Amanat: The right lessons from her legacy

As 2012 draws to a close, most Singaporeans’ heartsdelhi_protests_petals_295 are filled with sadness, not joy. All the triumphs and moments of elation this year—from our country’s first individual Olympic medal in more than 50 years to the broader Asian pride we feel every time somebody horses around to the Gangnam Style—have been rightly overshadowed by the shocking, abhorrent gang-rape of Amanat, the Indian lady who passed away in Singapore after having been flown here for medical treatment from Delhi, the scene of the crime.

As we wipe away our tears, and search our souls for answers, many Singaporeans, in a philosophical mood, have come away feeling rather proud about Singapore, particularly the way we treat women. Our attitudes are buttressed, so the argument goes, by our strict laws here. Minister K Shanmugam has said that he cites cases like Amanat’s “in discussions with people who want the death penalty abolished”.[i]

But all this Singaporean triumphalism misses the point. There are at least two reasons why we should not use Amanat’s case for a bout of nationwide fist pumping.

The first is that although Singapore has over the years made great strides in terms of gender equality, there is still a long way to go. Just last year, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) expressed concern about the Singapore government’s level of commitment to gender equality, soon after the release of a report by the UN Convention On the Elimination Of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Aware has “documented forms of discrimination against women in matters related to employment and work arrangements, healthcare, financial security, violence and harassment, stereotyping in the media, foreign brides, foreign domestic workers, sex tourism, trafficking and political representation”.[ii]

Meanwhile, women in Singapore generally earn less than men, particularly in blue-collar jobs. For instance, the median wage of a male cleaner or labourer is almost 30% higher than for a female.[iii] It is a similar story among corporate leaders: women made up only 7% of boardroom positions in listed companies in Singapore in 2011. [iv]

Singapore scores fairly poorly on the World Economic Forum’s 2012 “Gender Gap Index”, ranking 55th out of 135 countries, right below Bulgaria, Poland and the Kyrgyz Republic.

Finally, when it comes to rape—the most relevant topic in the discussions around Amanat—Singapore is hardly a paragon of virtue. It seems disingenuous for Singapore to beat its own drum now when just a few months ago close to 50 men, including some prominent business and community leaders, were charged with statutory rape of an under aged prostitute.

Perhaps the most damning statistic is the fact that the rate of rape in Singapore is more than double than in India. In 2009, Singapore had 202 reported cases; India had 21,397. [v] For every 100,000 people, that translates into more than 4 rape cases in Singapore; but only 1.8 in India. (Countries such as Azerbaijan and Armenia have some of the lowest rates, at around 0.5 per 100,000.)[vi]

Perhaps there is less reporting of rape in India. But under-reporting is a problem in Singapore too. The CEDAW report highlighted “the persistence of domestic and sexual violence against women here—which it says remains under-reported”.[vii]

One big difference is that India seems to see more violent, random rapes in public areas, like Amanat’s. In Singapore, by contrast, familiar people, including friends and relatives, committed some 96.5% of the 202 rapes in 2009.[viii]

Compared to Delhi—and many other parts of the world—Singapore has safe streets, and we must cheer the fact that women can walk around in the middle of the night safely. But Singapore has a different sort of a problem that must be acknowledged, and not swept under the carpet of some false gender equality. Just because our streets are safe at 3am does not mean that a Singaporean woman is not suffering somewhere.

The second reason why Singapore should not use India as a base of comparison is because this country should be striving to emulate more developed countries; there is little to be gained from grandstanding against less developed countries that are completely different. India and Singapore are not on some common developmental trajectory, with Singapore further ahead. Our starting points and journeys are completely different. For instance, Singapore never had to deal with the deep-rooted chauvinism that exists in certain quarters of Indian society.

Rather than looking to India, better instead220px-Johanna_sigurdardottir_official_portrait to emulate the likes of Iceland, which topped the World Economic Forum’s 2012 “Gender Gap Index”. Among its many other remarkable signs of progress here, in early 2009, Iceland elected its first female prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (pictured), who also became the world’s first openly lesbian head of government.

Amanat will always be in our hearts. Her legacy should serve to remind the world that wherever we are, whoever we are, we must continue the struggle to achieve gender equality in our own societies. Each country, including Singapore, has challenges that need to be addressed.


