India: Still waiting for the sexual revolution

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 21, 2012

The brutal gangrape in Delhi of a 23-year-old woman has set off a particularly vicious fury, a public call for vengeance, a hang-them cry that might be right out of 18th century France in the throes of the Revolution. Most Indians seem outraged by the tragedy in a way that seems to suggest a surprised anger that such predatory sexual violence exists. Why are we so surprised?

Surely, it is a mistake to equate ‘emerging India’ and its economic change with deeper issues of cultural self-identification, cultural expectations of women and cultural markers for acceptable behavior, especially from women?

The old India still governs mindsets. How can it be otherwise in a country that still tremulously awaits the sexual revolution, its very own Summer of Love, nearly half-a-century after much of the western world? Sex may be everywhere in India: on roadside hoardings, on the big screen, in newspaper adverts but the apparent new openness must be seen alongside a raft of stark statistics, which point to an instinctive orthodoxy,  a furtive and ashamed view of sex and snap judgement of a girl in a skirt as “loose” or “fast”. A few years ago, The New Statesman magazine asked me to write an article on India’s sexual revolution. My piece reflected a view that remains valid today: It’s coming. But it’s a long time coming.