The Value of a Woman: A Commentary on India’s Daughter

“Our daughter’s name is Jyoti Singh. In death, she has lit a torch… she posed a question. What is the meaning of ‘a woman?”

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India’s Daughter is a poignant BBC documentary chronicling the 2012 Delhi gang rape and broader reflections of rape culture in India. The film features interviews with Jyoti’s parents, the accused, defense lawyers, and members of the judicial system.

However, interviews with the accused prompted the Indian government to seek court orders to prevent its premiere on March 8th, coinciding with International Women’s Day. BBC aired the film within Britain and online, but has since removed those as well. The documentary sparked international controversy, particularly due to comments from the accused and defense attorneys.

 

“When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy.”

Mukesh Singh [convict] 

“You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands. A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls . . .”

Mukesh Singh [convict]

[Describing reactions had a family member been raped]: If my daughter or sister engaged in ‘pre-marital activities’ . . . in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.

– A.P. Singh [Defense Attorney]

 

The litany of injustices within these statements is too great to enumerate, but these types of comments indicate greater problems within societies around the world: violence against women, from sexual violence to physical abuse, is used to assert institutionalized power and teach a ‘lesson’ of superiority.

Why violence? Because whether it be media or society or culture, violence is equated to dominance and power, which is then associated with masculinity. For most, power can potentially come from money and even status, but in profiling the murderers, there was a common theme: poverty. Where money or status cannot be achieved, violence is unfortunately seen as a feasible alternative. This is when the narrow, traditional perceptions of masculinity hurt both men and women. Unfortunately no one understands that to counter that, part of the empowerment of our women can be directly linked to the humanization of our men.

In most, if not all cases of gender violence, this lack of respect is at the heart of the issue. This is even seen within our religion, when before Islam it was acceptable for infant girls to be buried alive, but with the revelations of the deen, their worth and status was raised so that the practice became unthinkable. Attitudes of respect always combat pre-existing cultures of violence.

Even within our own communities, we need to take a close hard look at our reality. Are we taking measures to address issues of domestic violence against women? When hard facts tell us that half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16, when 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted, and when a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner on average every six days. These statistics may be just numbers at first, but they represent real people, within our communities, and a distressing indication that the same problems hit far too close to home.

The gravity of the problem becomes a reality once these numbers are personified and we get to know the person behind the empty statistics. The 2012 Delhi gang rape was more than just a news story or headline – Jyoti Singh was an inspiring, talented young woman full of potential. In chronicling her story, India’s Daughter has posed the question to people, within India and around the world: what is the value of our women?

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ISNA Canada is an Islamic organization committed to the mission and movement of Islam: nurturing a way of life in the light of the guidance from the Qur’an and Sunnah for establishing a vibrant presence of Muslims in Canada. ISNA exists as a platform for all Muslims who share its mission and are dedicated to serving the needs of Muslims and Muslim communities.

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