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European media: From India shining to India tarnished

Monday January 14, 2013 05:05:25 PM, Alpana Varma, IANS

Zurich: The dire situation of Indian women is now under the spotlight in European media and daily incidents of violence are being reported with alacrity along with statistics and analyses to show India's disastrous record in ensuring women's rights.

"Too few women, too much violence", is the running theme of discussions as the long held deference for India's ancient culture and spirituality crumbles before the stark images of a country perpetuating a "rape culture".

While the heinous crime of Dec 16 has rocked the nation for its brutality, violence against women is part of daily life in India, according to Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger. The incident has clearly stirred a lot of emotion here as well.

For the last few years, the media here had been devoted to chronicle the rise of India as a growth engine, an economic power, with occasional negative reports of corruption at the time of the Commonwealth Games, the telecom scandal etc.

But since late December, it is just statistics, interviews and reports to prove that India is a misogynist society that has totally failed one-half of its billion-strong population in its stride towards superpower status.

Earlier trips to India for ayurvedic treatment or a visit to the Taj Mahal, while evoking shock at the poverty, were followed by a quick atonement, "but the poor in India are so happy".

Now there is a touch of neo-colonial patronising in the coverage, implying 'us', the civilised Europe, are different as such things do not happen and it is the 'other', the primitive societies which tolerate atrocities on women.

Even as figures emerge of high rape and low conviction rates in the US or UK, there are other reasons for India bashing - the skewed gender ratio in the population and the practice of dowry which is causing "parents to kill their daughters".

"If she has not been killed in the womb, she lives with the inevitable fate of being raped," Dagmar Hellman Rajagayanam, a professor of South Asia affairs at the University of Passau, was quoted as saying in the popular German magazine Focus.

Such a simplistic understanding of Indian society comes from an expert who has been visiting India for the last 40 years. Such is the confusion that often questions are raised about the rape victim's caste.

Dagmar, an ardent India basher, describes it as the world's most "anti-women" nation. "Nowhere in the world, not even in Afghanistan, Somalia or Saudi Arabia, are women treated with such contempt and brutality as in India," she wrote.

This remark drew many reproaches in readers' comments.

She recalls watching movies in India and discovering to her horror, "as soon as the rape scene began, all the men started jumping and clapping". She added, "Rape is not a crime in India, rather a peccadillo."

It is as if the dirty linen has been washed in public, as each day a new skeleton comes out of the cupboard with a fresh report of a gang-rape committed in some part of India.

Prime time Swiss news programme "10 to 10" showed a woman called Shabnam who had been gang-raped at age 17 and 10 years on is still awaiting justice. Her father, in the meanwhile, killed himself unable to overcome the sorrow.

The apathetic police and justice system all collude to maintain a patriarchal order and deny women their right to be free and safe, according to the report.

Some publications tread more cautiously and try to tone down prejudice by getting Indian writers to do the talking. Thus Der Spiegel Online, the English supplement of Germany's well known news magazine of the same name, carried an article by Kishwar Desai on the subject. As did Tages Anzeiger, by carrying a full-page interview with writer Sonia Faleiro.

Both writers described the harrowing experiences that women undergo daily, especially in Delhi and other parts of north India, with explicit lechery, lewd remarks and the groping and rubbing.

Eve teasing, the Indian euphemism for all this, is also inviting only jeers in the media here, as it implies that women provoked their harassment, much like Eve tempted Adam.

Tages Anzeiger carried a report about women workers at construction sites near Delhi, saying how the sign says, 'Men at Work' but all that one sees is women at work while their children are playing amid heaps of cement and other building material. The report adds that women construction workers in India earn wages far below the men even as they are far more vulnerable to exploitation.

Clearly, 'Incredible India' has suddenly slipped into an area of darkness and it may require a huge effort and considerable time before India can restore its image and launch another tourism campaign.

(Alpana Varma can be contacted at



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