It’s easy for the world not to pay attention to what’s going on in India. Chalk it up to systemic poverty, some world-class racism, police forces lacking in their duties to protect Indian residents, and the typical Western stereotypes about corner stores and IT professionals, and call it a day, right?
To be honest, that’s not quite an accurate or total perception of the nation.
India is a pretty complex place. It’s thought to be among the fastest rising economies in the world. The predecessor to chess is most likely to have been invented in India, and the country is full of bright individuals who go on to achieve great things. They have one of the most prominent film scenes outside of America and are one of the largest producers and consumers of mangoes.
But, it’s not all good. The nation has some serious problems that require fundamental cultural changes to correct, and there’s little indication that those changes – as of now – are in motion.
While India has some distance on countries like Iran and China in terms of media freedom, scathing articles by journalists documenting a rash of deaths paint the nation as one where freedom of speech is tenuous, and retribution against journalists is rampant.
Titled ‘Nobody’s Protecting India’s Bravest Journalists,’ Rana Ayyub – a journalist herself – lists the Indian journalists who have been murdered for doing their jobs, most of which with little fanfare or mourning from the public. Most journalists are far from celebrities, but nations where they are persecuted – Russia and China, for example – typically garner more international attention than India has.
It’s estimated that 47 journalists have been killed in India in the past 20 years, with 11 dying since 2014. But, those murders are not likely to be seriously investigated, according to one telling metric.
Watchdog CPJ ranks India 13th in its Global Impunity Index, a list highlighting countries where the murders of journalists are least likely to be punished. Also in the top 14 were nations such as Bangladesh, Somalia, South Sudan, Pakistan, Syria, and Russia. Not exactly a group fitting of an emerging economy or world power, and not necessarily one that most would expect to be company with India, a country many in the outside world see as peace-loving.
But the threat to journalists represents one of the rarely-seen darker sides of India.
Ayyub details no less than seven attacks on journalists, all of them severe, many of them fatal. These attacks, the seeming disregard for them by the national government, and apparent apathy towards finding the culprits by some of the presiding authorities, is why India ranks 138th in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, below the likes of Afghanistan.
The case of the Indian journalist’s plight is not uncommon in a nation of so many people that it seems countless grievances get lost in the shuffle. Women in general have it rough in many Indian societies, a fact that a widespread rape scandal has illuminated in recent years.
India is a land where the majority of rapes still go unreported. When they are reported, typically little is done. The stats themselves are horrifying in their magnitude.
‘In India a woman is reportedly raped every 15 minutes. Multiply that by 24x7, 365 days a year. And keep in mind the majority of rape cases still go unreported.’ (The Daily Beast)
Other sources have cited that 20 minutes is the more accurate figure. Either way, it’s an astounding amount of sexual violence, and one that constitutes the true ‘rape culture’ that is often bandied about in America. The details of many of those rapes make the matter even nauseating.
Then there’s the issue of more general crime perpetrated against females, which is even more jarring. The Daily Beast has also reported that every 2 minutes, a woman in India is the victim of a crime.
Critics say that changes haven’t been swift or serious enough to protect the women of India. The evidence suggests that this is true. Others have stated that laws are not enough. A serious shift in culture from the top down is necessary to reverse what has been fairly described as an epidemic of crime – mostly sexual in nature – against women.
Even more concerning are suggestions that, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the problem has only gotten worse. At least, the radical condemnations necessary to spark any cultural shift that may come in India simply haven’t been there.
‘An 8-year-old Muslim girl was locked in a Hindu shrine, drugged, gang-raped for several days and bludgeoned to death with a stone.
As if the January killing in northern India weren't horrifying enough, lawyers and right-wing Hindus this month marched in defense of her assailants. Prime Minister Narendra Modi waited several days before condemning the crime, which was reported by police this month, then accused his critics of politicizing the issue.’ (LA Times)
It’s not as if India doesn’t have anything to offer. This is not to say that crimes against women and journalists are the only things worth noting about the second most populous nation in the world.
But, considering the rising stature of India as an economy and a hopeful world power, the world has to come to grips with the nation’s problems sooner than later, because they are substantial and in need of an even more significant fix.