(Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of people have been taking to the streets in India to protest the brutal gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old woman. The attack has highlighted conditions for Indian women, many of whom complain that rampant sexual harassment and even rape often go unpunished. We talk with a panel of local Indian-American women about the incident.

Guests:
Sonia Faleiro, author of "Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars"
Sarah Khan, program director for Maitri, a Santa Clara-based non-profit helping South Asian survivors of domestic violence, cultural alienation and human trafficking
Shalini Nataraj, director of advocacy and partnerships for the Global Fund For Women

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Was having a nice discussion with one of the nurses who is caring for our son in the hospital about the situation in India, and she being from India, noted with some sadness that she thought after a couple of months that the rape and death of this young woman would be forgotten by the government officials and that not much would change since change happens so slowly in India.

    Am so hoping this is not the case with this situation. The fact the young woman was from a growing middle class where women are college educated makes me hope that their numbers will make a difference.

  • guest

    To Forum’s programmers, host, and audience:

    During the last legislative session the members (including Senators Mark Leno and Ellen Corbett) and staff of the California Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committees IGNORED the results from the UCLA/RAND review of FEHA’s enforcement on its 50-year anniversary:

    “The separate and unequal administrative and legal systems… provide little protection for employees in low-wage occupations, racial minorities, and women, with substantial disparities in access, outcome, and deterrence.”

    They didn’t even bother to implement a record-keeping system to address co-author Gary Blasi’s professed difficulty in trying to track the eventual outcome of each complaint from the beginning of the mandated administrative process to its resolution, including what happens to complainants after they receive their “right-to-sue” letter and enter the legal process.

    SOURCES:
    2/23/10 Joint Legislative Hearing on Fair Employment and Housing on the UCLA/RAND review of FEHA’s enforcement on its 50-year anniversary @ http://www.calchannel.com/legacy-archive/

    “California Employment Discrimination Law and Its Enforcement: The Fair Employment and Housing Act at 50” (65pp) http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1596906

    “Do Antidiscrimination Regimes Discriminate? Processing Claims Through Administrative and Legal “Pyramids” and the Role of the Plaintiffs’ Bar: A California Case Study” (54pp) http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1641344

  • I grew up in India (Bombay) and left in 1991. My memories, growing up in the 80s, are as follows:

    1) Going out alone even to the grocery store or to a friend’s house used to be a tricky thing – one had to plan the right time of day and the right route to avoid the routine “eve-teasing” on the streets. [“Eve-teasing” ran the gamut from whistles and lewd songs / propositions to physical groping and chasing.]

    2) Public transportation was another big hurdle as buses meant crowds where men would brush up against you or grope you roughly. Even in trains, where there were women-only compartments, getting on and off would involve getting past and through a large crowd of men who would appear out of nowhere. We lived with it as a fact of life. It just happened and you worked to avoid the unpleasantness as best you could. You spent more money on taxis if needed or had friends and family members drive you around.

    3) In high schools and colleges, male teachers / professors took their liberties – roaming/groping hands were fairly common and, while such behavior provided fodder for uneasy joking amongst friends, no one dreamed of complaining for fear of the shame it could bring, not to mention the danger of becoming a target for even bolder attacks. And, of course, the fear that one might be painted as the instigator, rather than victim, of such unsavory attention.

    4) Regularly, we’d hear other anecdotes of girls / women being abused – a good number by their own family members (uncles, cousins, etc.) This was fodder for kitchen gossip but no one ever thought of doing anything. Who would believe you? Who would do anything?

    This latest incident, as terrible as it is, has raised a level of awareness like never before, I think. But, mostly, the thing that has to change is that women need to feel stronger about speaking out about their abuse / harassment / molestation. And, that means a lot of related sociological changes – starting with a woman’s place in the home and in society.

    • You are so right that what will help is more women being able to come out and have a voice about their experiences. So many women think these things just happened to them and they feel shame and low self worth. The truth be told that right now world wide more than 90% of women over the age of 30 have been sexually assaulted in some way before the age of 14. Sadly the majority of abusers are relatives and many people will refuse to believe a family member would do such a thing.

