This weekend it was announced that the 23-year-old victim of a brutal gang rape in Delhi, has died of her injuries. The news of the attack has attracted horror and shock on a global scale, and turned the spotlight to India’s government as well as bringing violence against women to the forefront of the news.
The attack happened on December 16, as the victim and her male companion traveled home from the cinema on a private bus. Both were beaten with iron poles and the female student was raped for almost an hour by six men, before both were stripped and thrown off the moving bus. These horrifying details have been shared around the world’s media and attracted days of demonstrations in Delhi. Protests calling for the death penalty and castration, turned violent with the deployment of tear gas and water cannons and left one police officer dead.
The victim, who hasn’t been officially named, died in a Singapore hospital of severe organ failure and brain damage in the early hours of Saturday morning. Six men have since been charged with manslaughter.
Following the protests, the Indian government were quick to announce a series of new measures to improve the safety of women which included shaming convicted rapists, police night patrols and checks on bus drivers. A committee was also configured to speed up the trials of sexual assault cases against women. This comes the same week as an 18-year-old woman in the Punjab area committed suicide, after police had done nothing about a rape she had reported a month earlier.
Unfortunately these cases are far too common in India. Like so many other societies, rape carries with it such stigma and shame that it is often not reported or of it is, not dealt with appropriately and legally. But attitude is hard to change and when it runs through the highest strands of democracy, it becomes even harder. The president’s son, Abuhijit Mukherjee (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-20852513) has already had to make a public apology for calling the Delhi protesters “dented and painted” women on a regional news channel.
But this comment reflects the serious flaws and corruption within the country’s government and police. As Jason Overdorf rightly states on the global post: “By choosing candidates facing rape charges, India’s political parties have implicitly sanctioned the crime.” He is referring to the fact that according to National Election Watch data, 2 members of parliament and 6 of state assemblies are facing rape charges with 36 more facing charges for lesser crimes against women.
A journalist writing for ‘India Today’ warned that this all could be just a “flash in the pan”. The problems run deep, as guidelines regarding rape already laid out by the Indian High Court are ignored by police and hospitals. The pressure now being applied to the Indian government needs to last longer than this week’s newsreel to ensure that real change can begin. A number of organisations including Human Rights Watch and V-Day’s, ‘1 billion rising’ campaign have already harnessed the attention being given to the case and urged people to take action against the Indian authorities and violence against women globally.
It is important that here in the West we remember that this isn’t just an Indian issue, or even a women’s rights issue. These are human rights, which are being violated everywhere.
Laura S. Lea