Gaiutra Bahadur in The Nation:
The belief that women are safest when secluded still holds sway in India. On the sleek Delhi metro, there are cars exclusively—though not compulsory—for women, and at their entrance guards outfitted in navy-blue saris stand sentinel to deter male passengers from entering them, whether by mistake or to make mischief. The threat of sexual harassment, from incidents of aggressive ogling or groping (known euphemistically as “Eve teasing”) to rape, discourages women from venturing out alone, especially at night. And if, having gone out, they are harassed or assaulted, they are often told it was their fault. In 2008, a mob molested two Indian-American women as they left a Mumbai hotel after midnight for a New Year’s stroll with their husbands. The chairman of a state human rights commission said of the incident, “Yes, men are bad…. But who asked [the women] to venture out in the night…. Women should not have gone out in the night and when they do, there is no point in complaining that men touched them and hit them.”
The history of publicly engaged women in India—especially those from elite backgrounds, such as Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain and her publisher Sarojini Naidu, the independence leader and future president of the Indian National Congress—is long and vibrant. What’s relatively new are the employment, educational and leisure opportunities that globalization has created for middle-class and lower-middle-class Indian women, who by working in offices, commuting on trains or buses, or shopping in cafes and malls have staked a certain claim. The ranks of women with roles outside the home—once filled mostly by those at the very bottom of the socioeconomic ladder or by those, like Hossain, at the top—are expanding, fulfilling the prophesy of Ladyland at least slightly. Yet Hossain’s dream of freedom from crime remains unrealized in India.
There, as across much of the world, violence against women appears to be escalating. The number of reported rapes in India has surged by 792 percent in the past four decades, making it the nation’s fastest-growing crime. To an extent, the statistics reflect greater reporting, but they also point to a substantive issue.