Indian Decade

Rape Victim’s Death Spurs Additional Protests

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Indian Decade

Rape Victim’s Death Spurs Additional Protests

Will public outrage translate into real, lasting change?

Protests have erupted all over India after a 23-year-old rape victim died in a Singaporean hospital on Friday night. The girl had been airlifted to a hospital in Singapore after her condition failed to show any significant improvement during her 10-day stay at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital.

“She was courageous for fighting for life so long against the odds but the trauma for her body was too severe to overcome,” said the CEO of the Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore.

People came pouring onto the streets en masse Saturday morning when news of the victim’s death first broke. They continue up to the present.

On Saturday protests occurred throughout the larger New Delhi area but were primarily concentrated at Jantar Mantar, near the Indian parliament in the central part of the city. 

“We want justice”, Hang the Rapists”, “We feel ashamed of the government”, “Treat Women as Humans”- were some of the banners the protestors-turned-mourners carried. A sign being held by an elderly man carried a particularly powerful message: “Rape Olympics: India wins gold; one every 22 minutes”.

Sensing trouble the government took swift action to close down major parts of central Delhi, including government offices and India Gate, a World War II monument that was the site of protests all last week. The government also deployed paramilitary forces in large numbers to augment the Delhi police who were already on the scene. India’s military also cancelled its planned New Year’s celebrations in the capital city in honor of the victim.

Also in response to public anger, the governement charged the six culprits accused of the rape with murder. The victim’s family demanded nothing less with her brother telling media outlets, “The fight has just begun. We want all the accused hanged, and we will fight for that, till the end.”

Additionally, the government has also announced a series of measures to instill a sense of security among women in the national capital and the country writ large. One such measure the government has proposed is publishing the names, photos, and addresses of convicted rapists. Other steps include enacting a quota requiring that women make up one-third of Delhi’s police force.

Early last week the government announced two committees – one to propose measures to speed up sexual assault trials and a second one to investigate the lapses that led to the Delhi rape that took the life of the 23-year-old paramedic.

But the question remains: are these administrative measures enough to address India’s poor treatment of women? 

Despite the fact that women hold top political positions in the country — including Sonia Gandia, the leader of the Congress Party as well as Sushma Swaraj, leader of the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party — India continues to hold a medieval mindset when it comes to women’s rights. This is perhaps best seen through the alarming and ever-rising levels of violence against women in the country.

As the BBC reports, there were 24,000 reported cases of rape in India last year, a 9.2% increase over the previous year. In nearly 55% of these cases, the victims were between the ages of 18 and 30. It’s telling that, according to police records, the victims knew their attackers in 94% of these cases.  For example, neighbors were the perpetrators in a third of these cases while parents and relatives were often involved in other ones. 17% of rapes reported nationwide occurred in Delhi.

And rape is only part of the story. Police records from 2011 show kidnappings and abductions of women were up 19.4%, while the number of women killed over dowry payments rose by 2.7%. Increases of 5.4% and 5.8% took place in the number of cases of torture and molestation respectively, while the trafficking of women increased by an astonishing 122% in 2011 compared with the previous year.

The large scale protests in Delhi and other parts of the country are an early indication that attitudes in India are changing — for the better.