[i] Facebook Status Update, K Shanmugam, Dec 30th 2012

[ii] “AWARE urges more gov’t commitment to gender equality”, Yahoo!, Aug 5th 2011

[iii] “Occupational wages 2011”, Ministry of Manpower

[iv] “More support for women in the workplace”, Grace Fu, Parliamentary Debates, Oct 17-21 2011

[v] “The silence of sexual assault survivors”, publichouse.sg, Sep 1st 2011

[vi] “Rape statistics”, Wikipedia

[vii] “AWARE urges more gov’t commitment to gender equality”, Yahoo!, Aug 5th 2011

[viii] “The silence of sexual assault survivors”, publichouse.sg, Sep 1st 2011

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23 responses

  1. Very interesting point on the per capita rate.

    Comparing oranges to oranges, if you see how such things rarely happens in Thailand and Indonesia, we have to look at how ‘society’ operates around the “oldest profession”.

    India has the craziest laws on prostitution. Check in to a hotel with a lady and police can knock on the doors and march the both of you to the station on ‘brothel’ charges – unless you have documentary proof of marriage.

    It the worst place on earth, where the women trade is totally controlled by the under-world who have very strong political connections.
    Take Spore, if someone for some reason, needs to pay for sex, he goes to Geylang. Where most times he buys it from somebody who is in that trade on her own accord.
    Same in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand where there are ‘palces’ to go to for such matters.

    Morality of it is debatable for some, but thats how things have been going.

    Many people accept this arrangement in the fact that men’s lust for such matters are taken care ‘peacefully’ and in a voluntarily basis.
    Like the famous case of the under-aged pros in Spore – I am just glad that these men were able to full-fill their needs (unjustified in my eyes)) on a willing-buyer-willing-seller basis and not resort to violence and rape of a young girl/women.

    Unfortunately, India blocks this outlet in a big way, and this trade had gone ‘under-ground’ with little protection for the women involved in it.

    Interesting there are large outlets like Sonagachi in Kolkata and Kamathipura in Mumbai, where large number of activities occur in very low hygiene environment.

    I think India has to rethink this whole matter and learn from other countries and ‘liberate’ their environments. This way, innocent victims can be kept safe and alive.

  2. If you going to count this way, I’m sure Singapore have higher murder, rape, robbery etc etc than countries like India and China.

    • When we are trying to analyse a problem like this, it seems that the per capita rate is much more relevant than absolute numbers. Bigger countries will always have higher absolute numbers than tiny Singapore. For the same reason, we tend to look at the HIV penetration rate, rather than absolute number of HIV carriers. When I compared Malaysia’s and Singapore’s crime rates a few years ago, what I found is that Malaysia has a higher rate of more brutal crimes, e.g. murder, while Singapore has a higher rate of less brutal crimes, e.g. pickpocketing. Could be many reasons for this, but there you go. Not sure about India and China.

  3. you need to take into account how much rape goes unreported in india, where there is more social stigma against victims of rape. take the example of the recent suicide of the victim after her case was dismissed by local police and she was told to marry the rapist.

  4. Many thanks Sudhir for writing this piece. KJ referred and read it to us.

    I hope Singapore ICA’s have a system to stop the hardcore criminals from coming in as FWs.

    We have many ladies going out late into the nights and coming back late. Stay safe and be blessed, always, even when skimpily dressed.

    Singaporeans accept ladies out late enjoying themselves at night as it is not in our culture to look at ladies out late at night as shady ladies of ill repute.

  5. We are in a severe age and time where the settlement of account phenomena has become faster and stricter. I hope the spiritual gurus of this family in grief will guide them spiritually as a tragic death has happened in the family.

  6. There is *no* way India has a lower rape per capita figure than Singapore.
    If you go by the official figures, the USA has about 15 times as many rapes per capita as India. Believable?

  7. Thanks Sudhir for this piece. Totally perked up my new year.
    I was growing tired reading about how expat Indians who have now made Spore home, hailing to the heavens their good fortune to walk around late at night and sending their children in school buses by themselves in Spore. While I understand why they would compare with India, especially Delhi which is where they had come from, I don’t think Singaporeans need to gloat and think that we are better and India is a lousy, terribly unsafe place. The worse is when politicians here use these very articles and use it to reaffairm and make political points of how great they are. The point that the Indian expat is making gets completely misplaced.

    Yes, I agree with you. Surely we should benchmark ourselves against developed countries instead of developing countries like India and others. That we hardly ever do unless we top a convenient survey.

    If any Singaporean wants to be proud about anything over this case, it is the fact that the Indian government trusted the Singapore medical facility – its competence, professionalism & infrastructure to send their girl here. That’s worth being proud of, because we have made ourselves have a world class medical care system comparable to many other developed countries.

    Being the best place for women to live, we are not.

