The first verdict in a gang rape trial in New Delhi sentenced a teenager to three years’ detention, and the reaction has been widespread outrage. Protestors outside the court, and the victim’s family, demanded the assailant be hanged.
The case that resulted in the trial happened in December 2012, when a group of six attacked a 23-year-old female physiotherapy student on a moving bus. The defendant, sentenced Saturday, was 17 at the time of the attacks and was the only under-age member of the gang. The woman died two weeks after the rape from internal injuries inflicted by an iron bar the men wielded. She was accompanied by a male companion who was beaten as well.
Political change has resulted from the December attacks, prompting nationwide protests that allowed for reforms and longer sentences for adult sex offenders. Now, Sushma Swaraj, who is part of the opposition in the lower house of parliament, is going to work on amending the law to apply to juveniles. Other lawmakers are also posting complaints and appeals.
The sentence must commensurate with the gravity of the offence irrespective of the age of the offender.
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwarajbjp) August 31, 2013
Broad Indian press voices the outrage felt by many of the people but three years was the maximum sentence allowable by law. Weekend headlines announced that December’s victim was, “denied justice,” and, “Travesty… ‘gets away’ with murder.”
The man, who will now serve about 28 months in a juvenile detention center after his eight months served, was reportedly employed to clean the bus where the attack took place. A child rights activist says that he grew up poor and moved to Delhi at 11 years, by himself, gaining employment in menial labor. The remaining four defendants, currently being tried in adult courts, will learn their fate in the next few weeks. Sentences could involve the death penalty. The man believed to have initiated the attacks apparently killed himself in jail.
While some change in legislation surrounding sex crimes suggests improvements in a country suffering from a violation that is shockingly common, attacks have not abated. Just Saturday evening, a 25-year-old woman was allegedly raped in a suburb of the capital; the perpetrators included two policemen among the total five rapists. Last month, it was a 22-year-old woman photographer on assignment who was gang raped in Mumbai, in an area labeled as upper scale.
Modernization in the country is shedding light on a debate: are there actually more gang rapes being committed or are we just paying more attention? Experts assert that both are true.
Women in the country are more independent, coming in increasing contact with male strangers; they are working and stepping out of subservience, to which they were traditionally relegated. Female family members are also more confident in reporting cases of rape.
Numbers of gang rapes, a long-ignored crisis, are hard to quantify; no reliable statistics exist according to experts. Attacks on women are sadly common, happening often in their own homes, but it was the brutality and the publicizing of the December incident that drew out thousands in the streets of Delhi to express their outrage (as seen in the picture above).
The attacks are not limited to Indian women, March brought the gang rape of a Swiss bicyclist in central India; in May, an American woman was gang raped in the northern town of Manali. These cases prompted the Tourism Ministry to start a campaign they called I Respect Women.
A widening gulf between rich and poor is tied by some experts to the cause for the men’s violent acts. Young, poor, uneducated men are looking for a means by which they can prove their dominance in a rapidly changing environment. The men accused in the Mumbai gang rape lived in the slums near the scene of the attack and had little to no education.
On the positive side, based on the numbers being reported, women are more comfortable speaking out about rape. Cultural stigmas, and apathy and incompetence by officers of the government, made it difficult to report rapes. Ranjana Kumari, a women’s activist with the Center for Social Research, says, “people have lost patience, especially when no justice is served.”
The aftermath of the attacks for women, traditionally a serious taboo to even consider life afterward, is also changing. The photographer raped in Mumbai made a groundbreaking statement to local media: “rape is not the end of life.” Many rape victims are still considered defiled and are shunned from their homes and places of work. This attitude keeps many women silent, but middle class women are fed up with cases such as that of a 2012 gang rape of a 15-year-old girl by three men. The girl, whose family is among those considered outcasts, has been barred from her school, and her mother was killed because she refused to withdraw a police complaint about the attack.
[Images via Wikimedia Commons and Twitter.]