      I am so glad that women are becoming more empowered and threw this empowerment the abuse that so many of us women have had to endure is starting to be acknowledged and not tolerated.

  • Paronthe A

    Harrasment of women on a regular basis in the world’s largest democracy makes it the world’s largest hypocrisy.The society that takes so much pride in the birth of a male child, needs to be “made to feel” embarrased for the horrible acts these guys do. Nobody teaches the young boys that touching someone without their consent, stalking girls, whistling at them, scaring them- all in the broad daylight is NOT FUN, this is a CRIME, rather everyone tells the girls to develop a thick skin and ignore. When i was growing up, my father or my friend’s father usually followed us to the colleges on their bikes, just so that their presence will deter this nonsense, but they cant do this all their life.

  • guest

    I once listened to a Hindu priest, at a prayer function, tell a couple
    of girls “Even if a girl is raped, somehow she deserved it.” I couldn’t
    believe it then, and it still makes me angry that it is possible for a
    person to think this way. What could it possibly be? That she was a
    terrible person in a previous life? I’ve been trying to get an answer
    for over ten years as to what was meant in this statement.

    I’ll
    be the first to admit I don’t know the first thing about Hindu culture.
    But as for this opinion, that it supposedly came from some spiritual
    leader, what a disturbing, warped, and completely backwards way of
    thinking. I would love to hear this guy’s explanation.

  • TimDoyle

    If these are the problems of women in India, please tell me how a homosexual or transgendered person is treated in India. Pray tell.

  • Timothy Clark

    Regarding attitudes towards women: a good place to start would be with programs in the schools. Boys need to learn respect and girls need to be encouraged to report abuses from an early age.

  • Maya

    The U.S. Congress just failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act, purportedly because “conservative lawmakers balked at the addition of expanded protections for undocumented immigrant, Native American, and LGBT victims of sexual assault” (from The Atlantic online). When the U.S. can’t get behind protecting BASIC human rights, I worry for the future of women’s rights in India AND the U.S.

    • You bring up a good point and I will tell you why “conservative politicians” are against protecting women and their rights. They are mainly white supremacist greedy men that have been abusing and suppressing people for a very long time to gain wealth and power. Anything that increases the chance of a woman getting pregnant they are all for because when people have children and the more children they have the more they consume thus making these “conservative politicians” or should I say elite wealthy business owners, wealthier. Plus if you have children you are more likely going to be more willing to work long hours, not quite or demand fair employment treatment and pay, and when you have children you have less time and money to start up your own business (less competition). This is the real reason they are against abortion, sex education, and contraceptives.

    • jurgispilis

      No, the reason it was voted down was the increased numbers of U-visas for victims of abuse. Immigrants should be chosen for their value as contributors to society, not for their victimization. Naturally, foreigners in the US, who are victims of crimes, should be protected, but they should also be courteously returned to their families, and countries of origin, should they be undocumented in the US.

      • Maya Bohnhoff

        Remember this? It’s on that big statue in New York Harbor: “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
        With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
        Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
        A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
        Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
        Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
        Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
        The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
        “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
        With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
        Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
        The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
        Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
        I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
        —”The New Colossus”, Emma Lazarus, 1883

        If we’re going to take only “valuable” human beings, we should perhaps amend the verse:
        “Keep, broken lands, your harried poor,” cries she
        With smiling lips. “Give me your trade. Your poor
        Your huddled masses matter not to me.
        Nor wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
        Send these, the homeless to some other lee.
        I douse my lamp. Just send your gold ashore.” — “Mother of Exiles”, Maya Bohnhoff, 2010

  • Cal

    I’m a little disappointed in the way your guests keep trying to downplay the issue as particularly heightened in India’s. I’m not saying that rape on the International scale is any less important, but what was striking about the situation in Dehli was that a woman was attacked on public transport system, which suggests that the security systems in India are clearly not deterring people from such acts.

    Stop quoting what’s happening in the US or around the world, it makes it sound that the situation in India is really not that much worse than anywhere else, which, in my opinion, undermines the momentum this issue is generating.

    • Trust me, as bad as what happened in Deli, there are things just as bad if not worse happening around the world. I don’t think they meant to down play it. They were making people aware of the magnitude this problem is not just in India but almost everywhere.