    • Yes, thanks for the feedback. I always find it a bit strange when migrants tell me that locals shouldn’t be critical of Singapore because it is so wonderful here compared to where they just came from. On the one hand, there is no reason to benchmark Singapore against a less developed place. On the other, it does also provide some perspective for us locals. Which is good. Of course, it’s a completely understandable migrant/visitor reaction….to compare your new home to where you just came from. We all do it when abroad.

      Good point on the medical system. Thanks again!

  8. Hey Sudhir

    I am a local born Indian increasingly looking towards India as some kind of refuge and sanctuary. I am not young- in my 50s and semi retired. Singapore has gone a long way since my rather idyllic days growing up by Siglap beach. Those days the races weren’t polarized- in fact there weren’t even any races! We were all Singaporeans.
    I say gone because that’s where Singapore is going-going going gone. The mother tongue policy has seen to our separation. To cut a long story short here are my observations on the matter

    1) India is in shits. That is true. But its due to venal corrupt leadership- if one can call it leadership. Just like a bad degenerate father demoralises and dispirits the family so does bad leadership. Congress is corrupt and venal and they have to takemoral responsibility for this

    2) See how the media has gone to town in putting Indians in a bad light. Now EVERY Indian man is a potential rapist. With sites like 3in1 kopitiam banging the gongs announcing this, with our erstwhile SPH slanting all reporting with the above bias in mind, we Indians are a sitting duck.
    Singapore is a duplicitious country. On one hand the politocos go to India and try to extract every thing they can get, their propaganda wing, in true majority race fashion, stabs us in the back.
    But to be sure, if they are in trouble, they, who cursed us and called us all kinds of names will have no qualms to be jostling their way to the top of the queue for assistance. This is what the Singapore Indian security alliance is all about. The news is lingering on Yahoo. Bad news about China hardly makes the stands
    I don’t know what our hapless halfwit High Commissioner is doing about all this. I think ALL Indians are cottoning on to this.
    You with your reach can do something about this. Highlight this duplicity of the Singapore Chinese.
    Let them be on their own, when Indonesia comes a calling. After all Singapore harbors their criminals and criminal money.

    Thank You

  9. I will tell you a true story that occurred many moons back. It is true.

    A cousin of mine (a minor) ran away with a boy as the story was told. My father interpreted the story differently. His niece was seduced or maybe even forced to go with a local Indian college goon much older than her. He spent the night with her. Don’t know the details and never cared to find out. Only learnt that my father was arrested and spent a month in jail until making bail.

    Disagreed with what my father had done until I grew older and learnt the realities of Indian society after I did not have the walls built around me by my father for my protection. My father learnt where the goon had taken the girl. Went there and picked him up and drove him back to his farm. Put him in a hole made for processing sugar. Beat the crap out of him. Made him drink his own urine to help him heal faster from his wounds or so he said. Things went bad one day when the goon got tough on the farm workers and threatened them. The farm workers beat the crap out of him and poured acid on his male parts, which now resulted in his life in the hole for further healing.

    I am told that the goon lived a normal life after this episode. And all my cousins lived on normally without ever being scared of another goon.

    The more I hear of what happens in Delhi. The prouder I am of my father. Desperate times have desperate solutions. I don’t live in India but my property in India does not move an inch thanks to a father who has long passed.

    In short, Amaanat’s father should walk into the accuseds homes and beat the crap out of them and cut their male parts off. Worry about what happens later. I can assure you that he will be well respected in jail, get bail and live his life with pride as I can assure you he will not be convicted as there will be no witnesses.

  10. Ansolutely agree with you. The parents are to blame because the apple doesn’t fall from the tree and the tree is known by the fruit it bears. Kill the parents

  11. Sudhir, watched you on CNA this morning.
    The “Gang Rape’of Amanat
    Many people dont realise that that was NOT a gang rape- it was something else.
    If it was only rape, she would have survived.
    And to frame it against a background of rape, ( eg charges, discussion etc is totally wrong)- They should have charged it as some kind of serious bodily assault with intention to murder.

    2) And about Beyonce- who cares right? The bigger thing was the inaugeration and a a more hopeful prseidency. I mean it not as if it was a Beyonce concert and people paid to hear her sing in person.

    • Thanks jayjay. I wasn’t sure who actually watches CNA that early! Yes, agree with both your points. Rape on its own is bad; this is heinous. That said, am still glad with the committee’s decision, i.e. I’m against the death penalty. Beyonce…I’m too biased, but ya, I don’t see what the big deal is. :)

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