“The frequent rape cases cast a shadow on the quality of Indian democracy”

The increasing number of rape cases reported in recent months in India has been portrayed by China’s state-run media in recent articles as an indicator of the “failure” of India’s democracy to ensure good governance and “the weakness and incompetence of India's democratic system.”

A commentary published on Thursday by Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper wrote that “the frequent rape cases cast a shadow on the quality of Indian democracy.”

Both the gang rape case in New Delhi and the recent attack on a Swiss tourist have received wide media attention in China, both in official media outlets and on microblogs, seen by bloggers as reinforcing widely-held perceptions here that India was an unsafe country for women.

“The Indian rape epidemic has not only shocked the world, but shamed the country which prides itself on being the largest democracy in the world,” said the commentary in the Global Times, which is published by the People’s Daily, Communist Party’s official newspaper.

“India's rape problem comes from two things. India has a deeply-rooted social discrimination against women. And India’s rule of law is loose and government management is lacking. These two things are closely linked to each other, and directly decide the level of India's social progress and the quality of its democracy,” said the article, authored by senior editor of the People’s Daily Ding Gang.

“Why does India’s democracy fail to bring more effective rule of law, but instead allows the worst facets of traditions to flourish and thus severely restricts India's modernisation to this day? This is, I’m afraid, a question that deserves thought from the Indian elite,” Mr. Ding wrote.

The article said other developing countries had done far more than India – which consistently ranks very low on global indices on the social status of women – in raising women’s social status and ensuring their safety.

That China has fared far better than India on this count has, indeed, been highlighted by several studies. A United Nations Development Programme report in 2010 found China doing better than South Asian countries in improving the social and economic status of women in the past six decades.

Women's participation in the labour force in China was 70 per cent, compared to 35 per cent in South Asia and the global average of 53 per cent. Life expectancy had risen to 75 years, while female literacy rates were more than double of India’s, the report said.

The Global Times commentary argued that the processes of “dispelling old habits through changing social perceptions and putting in place legal methods... to make new rules and protect women from assaults” were being impeded by India's political system.

“India's democracy not only enables those deeply-rooted bad habits to survive, but even further fosters them,” the commentary argued. “Many developing countries heading towards modernisation are gradually accomplishing this basic procedure. But this seems especially difficult in India. The reason lies in India's democracy.”

These views have, however, not been shared by many Chinese bloggers. Following the New Delhi gang rape case, editor of the Global Times Hu Xijin stirred a controversy on the Chinese Twitter-equivalent Sina Weibo, saying that India’s democratic system was to blame for the lack of law and order.

Many Chinese “netizens” hit out at Mr. Hu for using the case in India to justify China’s one-party authoritarian system, with some pointing out that state media outlets, which extensively reported on the Indian case, failed to report on a recent case in China where local officials allegedly raped school students.

Other netizens viewed the mass protests in New Delhi with some envy, pointing out that the Chinese would never have been allowed to have gathered on the streets to voice their opinions. Kai-Fu Lee, former founding president of Google China, told his 24 million followers on Weibo that “the system [in India] allows the people to take to the streets and to expose the scar, so the government has to face it squarely.”

“If the scar is hid firmly,” he added, “it will instead fester and become inflamed, and by that time, it would be too late to face it.”