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Is There Hope for the Girls and Women of India?

Every 20 minutes, a woman is raped in India. If you think that is shocking, you have no idea. These are just the reported rape cases. This does not take into account rape as a result of trafficking. The Times of India reported that “crimes against women have increased by 7.1% nationwide since 2010, and child rape cases have increased by 336% in the last 10 years.” Even worse, conviction rates of rape cases have declined. It is actually impossible to get reliable statistics on the rate of rape and trafficking among women in India because it is so out of control.

The last Indian census was in 2011 and it is estimated that there are over 1.2 billion people living in India. Yet in terms of land area, India is three times smaller in comparison to the United States, which has a population of 313 million people. With its high population, widespread poverty and political corruption, it is nearly impossible to enforce laws of any kind. Headline after headline describes rape, brutality and the trafficking of girls and women in India. The irony of it all is that the culture views virgins as highly prized. Men pay extremely high prices for virgins, thus the ages that girls are being trafficked at are getting lower each year.

Dr. Kathryn Hendershot, director of Cross-Cultural Experience at Asbury, has been to Mumbai, Bangalore, Goa, Kolkata, New Delhi and many other places in India. Through her experience there she explained that because of “the pervasive view that women are just pieces of meat,” they are viewed as disposable. “They are treated like slaves and [are] fearful of their own children,” added Katie Oostman, a senior who has been to Goa, India. During her time there working with girls and women, Oostman observed that they simply don’t know what it is like to be of value to anyone.

Rachel Melcher, a senior, has most recently been to Kolkata. She worked with victims of human trafficking. In addition to their self-worth being nonexistent, she said that as girls and women are raped and trafficked, they either put the blame on themselves, or their families place the blame on them. “This blame is internalized and created into shame…it is extremely difficult to overcome. I believe that this deep shame is only able to be overcome through Christ,” said Melcher.

Melcher made sure to point out that not everyone in India has this view of women as lesser beings; but culturally there is more of an expectation for women to be reserved and modest. Oostman agreed with Melcher that in order to decrease the amount of violence towards women, there needs to be a change in the way that women are perceived. The good news is that awareness, education, and advocacy have found their place. People in India are beginning to stand up for women’s rights, as seen in the recent outrage of the increased rapes of young children in Bangalore.

Krista Clements, an Asbury sophomore from Mumbai, offers a perspective full of hope. While she acknowledges that girls and women do endure violence and abuse, she said that many in Mumbai are being taught to stand up for their rights and are experiencing more protection. She added, “As a woman who has grown up in India, I still do feel respected. However, I would say that even though India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, we still have a considerable amount of growth that is needed [in the area of treatment of girls and women].”

Marcus Rixon, who is from Kolkota and a member of the Illuminated class (will graduate in December), encourages students to visit India. Whether you’re traveling around in the India Studies Program, volunteering with Rahab’s Rope or Operation Rescue, or living there, he explained that Indian hospitality is “out of this world. ‘The guest is the god.’ The poorest of the poor will offer you at least a cup of tea, even if that is all they have in their home.”

Oostman aptly described the feeling of first visiting India: “It’s a bit like being in the crash zone in the ocean.” India is so diverse and incredible that it cannot be diluted into even the most descriptive sentence. Clements agreed and added, “You have to experience it for yourself [in order for] the country to grow on you and help you love it. There is so much you can learn from India.”

So how does this all fit together? How can a country so magnificent treat its girls and women like objects that are bought, sold, and crushed? India doesn’t need more foreign NGOs, emotionally stirred people motivated to save it or Westerners coming in to destroy the culture. India needs the truth of Jesus to illuminate it.

“We are all desensitized. We live in a media culture that highlights the strange and unthinkable. No one is surprised anymore by the horrors humanity is capable of,” said Oostman. “God has a call on each of our lives, a direction in which we are designed to serve. With all the noise around us, sometimes it’s hard to hear that call. This is the idea of being still [and it’s vitally important]. Otherwise, you look up and you’re 100 miles in the opposite direction of the problem you’ve been created to help fix.”

Reprinted here from an article written for and published in the Asbury Collegian, September 12, 2014.