From far across the world it is easy for the media to distort the way our society perceives a country. The level of coverage given to an issue, in particular the recent rise in sexual violence in India, can make that issue seem exclusive to that country when in reality, it is an international problem.

The sexual violence in India which has dominated much of this year’s media coverage, despite ranking third for the number of rapes reported each year, has been so prominent in the news that it would suggest it ranks much higher. The coverage of India in British news, therefore, seems somewhat disproportionate with world news and suggests a misconceived idea of the country which has led the media to associate it with violence and a less developed awareness of human rights. This prejudice seems extremely out of place in a world fighting racism but when we look to the history of colonialism in India, reasons for it become more apparent.

In England, the opinion has historically been held that with increased education come lower levels of violence. Since Thomas More’s Utopia rocked social philosophy with the suggestion that education was the cure to thievery, England has set itself to the task of national education. This concept, however, was not internationally grasped and other countries, such as India, took longer to develop this philosophy. With a head start in national education, statistics suggest that education in the UK is still more widespread than in India. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) the “out-of-school rate for adolescents of lower secondary school age” is 22.8 percent in India, compared to the UK’s 2.4 percent.

Our society is based on the understanding that education is key to social advancement. Plato’s words that “education is teaching our children to desire the right things” ring through Western philosophy. The necessity of education has been ingrained in our history since the Romans first arrived on our shores in 55 BC with their calendars and fancy plumbing. However, with a wealth of history to support this philosophy, we have since fallen into intellectual arrogance. When we ventured into the colonies in the eighteenth century, we did so with a strong sense of superiority which influenced the way we perceived Indian culture.

Originally, commerce with India offered the English a rich business opportunity. Commodities such as cotton cloth and spices were much sought after by the British population. The East India Trading Company had the monopoly on English trade with Asia and by the eighteenth century had established settlements in the Indian provinces where such commodities were readily available. Rivalry between the French and British over conflicting interests in India meant that the British became more involved in Indian politics and supported factions that opposed the French in order to drive them out of the country. British ascendancy in 1763 established rule in Bengal, placing India under the control of the East India Trading Company.

Back in England, the idea of India was filtered across the Channel, rumours spread of a far off, mesmerizingly decadent country  filled with Eastern riches and mysteries never before seen or experienced in the West. However, with this novel discovery came the assumption that India was associated with the savage. It was regarded as a country which could not compete with the intellectual prowess of England and was, therefore, inferior. Eighteenth century society knew very little about India, but were very aware of their own heritage and, relying on rumours and stories, generated wild assumptions about India.

In the twenty-first century we run the risk of viewing India with this same ignorance. With India featuring so much in the news it is easy to forget that the violence is not removed from our own society, we are by no means superior to another culture, despite our historical inclination to assume so. The sexual violence in India needs to be approached as an issue humanity faces across the world, one which surpasses cultural boundaries and has become one of the most prevalent threats women are currently facing.

The ‘Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict’ summit agreed on just this. The threat of sexual violence is an international priority. Brought together by world-renowned actress and humanitarian worker Angelina Jolie, 151 countries signed a protocol to document and investigate sexual violence in conflict zones. It marks the beginning of an international movement to dispose with myths surrounding sexual violence, and to warn against the idea that Western culture is somehow above it. It is a potential threat to every country, regardless of how each nation may perceive itself. For all its civilised nature, the UK is not exempt from sexual violence and should always be wary of falling into misconception.