      • Cal

        I never claimed they meant to down play it, but I believe they are, even if unintentionally. By periodically cautioning against “India bashing” and using anecdotes about US rape case in their interview they made it seem that the situation is no more heightened in India than it is in the rest of the world. But consider
        this article, ironically written by Sonia (one of the panelists) –
        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/02/opinion/the-unspeakable-truth-about-rape-in-india.html?smid=go-share&_r=0 – And note the statistics that out of 600 cases in 2012 only one rape case resulted in a conviction. That sounds like a systemic advocacy problem in India.

        I liken the current movement to something akin to the Civil Rights Movement here in the US. The problem of racial inequality was global, and continues to be, but imagine how much that effort would have been weakened if the voices of that movement had stood on the protests and rising issues in the Segregated South and instead argued about racial inequality around the world.

  • Being a man of Indian origin, it’s really disgusting to see the attitude towards women as exhibited within India, and even in the USA within certain South Asian circles. India has made remarkable progress on various matters and continues to serve as an example of how many religions can co-exist in a secular democracy. I hope that with this tipping point, the views in general towards women will change, the typical Bollywood portrayal of women will change, and more and more men will treat women as friends and partners in this thing we call “life”. This is perhaps similar to the recent tipping points we have observed thru the Arab Springs, or public outcry after recent incidents of gun violence in the US. To think about this – through our active involvement in such discussions, we ourselves can serve as the change agents, so thanks KQED for putting this show together.

  • Mira

    Unless awareness is raised from a young age, this issue of how men perceive women would persist. Just as countries are introducing environmental education in grade school, topics like gender (an other) sensitivity and respect need to be discussed in classes from an early age. Parental involvement could be addressed in addition to schools, at places of worship as well as workplace.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a first generation Indian American and I lived in India for a short time to “get in touch with my roots.” While I don’t regret the decision at all, I never thought I would experience the amount of sexual harassment that I did. As other commentators have mentioned, I couldn’t go out to the market alone without being followed or groped, taking transit was a nightmare, and I was always apprehensive. I was repeatedly told by my family that I needed to be careful-that I was being reckless to travel alone. There was never any mention of men having to change their behavior, it was always on the women. Changing attitudes and norms towards women will take a long time in India and in the world (harassment is alive and well in the US), but it is possible. It’s encouraging to see the dialogue now-it gives me hope.

  • N S

    I wonder if the boys’ attitude is related to predominantly high number of boys’ schools vs co-ed. Any research done on that?

    • Yes this is part of the problem. Since it was more favorable to have boys and not girls too many baby girls were killed. This was a problem in some Asian countries too. So now there are too many men to women. But this just goes back to the pore attitude towards women.

  • guest

    While sexual harassment in India (and everywhere) is deplorable and needs to be addressed,
    please do not paint a picture that Indian women is weak and a victim. There are
    many Indian women who are strong, educated and in every level of society.

    Many of the problems such as female infanticide, dowry, unequal treatment of
    girls etc are prevalent among the uneducated – which there are plenty of in
    India and needs to be addressed. There is a significant portion
    of the population that is educated, celebrates the girl child and gives as much
    resources in terms of food/education/healthcare etc.

    Please spend some time to
    highlight the strong Indian women who have become doctors, engineers,
    politicians, social activists etc – with the encouragement of their family and
    society – including their men.

    I would love to see a comparison of crime rates in US vs any city in India.

    I am not suggesting that status of women in India does not need to be improved. I am merely suggesting that the picture being painted of a sexual predator Indian man and a weak victimized Indian women is not true in all of India. If you take some time to understand why there are 2 India – one that celebrates women and one that uses women, the solutions will come down to education, an economy that includes everyone, reduce the gap between the rich and poor. Change in attitude will follow quickly.

    • You are correct that there are many strong women in india as in the rest of the world as well, but that is not to say that they could not easily fall victim to such behavior and bad attitude that to many men in India and around the world have.

  • owenhowlett

    I felt this program was weak because your guests were too much from the same mold. Nobody seemed to be disagreeing with anyone else, or challenging what sounded like silly assertions, e.g. that in the U.S. victims are blamed for rape. Therefore it was hard to know how much credence to give to what the guests were saying about India.

