On Friday night, a Bay Area TV station reported on a vigil at a local Hindu temple. Indian Americans – male, female, young and old – were united in lighting candles and praying for change in light of the recent gang rapes in India. It was moving and beautiful, but I couldn't help but wonder why are these vigils only taking place in the Desi community?
I’ve seen this headline too many times in the past few weeks: a young woman is raped repeatedly by a group of young men, assaulted for hours until she is unconscious and near death. It happened in Delhi, India – twice, with one victim taking her own life after being pressured to marry one of her rapists, and the other dying in a hospital of massive internal injuries from the attack.
Dec. 30, 2012 - New Delhi, India - A candlelight vigil took place during peaceful protests at Jantar Mantar in central New Delhi against the brutal gang rape on Dec. 16 and subsequent death of a medical student. (Credit Image: © Jiti Chadha/ZUMAPRESS.com)
It’s easy to read the headlines and look at the photos of protesters from a different part of the world, a place associated with stifling gender mores and ancient religious beliefs. Like Libby Purves did in writing a now-viral article in the Times, it’s easy to hope that the highly publicized rapes might drag India into the 21st century. It’s easy to see this as an Indian problem, a Hindu problem, or even an Asian problem. It is easy to sit on our couches in America and simply be thankful that we don’t live in such a backwards, patriarchal society where a female student could go out to see a movie and end up brutally assaulted.
Or do we?
As an Indian American blogger who identifies herself only as Kalahari22 writes on Feministing:
It is easy to look at an isolated event in one country, and attribute the problem to that country’s people, religion, government or culture. Momentarily, it makes us feel better about our own situation, so that we can move on with our lives. We all know that is not the case—just take a look at these stories, in the past year, and you’ll see an entire map of the world.
With the leaks of the videos of the rape of a teenage girl by Steubenville, Ohio football players, I can’t help but see the eerie similarities: a young woman is raped repeatedly by a group of young men, assaulted for hours until she is unconscious and near death.
And then there’s the way politicians have responded to the problem of rape.
In the wake of the Delhi rapes and the deaths of the victims, Indian leaders have made insensitive and judgmental statements about rape, invoking divine scripture, blaming the victims, or even slut-shaming female lawmakers who have called for action.
They may be referring to the Goddess Sita instead of the Christian God, but are these leaders not that much different from Todd Akin or Richard Mourdouck?
We need to stop seeing the Delhi rapes as India’s rape problem, and just part of the bigger world problem of violence against women.
The details of the recent gang rapes are painful and to be honest, I’ve avoided reading too many of the lurid details. But as I finally got around to catching up about the Steubenville rapes, and the home videos and tweets about the brutality, I’m reminded of another gang rape of a teenage girl.
In 2007, another girl was passed out and repeatedly raped by a group of De Anza College baseball players at a San Jose house party. But in that instance, three women from the college’s soccer team also happened to be at the party, and they suspected something very wrong was taking place in the locked room. The women forced the door open, rescued the girl and had her rushed to the hospital.
For lack of evidence, and amidst a lot of political dispute, De Anza rape was never brought to criminal trial. But I can’t help thinking about it as I read about the stories out of India and Ohio. Those soccer players weren’t just looking after their own teammates. Something bad was happening to another woman. They didn’t know her, but they knew they had to do something.
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