India's women are speaking out about rape. When will Britain's women do the same?

Depressingly, unlike in India today, British Asians and Arabs will not confront community secrets and lies


I was at the Kolkata literary festival last week. It is the brainchild of the softly  spoken Mrs Maina Bhagat, who runs a bookshop in the city. The festival had buzz and intellectual vitality. William Dalrymple launched his new book about an early Afghan war which decimated the British forces. And all over a slave girl, he said, who escaped from her master and shacked up with a Scotsman. But in the cafes and restaurants the talk was all about the Delhi rape and murder. You sensed that a line had been crossed and that nothing would ever be the same again.

Then I flew back and into the Savile report and, simultaneously, the shockingly low rates of conviction for rape in Britain. Only 1,070 rapists are convicted each year. An average of 15,670 victims report the crime. According to the Justice Ministry and Office for National Statistics, one in 20 women is subjected to a serious sexual assault before she reaches 60.

So do we now assume that old feminists like the uncompromising Andrea Dworkin were right – that most men hate women and use rape as a tool of torture and control? No. Not all men are rapists. But these statistics show too that many are. Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, was in India last week too. She is calling out for a global plan to stop these violations, a strategy which is bound to fail because the experience of rape doesn’t raise universal condemnation around the world, or even among all British residents and citizens.

In India, Asaram Bapu, a grey-bearded Hindu loon, who has a large female following and a vast fortune, opined that the Delhi rape victim would have survived if she’d had God in her heart, by pleading and claiming the men as her brothers.

Muslim godmen have called for a ban on women and men mixing. Politicians have thrown in their bits of “wisdom”. Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the extreme right-wing RSS, said a woman’s place was in the home and her duty was to satisfy her husband.

Jayshree, a biology teacher, was defiant: “Those men who killed her probably thought they had the right to do what they did. My younger sister was raped in Delhi in 2008 but decided to accept what happened. Nothing I could say to her made a difference. That’s the mindset we must now change.” So over there, progressives are challenging the way people think. Police, the courts and other institutions reflect widespread misogyny, which you find in both rural and urban areas. Rape “pollutes” a female. The cult of purity is strong in holy texts.

No, not all men are rapists. But these statistics show too that many are.

Those beliefs prevail among British Arabs and Asians too. In all the years I’ve been a  journalist, I have not witnessed a single rape victim coming forward. Yet I know how much rape within marriage, incest and sometimes stranger violation goes on.

In one London refuge five women had been raped regularly by their husbands. But the wives blamed themselves and wouldn’t involve the police because, as Shireen put it: “Who will marry my sister and daughter if they know what happened to me? Hiding such things is necessary.”

The gangs of Asian men who exploited young, vulnerable white girls were probably vile to their wives and sisters too. The culture of fear and violence doesn’t stop at the doorstep. And depressingly, unlike in India today, British Asians and Arabs will not confront community secrets and lies. The mindset will, I am sure, be transformed in India. I don’t see it happening here without activists and politicians getting their act together.

Britain needs to look at the official mistrust of raped asylum seekers too, from the Congo, Zimbabwe and almost every African nation. They are often disbelieved by the UK Border Agency staff and their bully boys from G4S when they tell their stories – perhaps because of an underlying prejudice that African women are not really damaged by rape. You know, it is such a regular part of their lives, they are “used to it”.

We, who are traumatised by the national groomer Savile, need to be as concerned about the UK Border Agency deportations of these black rape victims .

The children abused by Savile were also doubted (or doubted themselves) because he was a super-celeb who brought sparkle to hospitals, the BBC, the drabness of life. What allowed him to carry on for decades was not a set of misogynist values, but denial. True, none of our religious and political leaders has behaved badly since the full truth came out. However, I reckon more people knew what was going on, including the police and other DJs. Celebrities apparently feel that fame gives them the right to abuse young males and females with impunity.

Jayshree, quoted above, is concerned that “everybody is washing all the clothes together”. As if Savile and those Delhi rapists are the same. With Savile it was celebrity madness, a terrible thing. But what happens here and among Asians in the UK is the validation of abuse by religion and society. But I do think both countries are experiencing a moment of truth about rape. Nothing can ever be the same again. I hope.”

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