An activist speaks out
IEN: Less than four weeks after a deadly gang rape in New Delhi set off fierce debate over attitude towards women in
India, there is word now of a new attack over the weekend. A 29-year-old woman was travelling alone on a bus in
northwestern Punjab state when she was allegedly raped by six men. Joining me now is advocate, activist and educator Aruna Papp. She is the author of “Unworthy Creature: A Punjabi Daughter’s Memoir of Honour, Shame and Love”. And you know about this. You were born and raised in Delhi. You know about what’s happening there. And what strikes me is we are hearing about these gang rapes now — you know, the one, the two, the three, the four maybe — but how much more is actually going on?
PAPP: I was born in Punjab but I was raised in Delhi.
PAPP: And I know the place very well. But I think you know from media reports and government reports as well that
every 20 minutes a woman is raped. And 80 percent of these women do not report these rapes because if they report
them to the police the policeman then rapes them as well because they know that these women are damaged, they know
that the family and the community is not going to stop them. So, it continues and has continued for decades.
IEN: If this is systemic then, when you have police officers, as you say, those who make the law involved in acts like
these, how do you solve this?
PAPP: The lawmakers. There are 260 politicians right now sitting in the parliament who have rape charges against them.
And this is not that they’re raping their servants, they’re raping the educated women who are their assistants and
graduates. And some of the charges have been there for 10 years, 15 years. And it’s not going to go to court, they know
that. They’re very confident. These are the lawmakers.
So, if the lawmakers are that confident that they will get reelected, they will get appointed to cabinet seats, nothing’s
going to change. And that is the culture. And they know, they know they’re going to get away with it.
IEN: Do you think though, Aruna, with this spotlight that has been placed on India now and the media attention, I was
reading a report yesterday where a reporter wrote about the fact that the media is now reporting almost every rape that
happens in India. And his hope was that maybe this would somehow lead to a change in attitude. If it’s reported more and
there’s more public awareness that somehow this would change things. And the social media aspect of this as well, do you
think that might have an impact?
PAPP: I hope and I pray that things will change. I hope so, but I’m very cynical. I’m very cynical because it is so ingrained and so deep-rooted. It has to start from the top, which means the lawmakers. Sure, they will have these fast-track courts and they will punish the people who have done this, but after that everybody is going to go about their business. The lawmakers are not going to change. They will put together a bill in a hurry, but it’s not going to pass because we’ve got a stack full of laws that are sitting there from decades that are not passing. And they won’t. So, that’s the system, that’s the culture of this country, that women are looked at as second-class citizens. The cattle, the cows, the buffaloes are more important than women. So , that fundamental thought process has to change. I hope the new generation that is protesting will continue. I hope that the international pressure will continue and the media attention will continue. But I really doubt that it will.
IEN: And in your book you write about this, your experience, as you say, born in Punjab and raised in Delhi. But there is
the whole idea then, if that is so embedded in the culture what happens when that culture comes to Canada?
Canada is that young girls go to school and learn that they can think, they can make decisions for themselves, and they’re
supposed to be in charge of their lives and they’re supposed to have plans for their careers. That’s in direct conflict with
what the parents and their values are. Therefore, we have a very high incidence of honour-based violence, for example.
We have had honour killings as well. But that is because this culture has transported to Canada.
IEN: Tell me a little bit about growing up in Delhi and the kinds of things that were pervasive, the kinds of things that
happened to you even.
PAPP: Well, the thing is, in Delhi when we were growing up we never went out alone. Girls were not allowed to go out alone, even during the daytime. And you hear the same rhetoric from the protesters right now. And that’s almost 40 years ago. So, things have not changed. And for me one incident that comes to mind is I broke my sandals at school, so I had to borrow somebody’s. And I was holding them in a bag. And in the bus this fellow kept pinching my butt and I couldn’t get away because the bus was so tight. So, when his stop came he got off the bus. When he was on the step just before, I took my slippers and started to hit him on his head because I was so angry. The crowd that was standing outside the bus then got hold of him and started to pound him. And I ran home with my friend and I said, “This is what I did.” The girls live in constant fear. If you’re walking down the street they will come up to you and grab your breast and twist it, or grab your crotch. That happened when I was a teenager. I’m a grandmother now, and it’s still happening.
IEN: It’s so disheartening to see that it’s still happening.
PAPP: It’s still happening.
IEN: Let’s hope that this media spotlight, as I said, and, you know, hopefully the young people coming up will somehow
change what’s going on there.
PAPP: And I think we have something to do with this as well. We need to keep putting the pressure on, from international
pressure, that women are important. They have to be protected. They have rights. This is against human rights. And if we
do our part, maybe all of us together can help some change happen.
IEN: Thank you so much for coming on and sharing with us. The book is called “Unworthy Creature: A Punjabi
Daughter’s Memoir of Honour, Shame and Love”, by Aruna Papp.
Aruna Papp, Author and Educator