Outside the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in mid December, demonstrators raged over what they considered to be humiliating treatment of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade. Protesters carried signs bemoaning U.S. handling. “If USA will not respect Indians, then Americans will not be respected in India also.” The problem much of the world has is that India cannot seem to even respect their own.
Annu Devi, 22, and her baby girl were set afire in their village home in India’s Dumka district. Ms. Devi’s child died instantly while she later succumbed to injuries in a hospital. Devi’s family was harassed for money and other things. CNN reported that in 2012 alone, India police registered 8,233 murders of women as “dowry deaths.”
In another news report, a headman ordered a 20-year-old woman to be untied from a tree in an remote Indian village, taken to a thatched shed and raped repeatedly over a period of about six hours. Among her alleged attackers was the headman himself. Her crime: she was a Hindu who’d had a relationship with a married Muslim outsider.
This is the latest Indian rape case to reverberate around the world and reveals the workings of an informal justice system that sets rules and imposes sanctions for many living in rural India. In further public stupidity, Asha Mirje, a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader in western Maharashtra state, questioned why a 23-year-old physiotherapy student who was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi in 2012 was out late at night. Ms. Mirje suggested the gang-rape victim whose death sparked outrage was partly to blame because she went to the cinema at 11pm.
In truth, I have no idea if Devyani Khobragade’s case is solid. But I do know this, Ms. Khobragade was not tied to a tree and gang raped. Ms. Khobragade was not burned alive. Ms. Khobragade was not like assaulted like a 21-year-old Indian woman, apparently raped by two unrelated groups of men this past Christmas Eve. Lastly, Ms. Khobragade’s complaint against Federal prosecutors was taken and registered. The same could not be said for the woman listed above, as two police officers were suspended for initially refusing to register the 21-year-old victim’s complaint.
Media exposé of India doctors providing sex-selection services and offering to abort girls are commonplace, but they have little overall impact because demand is too strong. Sex-selection doesn’t paint a complete representation. Many India women are missing because poorer families simply murder infant daughters at birth. In reality, there are increasing stories of women being kidnapped or trafficked to be forced into marriages because India men cannot find brides. Until recently, there was a tremendous unwillingness by India media and justice to become engaged.
Buddhist or Christian, we need to talk more often about the treatment of women within our countries and communities. Transforming violence against women is part of Buddhist teachings. We need to make that message heard loud and clear, regardless of boundary. Societies as a whole must demand concrete steps ensure women’s safety, starting with norms of equality between genders.
Until then, I concur America has issues. But one shouldn’t throw stones in glass houses.