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    Epidemic

    When ‘Tantric’ Is Code for Rape

    A ‘tantric healer’ in northern India who forced himself on a teen girl has been castrated by his victim—and it appears he’s part of a subculture of sexual predators purporting to heal.

    It’s hard to believe that police would heap praise on a young woman accused of severing a man’s penis with a knife. It’s even harder to believe that such a thing would happen in India, a country with a deeply ingrained tradition of misogyny.

    Some necessary, sympathy-eliciting context: The unnamed girl, a 17-year-old from the northern state of Bihar, was defending herself against the unwanted sexual advances of Mahendra Mehta, a local “tantric healer” who diagnosed the teenager, recently stricken by a mystery ailment, as having been possessed by evil spirits. Besides dispensing crackpot cures and forcing himself on his patients, Mehta is the knife-wielding girl’s uncle. And he had, she claims, raped her before.

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  • Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty

    Keeping Tradition

    The Despicable Persistence of the Dowry

    Washing machines, cars, money and jewelry: These are the costs to women’s families to marry them to 'suitable' men.

    NEW DELHI — This April, Guruswamy, a 52-year-old platform cleaner with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, had finally found a caste-appropriate match for his 16-year-old daughter Pankaja. But the week before the wedding, he was asked to send a colour television, washing machine and new motorcycle to the groom’s family in South India. After grueling 20-hour shifts cleaning cars and working on the Metro’s platforms through the summer, he has managed to make only enough for a washing machine.

    “It will be a while before I have enough to send everything by train,” he said. “I pray every day that they shouldn’t find someone else for their son to marry. No one else from the village in Chennai will marry her if this family rejects her.”

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  • A 16-year-old girl who was gang-raped sits with her mother, in Dabra, India, Oct. 18, 2012. (Enrico Fabian/The New York Times, via Redux)

    Sexism

    How India’s Elites Encourage Rape

    While one horror story after another emerges from India’s countryside, its intellectuals seem confused about where to draw the line against rape in their own circles.

    DELHI — The words “Uttar Pradesh,” the name of the largely impoverished and rural state in northeast India between New Delhi and Nepal, have come to be synonymous with rape. More than 3,000 cases were registered last year, according to official statistics. Nobody can say how many go unreported, and the horror stories just keep on coming. Worse still, in the aftermath of the shocking gang rape and murder of two teenage girls found hanging from a tree on May 27 in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, there has been an alarming spike in crimes against women there.

    It’s not like the rest of the country feels much safer. On July 11, a village council in Jharkhand, Bihar, ordered the rape of a 14-year-old girl as punishment for a crime her brother committed. And this is not the first time that the kangaroo courts of rural India have made such appalling judgments. Recently another woman was shot dead for resisting rape in Meghalaya. Since the highly publicized gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi in 2012, such reports have become ever more common.

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  • Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty

    After Nirbhaya

    Why India Gets Rape So Wrong

    A Delhi court’s ruling that forced marital intercourse is not considered rape spotlights India’s many blind spots when it comes to consent.

    The most common form of rape in India bears little resemblance to the Delhi gang-rape of 2012, which has become a symbol of violence against the country’s women. The 23-year-old student, who was brutally attacked in a bus by six men wielding iron rods, and who later died as a result of horrific internal injuries, was attacked by strangers outside of the home. Most rapes, however, are perpetrated by acquiantances—often husbands—and take place within the confines of the home.

    Despite this, in March Indian parliamentarians rejected proposals to criminalize marital rape. The proposals were initially made by the Verma Committee, a three-member panel appointed in the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape to propose stronger laws to punish heinous acts of sexual violence. In a report delivered to the parliament in March, a panel of lawmakers said the proposed marital rape law “has the potential of destroying the institution of marriage,” adding that “if marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress.” The protection granted to sexually violent husbands was further solidified this month when a Delhi court ruled that intercourse between a husband and wife “even if forcible, is not rape.”

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  • Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters, © Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters

    BLAME GAME

    Indian Woman Pol: Women Cause Rape

    Asha Mirje has since backtracked.

    So much for sisterly support. Asha Mirje, an Indian politician who sits on a government panel for women, said women are “responsible to an extent” for rape and partially cause it to occur because of their “clothing and behavior.” She also said women sometimes choose to be at an “inappropriate place,” referring to a photojournalist who was gang-raped on assignment at “an isolated spot at 6 pm.” Mirjie quickly faced fire from fellow government officials and womens right groups. She has partially apologized, saying, " I was not blaming the women for rape. I had said that since we are in period of transition, we have to be extra cautious."

