A Subcontinent Of Inequality
Bloomberg Businessweek|October 26, 2020
The plight of two women from completely different ends of the social spectrum tells one big story about India
By Ruth David

It’s been a punishing year for women in India—and not only because Covid-19 has made life and work a daily crisis. The barriers remain stark in 2020: economic, cultural, legal, political, even journalistic. The summer saw some of the country’s television channels and newspapers demonizing a Bollywood actress who was accused of everything from black magic to murder after her actor boyfriend reportedly killed himself in June. When autumn arrived, media became fixated on another woman—a teenager belonging to India’s lowest caste, the Dalit community, who was allegedly gang-raped by members of a higher caste and died on Sept. 29.

The caste violence and the Bollywood scandal are at different ends of India’s social spectrum. One involved a woman oppressed by religious tradition in the depths of society; the other, a free-spirited female member of the entertainment community. Yet the fate of the unnamed 19-year-old rape victim and the plight of the 28-year-old film star, Rhea Chakraborty, paint a bleak picture of the status of women in India today. Together the two incidents reveal the way many politicians, including members of the ruling Hindunationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and much of the country’s hyperactive social media envision a woman’s place in India— subservient to the bounds of traditional mores. If women remain second-class citizens in the world’s biggest democracy, the effects on the country’s struggling economy will be dire.

I come to this enormous issue from my admittedly personal interest in a legal battle that got under way in the fallout from one of India’s most high-profile #MeToo cases. My Bloomberg Quint colleague Priya Ramani is fighting a defamation suit by M.J. Akbar, a prominent newspaper and magazine editor who became a cabinet minister in July 2016 in the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He resigned in 2018 after Ramani, I, and several other women who had worked with him accused him of sexual harassment. Defamation is a criminal charge in India, with a penalty as long as two years in prison. Powerful people often use it to silence accusers. The verdict had been expected at any moment, but on Oct. 13 the “fast-track” court that had been hearing the case for two years cited a 2-year-old Supreme Court of India order and said it had to be transferred to a local tribunal. If that happens, the case could be delayed for months or years and result in the final arguments having to be made all over again. The judicial system has effectively become a deterrent to women contending against powerful men. Ramani’s lawyer has been working pro bono.

Crimes against women in India increased about 7% in 2019 from the previous year, and Uttar Pradesh, where the young Dalit woman was raped, topped the list of states with the worst rates. After her death, protests erupted across the country, with opposition politicians and activists calling for justice and accusing Modi’s government, as well as local officials and police, of trying to cover up the crime. According to news reports, the Uttar Pradesh government hired a public-relations agency to contest that she was raped. The victim’s family said police hurriedly cremated her in the middle of the night against their wishes. Her alleged rapists are all members of a higher caste, to which Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, also belongs. The chief minister, who’s also a BJP member, stayed silent for days and spoke out and promised an investigation only when protests escalated.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEKView All

It's Not Just the Confetti

How Robinhood made stock trading easy, approachable— and maybe too hard to resist

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)

Not-So-Great Green Jobs

Clean energy isn’t a wellspring of the better-paying union jobs Biden has been touting

6 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)

THE COLLAPSE OF COPERNICUS

The implosion of Curt Schilling’s video game empire was a $150 million reminder that the industry’s workers are always on the verge of disaster

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)

Drivers Wanted

○ Riders are flocking back to ride-hailing, but drivers need more nudging

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)

Making That Money

For music executives like Kevin Liles, of the hip-hop label 300 Entertainment, the pandemic has mostly made a good life better. A lot of musicians, however, are experiencing something different

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)

LAST STANDS

The soothing escapes that old-growth forests provide are probably much closer than you think. But they’re under siege

9 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)

Hands Off My Football Team!

The European Super League followed a model shaped in the U.S. Opposition from fans scuttled the idea

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)

Can Aluminum Really Go Green?

Alcoa and Rio Tinto —with a push from Apple—are trying to clean up production of one of the dirtiest metals

6 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)

Unending Pandemic. Global Anxiety. Travel Restrictions. Perfect Time To Start An Airline!

David Neeleman, airline savant (think Jetblue) and perpetual optimist, is at it again with a new budget carrier called Breeze

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)

Go Big or Go Home

Joe Biden tackled Covid and an economic crisis in his first 100 days. It won’t get easier from herea

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 26 - May 03, 2021 (Double Issue)
RELATED STORIES

An Exclusive Interview With Nandakumar Narasimhan

The Little Red Train

10+ mins read
Lens Magazine
March 2021

A Room for Dad

Before Mom passed, I made a promise to her

8 mins read
Guideposts
April 2021

THE DANGAL IN THE JUNGLE, PART 1

YOU KNOW YOU’RE SOMEBODY WHEN YOU’VE APPEARED ON AN INDIAN DANGAL POSTER — IN OTHER WORDS, IN A WRESTLING ADVERTISEMENT.

6 mins read
Black Belt
April/May 2021

WOUNDS AND THE WOMB

JULIE PETERS explores how to heal a relationship with the sacred womb, a place of death, life, and possibilities.

8 mins read
Spirituality & Health
Mar/Apr 2021

BE SQUIRRELY

Giant squirrels, giant lessons? Animal chaplain SARAH BOWEN explores what squirrels can show us about mindfulness.

4 mins read
Spirituality & Health
Mar/Apr 2021

Life Changing

I was happily married, happily employed, just plain happy. Until the accident

8 mins read
Guideposts
February 2021

IN SEASON Chickpeas (GARBANZO BEANS)

Chickpeas appear in early recordings in Turkey well over 5000 years ago. India produces the most chickpeas worldwide but they are grown in more than 50 countries. An excellent source of carbohydrates, protein, fiber, B vitamins, and some minerals, they are a nutritious staple of many diets. The name chickpea comes from the Latin word cancer, referring to the plant family of legumes, Fabaceae. It is also known by its popular Spanish-derived name, the garbanzo bean. Kidney beans, black beans, lima beans, and peanuts are other familiar foods found in this legume family.

1 min read
Alternative Medicine
February 2021

Giving More, Taking Less

FRANCOIS BOUDERLIQUE learnt about the basic principle of Nature – to give more than you take – when he left a high-powered banking job in Paris to live and farm in Kutch, India. He realized that his understanding of eco farming was colored by his past and he needed to open his eyes to a new reality.

3 mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
February 2021

Moringa – Cook With Color

In India, moringa has long been used medicinally. This nutrient-dense green food, best known for its energy-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties, adds a mild spinach flavor to recipes like this delicious dip.

1 min read
Better Nutrition
February 2021

Wild-card playoff: Buffalo 27, Indianapolis 24

Stefon Diggs and the rest of the passing game ultimately came through in the end

3 mins read
Bills Digest
February 28, 2021