Professors weigh in on India’s treatment of women

Professor Sunil Bhatia took this picture at a stoplight in Delhi in the days after the rape of a woman on a public bus there in December.
Professor Sunil Bhatia took this picture at a stoplight in Delhi in the days after the rape of a woman on a public bus there in December.

In response to the brutal rape of a woman in New Delhi and the subsequent discussions of the realities Indian women face, two professors with ties to the country have published opinion pieces in a web journal, The Feminist Wire.

In his opinion piece, Professor of Human Development Sunil Bhatia argues that new sexual offense and anti-rape legislation being considered in India will only be effective if safe, private and sanitary restrooms are made available.

Bhatia writes that more than 600 million people in India lack access to proper toilets, forcing them to travel long distances, often before sunrise and after sunset, to meet their bodily needs. Women forced to practice what is known as “open defecation” are subject to harassment and assault.

“For many women in urban and rural India, lack of sanitation is linked to issues of health, safety, dignity, and education,” Bhatia writes.

In 2006, Bhatia started Friends of Shelter Associates (FSA), a local chapter of the Indian nonprofit organization Shelter Associates, to raise awareness about access to sanitation in urban and rural India as both a matter of public health and human rights. Bhatia is the author of “American Karma: Race, Culture, and Identity and the Indian Diaspora.” His forthcoming book, “Globalization and Culture: Narratives of Youth Identity from Call Centers to Chai Stalls,” will be published by Oxford University Press.

Shubhra Sharma, the Vandana Shiva Assistant Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at Connecticut College, writes in one opinion piece that India’s elected officials “need to do more to ensure liberty, equality and security for all women.”

Sharma writes about her mother, who was born the year India was declared a republic.

“She was one of the many millions of Indians to whom the nation and its constitution (and its pledge to making their lives free) was dedicated,” Sharma writes. “At 64, my mother and her republic are clearly at odds with each other. At 64, my mother’s republic has turned on her and her daughters.”

Sharma writes that she is cautiously optimistic that the new legislation being considered by India’s administrators will empower women and help transform the country’s political, legislative and judicial culture.

“If this happens, then my 64-year-old mother might consider reclaiming this nation and this republic as her own. She might even consider bequeathing this republic to me, her daughter, and her granddaughters with a smile on her face and her heart,” she writes.

Sharma, the author of "‘Neoliberalization’ as Betrayal: State, Feminism, and a Women's Education Program in India,” also wrote about rape and women’s rights in an earlier piece on The Feminist Wire.

February 7, 2013