Too slow to change

One year af­ter the vi­cious as­sault of a stu­dent on a New delhi bus, protests and re­ports of abuse in in­dia have in­creased. but is it any bet­ter to be a woman there to­day?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN - By SUNNY HUN­DAL

IT took the po­lice 14 days to reg­is­ter the rape al­le­ga­tion and a fur­ther 30 days to make an ar­rest, by which time the vic­tim had killed her­self.

The aw­ful case of a 17-year-old kid­napped from her small vil­lage in In­dia and raped by two men in a field dur­ing Di­wali’s cel­e­bra­tions emerged only af­ter last year’s hor­rific gang rape of another stu­dent in New Delhi on Dec 16 last year sparked in­ter­na­tional out­rage.

The 23-year-old stu­dent was trav­el­ling home from the cin­ema with a friend when she was vi­ciously attacked by six men on a bus.

The woman died from her in­juries 13 days later while un­der­go­ing emer­gency treat­ment in Sin­ga­pore, in a case that sparked na­tional and in­ter­na­tional protest.

A year on, it seems fair to ask what dif­fer­ence hor­rific cases such as th­ese have made to the treat­ment of women in In­dia.

The elder sis­ter of the girl from the small vil­lage in the Pun­jab who was raped in a field has said that af­ter the teenager tried to re­port the in­ci­dent, po­lice of­fi­cials first re­fused to reg­is­ter the case and then pres­sured her to make peace with the al­leged rapists.

“On some oc­ca­sions, the po­lice­men would take her to the po­lice sta­tion in late evening hours. They also tried to force her to with- draw her com­plaint.”

The at­tack­ers, un­der no le­gal re­straint, threat­ened their vic­tim and her fam­ily.

On Dec 26, the young woman swal­lowed poi­son just as protests were gain­ing mo­men­tum in New Delhi.

One news pre­sen­ter said: “Even as Delhi streets are bub­bling over with protests, it took the sui­cide of a 17-year-old rape vic­tim for the po­lice to fi­nally act on her com­plaint. What good is that now?”

Oth­ers are ask­ing the same ques­tion. The Delhi bus case ap­pears to have en­cour­aged more women to come for­ward if they have been raped, and for the me­dia to re­port th­ese al­le­ga­tion, but in many other ways lit­tle ap­pears to have changed.

Soon af­ter the Delhi rape, the In­dian gov­ern­ment sur­prised ev­ery­one by quickly set­ting up a com­mis­sion to up­date the law be­fore ac­cept­ing most of its rec­om­men­da­tions (ex­cept, cru­cially, to crim­i­nalise mar­i­tal rape).

But pass­ing pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion is very dif­fer­ent to en­forc­ing it, es­pe­cially in a coun­try where po­lice cor­rup­tion is wide­spread and le­gal bans on dowry pay­ments and sexs­e­lec­tion are rou­tinely flouted.

The lat­est an­nual fig­ures avail­able show that of the 706 rape cases filed in New Delhi in 2012, only one, the most fa­mous, ended in con­vic­tion. Po­lice in Delhi recorded 501 al­le­ga­tions of ha­rass­ment and 64 of rape be­tween Dec 16 last year and Jan 4, and yet, just four in­quiries were launched. Till Oct this year, al­most twice as many rape vic­tims (1,330) have come for­ward, while four times as many al­le­ga­tions of mo­lesta­tion have been made.

One area that has changed in the past year is the na­tional me­dia, which has main­tained in­ter­est in sto­ries of vi­o­lence against women for the en­tire year.

“The me­dia has raised aware­ness by de­fault that In­dia has a lot of gen­der prob­lems. Peo­ple are fi­nally hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions that were oth­er­wise swept un­der­neath the car­pet. It is still not do­ing enough to ed­u­cate the masses about vi­o­lence against women, but the me­dia con­ver­sa­tion is fi­nally mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” says Kr­ishna Khunti, a char­ity worker who lives in Mum­bai.

Just last month, al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault at the re­spected in­ves­tiga­tive mag­a­zine Te­helka made front page news as its ed­i­tor-in-chief Tarun Te­j­pal was ar­rested and ques­tioned. Even its man­ag­ing ed­i­tor Shoma Chaud­hury had to re­sign over ac­cu­sa­tions that she played down the con­tro­versy.

While height­ened me­dia at­ten­tion can spur politi­cians and the po­lice into ac­tion, ac­tivists say it has also had the ef­fect of chal­leng­ing the sham­ing of women who have been sex­u­ally as­saulted. Some rape vic­tims have even re­vealed their iden­ti­ties on tele­vi­sion in a bid to raise aware­ness of the in­creas­ing num­bers of sex­ual as­saults.

The prob­lems of sex­ual vi­o­lence in In­dia un­der­lines the deep-rooted misog­yny of a so­ci­ety where men are val­ued so much more highly than women.

This gen­der gap is due to a toxic com­bi­na­tion of foeti­cide, in­fan­ti­cide, ex­ces­sive ne­glect of girls, mur­der and des­ti­tu­tion. In north­ern and western states, es­pe­cially in ur­ban mid­dle-class ar­eas, it is not un­usual for foe­tuses to be aborted be­fore birth, sim­ply be­cause fam­i­lies don’t want girls. A girl un­der the age of five has 75% more chance of dy­ing through ne­glect than a boy – the high­est dif­fer­en­tial in the world.

But, as the cost of a dowry is ris­ing in In­dia, mak­ing fam­i­lies more re­luc­tant to have daugh­ters, the sex-ra­tio for chil­dren un­der the age of six is con­sis­tently fall­ing – from a high of 983 girls to 1,000 boys in 1951, to 914 girls in 2011.

As the gap be­tween the num­ber of men and women keeps widen­ing, men in some north­ern ar­eas are find­ing it harder to find wives. NGOs re­port “a boom in sex traf­fick­ing” as un­mar­ried men turn to prostitution, kid­nap­ping or even buy­ing young girls as “brides”. Signs of progress are lim­ited. This week’s elec­tions in Delhi saw politi­cians com­pete on safety poli­cies for women for the first time.

“The very fact that par­ties are de­bat­ing women and their rights is a vic­tory for the women’s safety move­ment. This has never hap­pened be­fore,” Sudha Sun­darara­man, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the NGO AIDWA told the Wall Street Jour­nal. But oth­ers pointed to how male-dom­i­nated party can­di­date lists were ev­i­dence of mere pos­tur­ing.

A sur­vey in the DNA news­pa­per last week found that only 15% of women in the com­mer­cial cap­i­tal Mum­bai felt safe while trav­el­ling on pub­lic trans­port.

Af­ter the death of the 17-year-old rape vic­tim, Pun­jab po­lice be­lat­edly sacked two of­fi­cers for mis­con­duct and charged another for abet­ting her sui­cide. The state judge said the ju­di­cial sys­tem was be­com­ing so in­ef­fec­tual and slow that vi­o­lence against women was ris­ing be­cause crim­i­nals felt they would go un­pun­ished.

The vic­tim’s fam­ily told lo­cal tele­vi­sion that the teenager’s fi­nal words were: “There is no­body will­ing to lis­ten to us, mother.”

Even a year af­ter th­ese hor­rific in­ci­dents, too many In­dian women still feel that way. – Guardian News & Me­dia

Fight­ing on: mark­ing the first an­niver­sary of the fatal delhi gang rape of a young woman. The case cracked a cul­tural taboo sur­round­ing dis­cus­sion of rape which is of­ten viewed as a woman’s per­sonal shame to bear. — aP

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