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How to Help Feminism

Author: Jagdish N. Bhagwati
January 23, 2013
Prospect

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The horrifying tragedy that befell the young Indian woman Jyoti Singh, who was brutally gang raped in a New Delhi bus in December, and later died in a Singapore hospital, has led to spontaneous outrage. That Indian women face terrifying risk when they venture into public spaces, as they must do in cities and towns and will do even in villages, is a fact that few had appreciated earlier; this is no longer so.

Nor must one discount the fact that the somnolent, indifferent and at times hostile Indian political leadership in New Delhi has been forced into awareness and action. One would have thought that Sonia Gandhi, a woman totally in charge of the Congress party (India has astonishingly backed into the old Soviet model, where the party chairman is the real boss and the prime minister has no real power) would make an immediate address to the nation, much as President Barack Obama did with passion and tears after the shocking slaughter of young children in Newtown, Connecticut. As a female leader, she should not have taken almost two weeks to speak to the women of India. She needs to abandon the "culture of silence" which she has long embraced.

But the reactions have varied greatly—much like the diverse perceptions of an incident filmed in Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa, from short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. They range from thoughtless calls for drastic punishment for rape to expressions of sentiments by men that betray the deeply offensive cultural attitudes of even educated and "liberal" men towards women, which must be confronted.

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