Noteworthy events have been taking place around the region lately. Here in Thailand we have seen the first visit by a Japanese premier in more than a decade, and an interesting year lies ahead, given current tensions with China, as Japan and Asean mark 40 years of formal relations.
This week also marks the 63rd anniversary of Republic Day in India, on Jan 26, and millions of Indians no doubt are reflecting on recent tragic events and wondering what kind of society their country is becoming.
The ferocity of two recent rape cases and the way they have exposed the shortcomings of Indian justice and social attitudes has been hard to take.
The gang rape and eventual death of the 23-year-old medical student in New Delhi was a wake-up call not just for India but other emerging and developed economies. The Dec 16 event shook India to its bones, yet less than a month later there was another case of seven men raping a 29-year-old woman on a bus in Punjab. These probably were not isolated incidents, which leads to some very hard questions about how women are treated in modern India.
India has always been a country that was famous for respecting women, many of whom led the fight for independence. Even in Hindu religious tradition, male and female deities are revered on equal footing.
That’s why the events of Dec 16 in Delhi and Jan 11 in Punjab were so shocking. Of course, in the weeks between those events, countless other rapes in India went unreported or unpunished, either because of the social stigma attached to the act or the total lack of faith in police and the courts. Such violence is becoming sadly commonplace, to the point where some feel India is no longer a safe place for women.
As a person of Indian origin, I know how difficult it is in Indian society for a person to report things that could bring "shame" to the family. So a victim will keep quiet. Maybe she will try to tell herself that it was her misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But what we are seeing is a deterioration of Indian society to levels not seen in ages. In the absence of justice, some have asked, what are victims supposed to do? Emulate Phoolan Devi, the Bandit Queen, who ordered the slaughter of 22 men in 1981 after she was gang-raped? She spent 11 years in jail awaiting trial for her act of revenge before all charges were dropped. Her rise to folk hero status hardly provides a template for the proper response to injustice.
The government and institutions including the police are supposed to be standing up for women’s rights and safety, but sometimes it appears that Indian society has so many problems that rape cases are not considered a priority.
But as the country moves forward and more people summon up the courage speak out, reports of many more rape cases will start to emerge and make India look uglier than it is looking now.
And I for one would support a surge in reported cases, even if it means embarrassment and possible economic loss to the country, for violence against women is a social evil that needs to be crushed. The depressingly prevalent male attitude that rape is somehow just a casual lark needs to be snuffed out.
As India becomes an economic power in the decades ahead, women are playing a bigger role in the society. Their role is clearly stated in "the world’s longest constitution", one of the things Republic Day is intended to celebrate.
Article 51(A) states that the government has to promote the spirit and brotherhood amongst all in India and renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.
As India steps forward to play a leadership role in many global spheres of activity, its own leaders would be well advised to encourage the country’s people to do some reflecting as well. They should take some time out and look into themselves and think about what they have gained and lost in this race to advance economically.
Maybe in the rat race to make money and move forward, the society that once respected women and fought wars to maintain their dignity, has lost its course and deviated on the wrong path.
It is never too late to find a way back, for a society with no respect for its mothers, sisters and daughters is not one that any country can pride itself on.
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About the author
- Writer: Umesh Pandey
Position: Editor for Asia Focus