, as one of the largest recruiters in the country. This year, a group of Indian women farmers were featured on World Food Day for the progress they’re making against hunger, malnutrition and climate change. The current president of India and the Leader of the Opposition are both women. In 2010, the Indian Constitution was amended to ensure that 1/3 of seats in Parliament and State Assemblies were reserved for women. And the Mindy Project is really, really funny.

Hopefully with education and more lights being shone on these deep dark issues, Indian women will someday find the equal footing in society that they deserve. In the meantime, I’ll probably just still be really angry for a while.

Featured image & all photos courtesy Lucia D’Souza



Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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  1. Masala Skeptic,

    Fast food being blamed for rape? This is the first time I’ve heard that excuse. Seems like unfortunately some people will look for any excuse to blame anyone or anything other than the perpetrators, whenever a women is raped. Why is that? Is it just shear sexism?

  2. Unfortunately in Indian, there is a bad situation that shows no clear hope for remedy. I’m of Indian background I feel quite a loss about what to do to help…

  3. Wow, Maria. Thank you for this. I had no idea. I always pictured India as being a lot more forward than the countries to its west; I was sadly mistaken.

  4. If the age for marriage were lowered to 12 and made compulsory, the problem of rape would be eliminated altogether. There is no doubt about this.

    Seriously though, I think you are right, that the solution lies in education of women and equal participation in the workplace. Economic empowerment is the key.

    1. Jack99,

      The whole idea that marriage equals not getting raped is ridiculous. For one thing, that ignores the issue of Marital rape, not mention people raping you who are not your husband. Anyway, I think pretty much anyone who is not an adult shouldn’t be considered mature to get married.

      1. I originally had \snark\ at the end of that first paragraph! I thought the words “there is no doubt about this” made it clear that I was mocking Jitender Chhatar.

        Obviously not. I apologise for being unclear.

  5. This story does indeed make me angry.
    I just hope this outcome doesn’t happen in the US as well. Because at times, it does seem we’re heading in such a direction.
    I don’t know, perhaps I’m overreacting.

    I do get a sense of hope in the closing paragraphs, though. Let’s hope that trend continues.

    1. It does seem that way, doesn’t it. The psychology is very similar actually among those who want to limit women’s rights here.

      The difference is that women here have gotten used to speaking up and making issue whereas in India there are very old customs which on the whole, relegate them to a very quiet, very submissive role and breaking from that role brings a lot of shame.

      In some ways Hinduism is far more insidious towards women than Christianity is because there are many many volumes of religious literature that describe a woman’s place in society in horrific detail and many gurus who spout this as truth, and even though people aren’t as religious these days, this age old thinking is quite codified into the culture.

      I have some hope for India certainly, but I think it’s a very dire situation that doesn’t promise to change very much anytime soon.

  6. Maria, or Dr. dr. professor, are honour murders a part of Hindu culture or is that mostly a Muslim thing?

    1. Jack99,

      I don’t really know if its mostly a “Muslim thing,” as you put it, but its certainly not just Muslims that do it.

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