Patricia Lee Sharpe
While I was in India last month, I was asked by some female tourists if I thought all the bumping and brushing they were encountering on the sidewalks of Kolkata was a creepy sort of molestation. I said I didn’t think so. The sidewalks are crowded, people are in a hurry and everybody shoves everybody else. They’d have known if some guy were really intent on getting fresh.
However, there is a form of molestation that young girls encounter all too often in India, especially in Delhi. It’s called Eve-teasing and it can be pretty scary when it happens to you as it did to me once. I was waiting for a bus when a bunch of college boys surrounded me and started shoving me back and forth from one to the other. I was totally helpless and so busy trying not to fall I couldn’t scream. After a few minutes they sauntered away, laughing.
Sometimes Eve-teasing is confined to the sorts of catcalls that all American women have had to deal with at home, but rape happens in India, just as it does everywhere else in the world.
Two recent rape targets are described below. The first victim lives in Cleveland, Texas. The second lives in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. The first statement was elicited from neighbors. The second statement came from a government official. What do the descriptions have in common?
“...she dressed much older than her age [eleven years old], wearing make up and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.”
She was a “divorcee” and “she used to return [home] around 11 to 11:30 every night.”
Imagine! Two vastly different cultures on opposite sides of the world. A child in America, a young woman in India, and each victim is being blamed for attracting the attentions of a lecherous gang of males. Each, in effect, was “asking for it.”
The eleven-year-old was gang raped. The young woman in Kolkata was not ravaged only because her brother had come to meet her at the bus. When he kept the gang from getting at his sister, they knifed him and ran for it. He bled to death because it took so long for anyone to respond to his sister’s pleas for help.
Meanwhile, all but simultaneously, a woman reporter was dragged off and raped during the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo—a beautiful blond trying to do her job in a crowd that was focused on demanding better governance. Was she, being young and beautiful and alone, asking for it, too? Will her bosses let her take the dangerous jobs in the future? She’s ready, she says. Or will they try to relegate her to some safe, mostly female reporting ghetto?
That’s the Taliban solution aka “four walls and a black veil.” Knowing their own minds to be “dirty” through and through, knowing also that they cannot or will not control themselves, the Taliban and their ilk lock up their women. Not only do they blame the potential victims for being irresistible magnets, they constrict their lives punitively, while giving the keys to the city to their criminally-minded gender-mates.
What all this says to me is that women around the world really are sisters behind the veil of culture. Nor is this a glib ideological statement. I’ve lived and worked in many countries. When the talk turns to sexual abuse and gender-based inequalities, the conversation gets real. The commitment to change is heart-felt.