I recently returned from a week in Delhi, India as part of a tremendous five week academic travel experience with Schreyer Scholars. It has been an incredible experience. I was drawn to India for a number of reasons, including my research on gender.
One of its most celebrated structures, the Taj Mahal, was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the remains of his cherished wife. It took more than 20 years to build and is one of the most outstanding examples architecture, which combined Indian, Persian and Islamic influences. It remains one of the world’s most celebrated structures and a stunning symbol of India’s rich history.
Female gods are also a big part of Indian culture.
But, open any newspaper in Delhi, or the New York Times, and the crimes against girls and women are hard to comprehend. For weeks I had been forcing myself to read about the monstrosities and on my first morning there, I opened the Delhi Times and read about the rape of a seven year old girl as she walked home from a market. Somehow reading it while in the country made it more real, and even more horrific, if that’s possible. Indeed, we were warned not to leave the International Guest House without male accompaniment, and indeed the gated entrance and the personnel have repeatedly warned me to stay inside and wait for a male to come to pick us up to take us less than a mile to the Shim Ram College of Commerce for daily events. By the end of the week, I just wanted to walk somewhere — alone!
While in India we visited the Centre for Social Research where we learned about the grassroots programs to prevent violence against women. The director explained that education and intervention are the key. One of the ways women are marginalized is through staring. Some men harass women by straight staring at them. The clothing of Indian women range from saris to jeans and long sleeve cotton tops, even in the blaring heat that was all around us. When the director of the Centre for Social Research spoke about the number of women in politics in India, it didn’t sound much different from what we have in the US, where, like India we are trying to reach a critical mass. Though in India, there is a movement to have at least 33% women in government, we have no formalized movement in the US. There are 20% women in the US Senate, which is not a critical mass, but more than the 11% of women in government in India. The same gender hassles: appearance over performance and the accusation of women being too emotional to lead–still haunt women in politics both in India and the US.
Will the increase of women in government in India find more forceful demand for the end of crimes against girls and women? Who knows and only time will tell.