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Maltreatment of South Asian Women A Matter of Shame

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By Pritam K. Rohila, Ph.D *

Recent Delhi gang-rape has enraged many Indians as well as other people around the world. But this was neither the first instance nor the only kind of brutality women in South Asia face every day. The abuse and violence ranges from abortion of female fetuses, poor treatment of female children, and abuse of women who do not give birth to male children, to rape and murder of girls and women.

The available statistics testify to this pitiable state of affairs, although most people know that a large number of instances of abuse never get reported. It is common knowledge that many acts of abuse and violence are committed by people known to the victims and their family. These perpetrators include family members, relatives, family friends, neighbors, work colleagues, employers, and even teachers and priests.

Unfortunately throughout South Asia, perpetrators of such horrendous behavior often go scot free. But the victims end up getting blamed for their tragic experiences. And their victimization gets attributed by some "sages" and by "pillars" of society to their living in urban areas, not having right alignment of the planets; not chanting the name of a certain Hindu goddess, or not addressing the perpetrators as brothers!

The victims are advised to not attract unwanted male attention by walking around with their eyes downcast, by dressing modestly, by not being too friendly towards male strangers, not to venture out after dark, not to go to certain places, etc. This kind of prescriptions assume, that since "poor" and "helpless" males have no ability to control their animalistic impulses, only females must be made to control their own behavior, even if it involves dehumanization of the females and loss of their God-given dignity.

Our leaders and "saviors" fail to recognize, that rape has less to do with sexual gratification, and more to express brute authority, by the powerful, against the weaker party, in such a way, as to humiliate the victim, to make the victim feel helpless and at the mercy of the perpetrator. In this respect it is no different from terrorist violence.

Besides women, all over South Asia, countless minority and low-caste individuals, bonded-laborers, household servants, and members of the "enemy" communities, of either gender, experience acts of sexual and inhuman abuse and violence, everyday. Even children and mentally ill and physically disabled individuals are not spared. And, penile penetration is not the only way, victims are debased and disgraced.

Passing of new laws is not enough, until and unless the judicial system and police forces are also overhauled. Besides, Good Samaritans, who come to the aid of the victims, should be protected from unnecessary harassment by the police and other authorities. Additionally, medical personnel must be required to attend to victims, whether or not the matter has yet been reported to the police. Finally, community apathy as well as traditional beliefs and practices, which deliberately or instinctively support, sustain, encourage and protect such cruel and subhuman behavior, must be attacked and reformed.

Besides children should be raised to respect dignity of all human beings, including women, minorities, and other weaker sections of our society. And they should be taught to be assertive, to respect themselves, and to protect themselves against all offensive treatment.

* Dr. Rohila is the Executive Director of Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (, and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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