    • What would you disagree on what was said? They all were dead on the money. Everything they said was smart, articulate, to the point, and very accurate. If you had any real true information on this subject you too would have agreed with all of what they said.

  • Rajasree

    There is a lot of corruption in the police department. That is the place to start the change. Unless women trust the police dept to protect them, they will not report the case due to fear of further harassment. And that means the perpetrators will happily continue their acts. As a young women, when I migrated to U.S, I was very thankful that I could depend on the police forces to protect me.

  • guest
  • This was a really good show today and so many great points were made. I’ve been wanting to write a book about the issues of all the abuse that goes on world wide and to give a good explanation. This problem of men being so abusive is world wide and in third world countries it is horrific. I liked that it was addressed that the big issue is that men need to be taught to respect women. Many men just really honestly don’t get it. This is because of how they were raised and how they saw women being treated growing up. We all need to keep in mind that not long ago women could not own property, a business, have a decent paying job, and raping your wife or children was not considered rape. This all started to change just a hundred years ago here is the U.S. We have come a long way and we still have a long way to go but I do see things changing for the better as women come into more power world wide. 🙂 And honestly things here in the U.S. have only greatly improved for women in the last 15 years. This should indicate to people were we really are and have much further we need to go.

  • jurgispilis

    It’s amazing that we import this crap into our country. Honor killings, genital mutilation, sex trafficking, drug smugglers, Chandra Levy’s murderer, etc. It’s policies, such as sanctuary cities, and Tom Ammiano’s ridiculously stupid Trust Act AB4 that lets these kind of people avoid detection in our country, and thrive plying their savage trade.

    • Maya Bohnhoff

      American men don’t rape American women, abuse American children, or treat women like toys ‘cos boys will be boys? American men don’t engage prostitutes or engage in sex trafficking?

      The problem isn’t “them”, it’s all of us. Sexism, harassment, and gender bigotry exists among Americans and is no less dangerous here simply because it’s more insidious.

      • johnqeniac

        Such things as honor killings and dry-humping women on subways are probably marginally less common in the States though, wouldn’t you say?

  • vijay

    One of the guests mentioned ” one in four women gets raped”. I am very very disturbed by this statistics. Can your guest expand on how and where this data was collected. or i heard it wrong.

  • JBG

    If you grew up in India, and you are female, then you know the eyes that look all over your body, you know that you have to protect yourself as you climb on to a bus or a train from groping hands and pelvises.

    Disgusting as it may sound, this is the country we grew up in and this is the country our daughters are growing up in. The first time I walked in the streets of CA, I kept looking for those eyes, kept my ears sharp for those footsteps behind you, that’s following you, and I was surprised that for the first time I felt safe. I actually can be in a bus and a train and not be a target of a dirty man. I have climbed into a bus at 10.30pm returning from a late night class, with just one more individual other than the bus driver, and have returned home safe and sound.

    The Delhi incident should be the epiphenic moment for us women.

    I am tired of being vulnerable. The government will not help, the police will come late, the justice system will talk and stall. The demonic 17year old rapist will go to juvenile court and get out from juvenile prison even more scary after 4-5 years and probably be a serial rapist.

    But what about us..the mother, the daughter, the young bride to be? Ma Durga the powerful women goddess had weapons in her hand to destroy the asur MahiShasur according to Indian Mythology. We as women, need to get strong and lethal. We need to have compulsory martial art defence lessons to protect ourselves. We need to have a recognizable badge which we can proudly wear on our clothes to deter men from violating us anymore.

    Th badge should be like the red cross sign, you wear it to let your surroundings know of your martial arts strength.

    Enough of the talk and feeling helpless, we need to make a change within ourselves. Make it compulsory for every young girl to be taught self defense, make it accessible, free for those unable to learn from a private academy. Like there are doctors without borders, we should have “Defense trainers without borders”.

    Rape has become an epidemic in India, because it has never been checked. Make this case an example and give the accused the maximum punishment. Let there be fear in the hearts of those who hate women. The women who nourished them and gave them birth.

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