The story of a young woman gang raped on the orders of a rural village council made headlines across the world last month.
Perhaps what is particularly shocking about this case is not just the horror of 13 men attacking a defenceless 20 year old woman, but the fact that rape was meted out as a punishment for her daring to have a relationship based on her own choices. Village elders in West Bengal not only felt justified in condemning her relationship with a man of her choice from a neighbouring village, but also that gang rape was a fitting response.
Rape being used as a punishment is nothing new, but when it comes on the orders of those that are respected by a society – the village elders in this case – that we realize how deeply ingrained prejudice against women is. What chance does a woman have if the people who oversee her world have such a warped idea of justice?
It could be easy to take this case in your stride, to shrug it off as yet another story of brutality taking place across the world, but the central issue at the heart of this case is as relevant here in the UK as anywhere else. It is about a woman having the right to make her own choices and to live free from the fear that she will be punished for those choices – be it through domestic violence, being forced into marriage or disowned.
It took great bravery for the unnamed Indian woman and her family to come forward, especially considering reports that those accused had threatened to set fire to their homes if they went to the police, and every day there are women like her who contact The Sharan Project. Women who want to lead fulfilling independent lives and just need a little bit of support to make that choice possible.
For more information about The Sharan Project, visit www.sharan.org