    Read it at BBC
  • AFP/Getty

    HORRIFIC TREND

    Indian Court Gang-Rapes Woman

    For allegedly having an affair.

    As punishment for having an affair with a boy from another community, a 20-year-old tribal woman was allegedly raped by at least 10 members of a kangaroo court in a Birbhum village in India on Monday night. Thirteen have been accused, including the village headman, and have been arrested along with the boyfriend she cheated on. In an interview from the hospital, the girl told a reporter, “I had an affair with a man. We were dragged to a gathering where our community headman was present. They told me to pay 50,000 [rupees]. When I said I couldn’t, they brutalized me.” The girl was reportedly dragged from the arms of her lover to a shed Monday night and raped until Tuesday morning, leaving her bleeding from several injuries.

    Read it at The Times of India
  • Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP via Getty

    Gun Control

    India’s Gun for Women Backfires

    The government’s latest step to combat sexual violence completely misses the target

    Following a year of protests decrying the deplorable state of sexual violence in India, the issue is slowly gaining more visibility. The Indian government has acknowledged it needs to take more aggressive measures to protect women and prosecute aggressors. Yet the government’s latest tactic to reduce sexual violence—selling guns tailor-made for women—does little to improve their safety. 
     
    A state-issued firearm—called Nirbheek, a tribute to “Nirbhaya,” the pseudonym given to the Indian woman gang raped and murdered aboard a bus last year—went on the market in early January, and is made to appeal to female customers as a weapon of defense. The gun comes in a decorated jewelry case, Abdul Hameed, general manager of the gun manufacturer, told the BBC. “Indian women like their ornaments," he said. 
     
    But priced at 122,360 rupees (roughly $1,900), it’s unclear just how female-friendly the gun is. Only 10 have been sold so far.

    Indian women have already taken steps to protect themselves. Not relying solely on the new safety measures implemented by the government, including more police forces, women have sought out self-defense lessons and purchased pepper spray. 
     
    Then there’s the question of whether more guns actually make things any safer for women. Research shows that a person is 12 times more likely to be shot and killed if they are carrying a gun when attacked, according to India’s Women Gun Survivors Network. In fact, it is illegal in India to carry weapons in several public places—including malls and offices—meaning women with guns wouldn't legally be able to protect themselves (or could potentially put themselves in more danger). 

    Perhaps the most faulty logic of "guns for women" is that it falls into the same pattern of asking women to better defend themselves instead of addressing and reversing cultural norms that perpetuate India’s high incidences of sexual violence. Teaching men not too rape sounds like a much more sustainable campaign to combat sexual assault than arming their potential victims. 

    Read it at BBC
  • Protesters carry candles as they shout slogans during a protest to mark the first anniversary of the Delhi gang rape, in New Delhi December 16, 2013. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

    Braveheart

    Delhi Gang Rape: One Year Later

    It’s been a year since the brutal gang rape of a young student on a Delhi bus, which led to the girl’s death. So what has changed for India’s women?

    One year ago, Jyoti Singh Pandey—known in India as Nirbhaya, or “Without Fear”—was brutally raped and murdered in an unimaginable act of violence in a New Delhi neighborhood. Only months before, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani student and activist, was shot by the Taliban—and, thankfully, survived.

    Malala is a teenager fighting for the right of education for girls in Swat Valley. Jyoti was a young urban woman studying to be a physiotherapist. But both attacks drew the world’s attention to the fact that women —women from Delhi to Mingora, not to mention Maryville, Missouri, and beyond — are still viewed as dispensable, even dangerous, undeserving of full human rights.

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  • Activists of Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP) burn a photograph of Tarun Tejpal, founder and editor of Tehelka magazine, outside the magazine's office in New Delhi on November 22, 2013. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty)

    On Trial

    India’s Failed Conscience

    One of the most famous journalists in India stands accused of sexual assault. How did a man known for skewering the powerful end up this way?

