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We don’t know her name because it hasn’t been released. She is an anonymous ghost. Her murderers and rapists have names which the Indian government plans to circulate in hopes that the shame of having raped and murdered will contribute to their punishment. One of the assailants was even a minor. But as mass protests by emboldened women have pointed out, these perpetrators live in a culture of tolerance toward rape. Will the attackers even be ashamed?
The news likes gruesome stories. We talk about the shooter or the rapist because the psychology is fascinating and incomprehensible. And in that space, we give our best attention to the worst people, turning away from those affected. She was in medical school. We have one less healer and one more anonymous ghost.
A woman in New Delhi was riding a bus with her boyfriend, when the two were assaulted and she was gang raped and beaten with iron rods. She suffered severe brain damage and died in a hospital in Singapore where she’d been transported for advanced care. The bus had passed through five police checkpoints while the attack was occurring.
Her attack caused an uproar and drew attention to a paralyzing culture of violence toward women in India, and as importantly, a legal system that does not bring justice to victims of sexual assault. The President’s son made a particularly contemptuous comment dismissing the protestors and their grievances. Around the same time, a 17-year-old girl killed herself after police pressured her to marry one of her gang rapists and withdraw the case against them. Protesters have taken to the streets, met with water cannons and tear gas from the police. But they are not ready to give up. Through this story, the international community has learned about street harassment and sexual assault that are prevalent for women in India, including rapes of women in police custody. Brazen comments by politicians have shown a vicious indifference, and a dismissal of those who would demand their rights. It’s not like the U.S. does so well on this front, either. Global rape cultures brutalize people of all genders and operate worldwide. We have a lot to learn from the Indian protesters.
We’re talking about politicians and assailants. Lots of theories are being floated about why this culture of violence exists. The violence happens every day, but the new story is the protests, a voice of solidarity against abuses. This voice is getting relatively less coverage, for many of the usual reasons that news does not cover demonstrations. We have such protests in the U.S. as well, in the midst of a different but related culture of violence toward women and sexual minorities.
She is being called “India’s Daughter,” placing symbolism where there was a real person. Her name is hidden why? Because she has anything to be ashamed of? Because it’s less important to humanize her than to point out her attackers? Whatever problems this disgusting event points to, it won’t be solved with any amount of punishment until we can agree that women are full people and should be treated as such. I can’t claim to understand the cultural differences that motivate protecting her identity, but I do know that unless we look the aggrieved straight in the eye and acknowledge them as the protagonists in their own drama, we have plenty far to go. Let’s read more about the protests, the bravery, and the lives of the people pushing through this global culture of violence toward something better. Make sure you’ve got your protagonists straight.