February 6 2013

Rape in India - A woman determined to influence the future

06/02/2013 –The protests that followed the mass rape of a woman on a bus in the Indian capital last December have spurred a young woman to replace her feelings of anger, shame and helplessness with something that will make a difference. Ishita Kaul (28)  is playing her part to affect change in India’s corridors of power.

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Ishita Kaul - equality is what matters  © SOS Archives

Something very wrong

“This particular incident and the brutality that has led to the death of the young student involved has definitely been a turning point. It has managed to shake people out of their complicity,” says Ishita, a participant in the on-going protests in New Delhi. The graduate of development studies believes that everyone has a role to play in changing the prevailing culture. With the help of her friends she is delivering a message to her country’s parliament.

“One frequently reads about crimes against women, such incidents make me feel angry, ashamed, and helpless. Helpless in terms of, ‘things will never change’ or ‘the perpetrator of the crime will get away with it’.

“In India, many things have to be changed, most of all our attitude towards women. Society is predominately patriarchal – especially in northern India. Rules exist that are followed subconsciously. Typically, women are not expected to be in public spaces. They are not considered equal to men; they have no self-ownership, they are not in control of their destiny.

"However, there is a cultural shift that is taking place in India, as more young girls get access to education, start attending university, start working and earning an income. But, they are conscious that the onus to protect themselves rests with them alone. When a large portion of a nation’s population feels that way, something is definitely very wrong.

Misogynistic attitude is what needs to be dealt with

“Feeding into this is the fact that most Indian men only associate women with the role of homemaker – with opinions that are always in agreement with her husband’s – or that of a reproductive machine and dutiful daughter-in-law. Discrimination based on cast, colour and religion is rife. Girls are too often the victims of filicide, a crime that can go unpunished.

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Increasing rights awareness in India will help reduce discrimination © D. Sansoni 
“The prevaling misogynistic attitude is what needs to be dealt with in an active and sustained manner. In my day-to-day work I strongly advocate an education system based fundamentally on equality – not just in relation to gender, but equality for all people, irrespective of caste, colour, religion, nationality or income.

“Laws in India are changing, but they do not take other types of sexual assault into account. Archaic practice to establish if rape has taken place - has not been banned. It is still conducted to determine whether the person is ‘habituated to sex’. Given the present mind-set, if the victim is found to be ‘habituated to sex’, it is considered that rape did not occur. Rape needs to be understood as a violation of consent.

“Tougher laws only work if implemented. We must have faith in investigation procedures. The existing process is slow and the culture of blaming the victim discourages the reporting of such crimes. Currently, most perpetrators do not get caught and this sends a message to society that people are above the law.

“Equality is what matters. It is important to provide children with such values at a young age so that they grow up to be responsible individuals. In my work I engage with young school-going children and support the advancement of women in India.

“In response to recent events, a number of my friends came together to established a petition that was well supported. We have recently presented this to government committees and engaged with a member of parliament to share our ideas and solutions. We particularly  emphasised the need to spread awareness of women's constitutional and legal rights.”

SOS Children’s Villages is active in India since the 1960s. Since then, thousands of women have been supported in a variety of way in SOS Schools, SOS Vocational Training Centres, SOS Family Strengthening Programmes and SOS Medical Centres.

Ishita Kaul is a graduate of Saint Stephen's College New Delhi and holds an MSc in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Ishita is the daughter of Siddhartha Kaul, President of SOS Children’s Villages.