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India’s Women on the March

CHENNAI – Sometimes countries suddenly take a mighty leap forward, forcing everyone else to take notice. On one critical issue – sexual harassment and rape – India has moved far into the lead. Following a number of brutal rapes that became notorious worldwide, Indian women are pushing back in radical, innovative, and transformational ways.

The attacks have been ceaseless and indiscriminate. A 51-year-old Danish tourist and an 18-year-old German aid worker are among the most recent non-Indians to be raped. But so is the coverage of them by India’s media. On January 14, The Weekreported on the case of Suzette Jordan, a 39-year-old Anglo-Indian mother of two in Kolkata, who survived what has become a numbingly familiar story. In 2012, she had a drink in a bar and agreed to a ride home with a man she had met; when she entered the car, four other men piled in. They put a gun in her mouth, beat her savagely, raped her, and dumped her on the roadside.

Her reporting of the crime brought new recriminations: the member of Parliament for her constituency, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, called the rape “a deal gone wrong”; another minister called her experience “a concocted story.” But Jordan fought on, and a trial is underway; she has also started a group to support rape survivors.

The level of sexual violence directed against women in India is not unusual; what is unusual is that the country’s media are now covering the issue as a burning social problem, rather than sweeping it under the rug. And women themselves are politicizing the issue, rather than blaming themselves for being too friendly, not careful enough, or in the wrong place at the wrong time. They – and the men who support them – are standing up to rape in ways that should be a model for the rest of the world.