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Looking east in disgust: Delhi rape through eyes of the west

by Sandip Roy  Jan 3, 2013 13:55 IST

#Delhi gangrape   #Libby Purves   #MediaRoundUp  

We are sorry but the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is now closed indefinitely.

If there is one thing the Delhi gang rape has done it has apparently shattered the West’s Bollywood fantasies about India.

“Good. About time too,” writes Libby Purves in The Times. "We in the West enjoy an image of India: industrious ambition, rising economy, colour and vigour. We romanticise it, cooing at garlands and tuk-tuks in films such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."

The reality of India, huffs Purves is “murderous hyena-like male contempt”. Britain, she complains, just “tends to sentimentality” about its jewel in the crown and ignores “the ugly faultline in the world’s biggest democracy.”

Purves says now the west is “looking eastward in disgust.”

Wow! In the world according to Purves, the great silver lining of this appalling tragedy is that Brits can get over their Raj nostalgia because guess what, your Passage to India now comes with a travel advisory. Girls, Dr Aziz is a monster after all — a murderous hyena in fact.

The brutal gangrape of a young woman in New Delhi this month has cast a cold light on how badly India treats its women. AP

Purves is not alone in looking eastward in disgust. Though they come minus her crumpets-and-tea-shock, The New York Times editorial is blunt.

The brutal gangrape of a young woman in New Delhi this month has cast a cold light on how badly India treats its women.

The young woman who died could have been an exemplar of India Aspiring success story writes Basharat Peer in The New Yorker — the village girl  striving to get out of confines of the one-bedroom flat on the back of her education, the father who sold ancestral land to finance that dream. “India prides itself on its democratic polity, on greater social mobility and freedoms than most countries in the neighborhood,” writes Peer. Instead it now has to deal with the humiliation of exposure before the world for what Reuters dubs its “rape culture”.

The gangrape in Delhi has reverberated all across the world. In trying to somehow find an explanation for both the brutality of the assault, and the explosive protest movement that came in its wake, it's easy to somehow make this a story about some peculiar form of Indian perversity, the dark, dark truth that roils underneath those glossy Incredible India posters.

But the west should look in its own backyard before pointing fingers at India writes Elmer O’Toole in The Guardian.  If the conviction rates are appalling in India they are just as bad in the US. Actually they are worse writes O’Toole.

“In the US only 24% of alleged rapes even result in an arrest, never mind a conviction.” If you are shocked by the statistic that a woman is raped in Delhi every 14 hours, “in England and Wales, which has a population about 3.5 times that of Delhi, we find a figure for recorded rapes of women that is proportionately four times larger.”

And as for all that finger-wagging about victim-shaming and the stigma of rape, guess what? There’s nothing terribly Indian about that either.

Owen Jones writes in The Independent about an Amnesty poll from a few years ago:

The Amnesty poll found that a third of Britons believed a woman acting flirtatiously was partly or completely to blame for being raped, while over a quarter found women who were wearing revealing clothes or were drunk shared responsibility.

Even leering men are not an Indian subspecies of the sub-human. Jones points out:

In a poll by End Violence Against Women this year, 41 per cent of women aged between 18 and 34 had experienced unwanted sexual attention in London.

As for cops who don’t care, Faiza Khan tweets  "Reminder to Libby Purves, the 1st victim of Brit Rochdale sex trafficking ring who went to police was ignored due to her sexual history.”

The numbers are worth noting because women’s rights have traditionally been the litmus test of civilization, the mark of a developed society. So the war in Afghanistan was justified partly on the grounds of how badly the Taliban treated the women of Afghanistan. It has always been, writes O’Toole a double-headed battering ram.

Attitudes towards women in the east were once used by colonialists to, first, prop up the logic of cultural superiority that justified unequal power relations (the "white man's burden") and second, silence feminists working back in the west by telling them that, comparatively, they had nothing to complain about.

But Indians who care excessively about what the West thinks of them could easily draw the wrong lesson from the likes of O’Toole and Jones viz it’s a global problem, therefore it’s not our problem. We are off the hook.

I can easily imagine that being the reaction of politicos like the  Congress’ Rashid Alvi and the BJP’s Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi who found themselves unified in umbrage when the Brits issued a travel advisory after the anti-rape protests spiraled. “The whole country, including Delhi is safe,” fumed Alvi. “If one incident has happened there is no need to panic like this.” “I don’t think such advisories should be issued,” said the BJP’s Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. “We have our own country and our own arrangements.”

Indeed. We have our own country and we had better make our own arrangements.

Not because the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel needs to reopen for business or the West needs to look at us with renewed admiration for little post-colonial-beta-doing-so-good-with-all-that-IT-shyty but because as Sonia Faleiro points out in The New York Times, the unspeakable truth about what happened in Delhi is not really what happened to the young woman on December 16th.  It was what happened afterwards.

She was among the very few to receive anything close to justice. She was hospitalized, her statement was recorded and within days all six of the suspected rapists were caught and, now, charged with murder. Such efficiency is unheard-of in India.

Irrespective of what editorials in the western newspapers think, or what their own conviction rates are, this remains our shame. Period. As Ruchir Joshi sums it up:

Beyond 2G-gate, Scamgate and Coalgate this is the deepest and most shameful scandal of them all. The failure and refusal to treat half our population as truly equal is an ongoing, murderous process in which everyone is implicated. It is called Indiagate.