The Indian media is in an uproar following the brutal killing of a girl, aged 16, in Delhi at the beginning of June. Video footage of the incident shows that the victim’s 20-year-old boyfriend, Sahil Khan, attacked the girl in public after she attempted to end their relationship. Despite numerous witnesses, no one intervened as Khan stabbed her more than 20 times and bludgeoned her to death.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi got emotional after hearing the news. He can’t ever listen to such news about our daughters,” Hans Raj Hans, MP from Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, told the Hindustan Times. “We can’t fill this void now. The accused must be hanged to death.”
This is not the first time the B.J.P. has found itself condemning examples of violence against women and promising to punish the perpetrators, but not everyone is satisfied by the party’s rhetoric. Many have questioned whether the state is doing enough to protect girls and women from similar attacks, and Farah Naqvi, an Indian writer and activist for women and minority rights, is highly critical of how the government has treated these crimes. “‘Mataaon, behenon aur betiyon (mothers, sisters and daughters)’ is the core of BJP-speak on women,” Naqvi wrote in an article which The Wire published a month prior to the Delhi attack. “Women in this framework are relational appendages to the male-headed household. They occupy roles. Critical roles, but structurally subservient ones.”
Since Modi’s and his party’s coming to power in 2014, India’s reported levels of domestic violence and abuse against women have been steadily rising, especially in rural areas – despite the country’s tightening of anti-assault laws. Data suggests that the vast majority of these women have not made any attempts to extricate themselves from their violent or abusive familial situations, with only 1% having sought help from law enforcement. As of right now, Indian women have no criminal law protection against marital rape and are only able to seek legal protection via civil law means, which do not punish the perpetrators. On top of that, a significant amount of assaults and violence is believed to go unreported, with women and their families fearing persecution and shame.
According to a recent government survey, more than 40% of women and 38% of men believe that it is acceptable for a husband to beat his wife as punishment. By treating women first and foremost as the property of their husbands and fathers, the B.J.P.’s “mothers, sisters, and daughters” rhetoric re-inforces the underlying expectation that men can do what they like to the women who rely on them, while purposefully turning a blind eye to the violence perpetrated by family members and romantic partners. With B.J.P. politicians espousing this mentality, it is difficult to accept the party’s claims that it is truly combating violence against women.
It is vital that India not only further advance legal protections to prevent women from being harmed by their family members, but also, perhaps even more crucially, to make efforts to change the mentality surrounding domestic abuse. Perpetrators like Sahil Khan must be punished for their attacks, but the need for retribution cannot be allowed to overshadow the importance of preventing further violence and providing help to victims. Indian women are still in danger as long as they feel unsafe seeking help.
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