    When Robert de Niro was feted at a jamboree called “Think” in Goa, India, in early November—a “festival” of chattering heavyweights from the entertainment and literary world—he can hardly have imagined that his host would stand accused, three weeks later, of attempting to rape the young woman who was assigned to chaperone him and his daughter while they were guests at the gathering. As matters now stand, de Niro’s name features awkwardly (if tangentially) in the incident’s First Information Report (the Indian legal term for a “booking” for a criminal offence), and it is not inconceivable that the American movie star could be called to give evidence, or to serve as a character witness, at a trial that will rivet all of India.

    In truth, India is riveted already, to such an extent that discussion of this ugly episode has swept everything else—the impending national elections, cricket, Iran, the hobbled state of the economy—right off the news bulletins. The man accused of rape is Tarun Tejpal, the host of “Think,” and one of a half-dozen of India’s most celebrated journalists. He is the editor of Tehelka (the Hindi word for “sensation”), a magazine whose forte is a muckraking brand of investigative journalism (think Ida Tarbell in modern Indian guise), especially the exposure of corruption in high places through “sting” operations. The 50-year-old Tejpal is a strapping, hirsute operator who also writes ornate novels, and who counts among his mentors Sir V.S. Naipaul, a man notoriously disinclined to bestow his approval on anyone. Most recently, he has fattened his portfolio to include “Think,” a festival now in its third year, which attracts prominent panelists from across the globe (including, most recently, Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast).

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  • Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty, SAJJAD HUSSAIN

    OFFENSIVE

    India’s Top Cop Offends on Rape

    “If you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it.”

    It is never a good idea to make a rape joke. India’s top police official apologized Wednesday after saying that “if you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it,” a particularly insensitive remark in a country that is still reeling from last year’s fatal rape of a 23-year-old student. Making matters even worse, Central Bureau of Investigations chief Ranjit Sinha’s comment came after a discussion that had nothing to do with rape in the first place. Sinha said that if the state could not stop gambling, it should at least bring in some revenue from it, using “if you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it” as an analogy. Activists are already calling for Sinha’s resignation, especially since his is in charge of several rape investigations.

    Read it at ABC News
  • An Ancestor's Perilous Voyage

    A quarter of a million Indian women boarded ships as indentured servants in the 19th century, bound for the West Indies. Gaiutra Bahadur's new book follows their precarious sea-crossing and life in the New World.

    In Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture, author Gaiutra Bahadur traces the journey of her great-grandmother from India to the West Indies as an indentured sugar plantation laborer, whose kind were called "coolies" by their colonial masters. After the abolition of slavery, the British transported more than a million indentured Indians to a more than a dozen colonies from 1838 to 1917, a traffic that was a third the size of the British slave trade. Among the workers rounded up and shipped across the globe, in cargo holds known as 'tween decks where they were subject to sexual exploitation, were a quarter million women. Coolie Woman tells the story of their transfiguring voyages, in traumatic "middle passages" from Calcutta to the Caribbean.

     

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  • Boys and girls from the Saraniya community wearing garlands pose for pictures after their engagement ceremony. (Amit Dave/Reuters, © Amit Dave / Reuters)

    Girls' Rights

    Ending Early Marriage In India

    Getting fathers on board to combat the practice is key to changing widespread cultural attitudes, say Breakthrough's Mallika Dutt and Sonali Khan.

    Last week India made the baffling decision not to co-sponsor a United Nations-led resolution calling for the elimination of early marriage. One hundred and seven countries sponsored the first-of-its-kind proposal, but India—the world’s leader in early marriage and where half of all women and girls are married before they reach 18—was not among them.

    As advocates who have spent the past two years studying what motivates early marriage in India, we consider this a deeply distressing move that sends the wrong message and does nothing to help the thousands of girls and young women who are married off every year with little or no say in the matter.

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  • Tsering Topgyal/AP

    Nirbhaya

    Ostracism for a Delhi Rapist's Widow

    In rural India, few options for husbandless women.

    When Akshay Kumar Singh was sentenced to death in the brutal New Delhi gang rape case, it sent a strong message from a country that still struggles mightily with violence toward women. But for Singh’s wife, Punita Devi, the verdict brought a sentence of her own: destitution, ostracism, and an uncertain future. As a woman without a husband, she is left without means of support in a traditional countryside where women cannot work outside the home. "I am not educated. Our traditions are such that I cannot even step out of the house," Devi told The Wall Street Journal. "Who will earn money to feed me and my son?"

    Read it at The Wall Street Journal