Friday, August 30, 2013

today's newspaper article

Today’s article is from “The Australian” and talks about an issue that has been making a lot of news around the world:

Caste skews India's view of rape

  • by:Amanda Hodge, South Asia Correspondent
  • From:The Australian
  • August 30, 201312:00AM
AS she was being dragged from her Delhi shack with a knife at her throat by six men who raped her one after another, Pooja could not have known the same horror was happening to another woman in the fashionable heart of Mumbai.

But within 24 hours there was no escaping the saturation news coverage of one of the attacks.

On front pages across the country, social media, television, and on Mumbai streets, India's middle class raged against the violation of a 22-year-old photojournalist, gang-raped by five men while on assignment for an English-language magazine.

Only on day three of that terrible rape's front-page treatment did a single paragraph in one newspaper note the arrest of five men for raping an 18-year-old girl "who begs on the footpaths of south Delhi's Mehrauli".

While the state of Maharashtra's chief minister vowed to bring all the Mumbai culprits to justice, and a female politician paid bedside tribute to the journalist, Pooja went back to her shack where she has since borne the taunts of neighbours who assume she brought it on herself.

When The Australian went looking for the 19-year-old (the newspaper got her age wrong), a woman selling toys under a metro station overpass pointed us to the opposite side of the busy intersection with a warning. "They are dirty people over there," she said.

"She obviously did something wrong and they (her rapists) decided to teach her a lesson."

India has been asking difficult questions about its treatment of women since the December 16 gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy graduate, who later died.

But it is hard to escape the conclusion this middle-class soul-searching is preoccupied with its own welfare, and that concern for the safety of the women of the country's vast underclass comes a distant second.

That is not to say that people such as Pooja have not benefited from India's heightened focus on violence against women. A year ago, it is difficult to imagine that the gang rape of a low-caste Bengali woman would have stirred too many Delhi police officers into action.

Five of her six attackers have been arrested, though the families of two of the men have begun harassing Pooja to accept R35,000 ($577) to drop the charges.

Their offer is both carrot and stick. If she refuses, she's been told they will "come at night and take me away".

"Nobody is on my side," she says through a translator. "I told the police but they didn't seem to bother about it."

Pooja has the tiny body and spindly limbs of a woman whose needs have always come last. Many people saw her being dragged away, she says. It was 5pm on a week night but nobody intervened. "Crimes against middle-class women mobilise the middle class in a way that violence against lower caste women cannot," says Binalakshmi Nepram, an anti-violence activist from the conflict-ridden, northeast state of Manipur. "At the same time as the gang rape in Mumbai, and every day since then, there's been repeated violence against women."

A grizzly sample includes the rape and murder of an 11-year-old schoolgirl in Pune, the gang rape of a woman constable in tribal Jharkhand and the rape of a five-year-old girl by her 13-year-old neighbour. None has so mobilised police resources as the Mumbai rape, which resulted in action by up to 80 officers over 72 hours.

"India is a country built on the caste system," says Nepram. "With due respect to those who worked to make it an equal nation, I would say more than 75 per cent still see things through that prism."

Though the extraordinary brutality of last December's Delhi gang rape shocked many Indians, it was the location of the crime, in middle-class south Delhi, the fact that the victim was educated, and that there were no complicating caste issues, that moved so many to join in mass protests.

The rape of Dalit and tribal women remains a tool of caste oppression in India. In the worst cases, Dalit women have not only been raped but also mutilated, burned, paraded naked through villages and forced to eat human faeces.

Nepram says national campaigns on violence against women are disproportionately focused on the cities, and most funding goes to middle-class groups. The money rarely filters down to the slums and rural villages where women are most vulnerable.

A senior editor of the newspaper that ran Pooja's story as a footnote said he recognised the inconsistency in coverage but a rape in Mumbai - considered a safer city than Delhi - had "greater shock value".

"Frankly, since December 16 there's been such a barrage of incidents reported that it tends to numb the senses. Cases like this cut through the clutter," he said.

"As we speak, there's probably 10 rapes happening in the (rural) heartland of India that will never get reported."

The dissonance has not gone unnoticed. In a column this week, journalist G. Sampath wrote that crimes committed by the poor against other poor are "far too common for the precious resources of national outrage".

"It is only when such criminal brutality strays beyond its native territory - the slums and forests of urban and rural India, respectively - and on to the spaces (a bus in one case, and an abandoned mill in the heart of the city in the other) and persons supposed to be beyond its purview, that outrage goes national."

They are complicated notions for women such as Pooja, who has little education and whose immediate concern is her safety and the pressures from her husband's family to accept a rapist's bribe. "I don't know why people would protest for her and not for me," she says of the other rape victim, whose ordeal so incensed India. She just knows "nobody ever takes the side of the poor".


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