News / Solidarity and Sisterhood

New Delhi gang rape

india

Image courtesy of Ramesh Lawani via Flickr.

By Sameera Raja.

India, one of the world’s largest democracies, was shook to its core on Dec. 28 when the victim of a heinous rape attack, which happened earlier in the month in New Delhi, passed away due to organ failure and bodily harm. Now known as the ‘Delhi gang rape’ the incident has led to youth-run protests across the nation, after a bus driver and a group of men assaulted a 23-year-old medical student on a bus. The attack and death of the woman, came as an international realization that sexual assault and rape attacks still exist in today’s society, and have gone unacknowledged for far too long.

The victim was reported to board the bus on her way home and realized minutes later it had gone off route, there after attacked by the five men and the driver. The assault was found to be premeditated, and the perpetrators are now charged with murder.

Many students, men and women alike, grew furious and held massive protests outside India Gate. Some women from local colleges felt the perpetrators should be sentenced a death penalty.

The question among the protestors and citizens was the same, why had the government or law enforcement not intervened to create a safer environment for women, and could this attack have been prevented?

Farah Mawani, founder of Farahway Global, a human rights and health agency, says “violence against women is a problem with multiple determinants at multiple levels, that requires a systemic approach to prevention.”

“It is important to consider rape within the broader context of violence against women, because in addition to sexual violence, it includes physical and psychological violence, all of which are forms of control and abuse of power that have very severe impacts on mental health,” says Mawani.

“The power imbalances at their root, at societal, community, family, and individual levels, need to be first acknowledged then addressed,” says Mawani. “In addition to focusing on the critical changes needed within justice systems, to ensure that women are supported to report violence against them, and perpetrators are brought to justice, far more attention needs to be placed on violence prevention.”

It is difficult to estimate the number of rape cases in India, as most are unreported because women and young girls fear for their safety, or the stigma attached to rape.  According to the National Crime Bureau of India in 2011, 24,206 rape cases and 8,570 sexual harassments, that predominately took place in New Delhi and Mumbai, were filed under First Information Report (FIR).

In July 2011, New Delhi held its first Slutwalk campaign, after a woman was attacked by a group of men while leaving work. Women at the campaign dressed in casual jeans and carried signs in the city’s streets stating, ‘I have nothing to be ashamed of’ and ‘Delhi is in rape crisis.’

Since the attack, India’s law enforcement received criticism after a senior police officer publicly advised women to not travel after dark and carry chili powder when traveling alone. Last November, Punjab police refused to file an FIR for an 18-year-old girl who was attacked, and insisted she drop her case and marry the perpetrator. Sadly, the teen committed suicide 44 days after.

The Parliament of India, Rajya Shabha, was left divided in opinions on what the verdict should be for the perpetrators, and how India should approach rape culture. President Pranab Muckerjee, expressed his condolences and called the victim, “a brave daughter of India.”

However, Member of Parliament, Jaya Bachchan, urged for action and to amend the penal code for rape, sentencing of ten years or less in prison, to be at par with attempt to murder – life in prison or death penalty. Bachchan felt the ongoing attacks represent the inequality of women rights, and demanded the attack not be dismissed like many other cases. In 1992, Bhanwari Devi from Jaipur was attacked by six men and later offered compensation. Although she refused, the men were acquitted of all charges. The Supreme Court is still pending an appeal.

It is clear that women’s security should be a priority in India, but is often left on the backburner. Women are condemned for their appearance or oppressed and blamed for the attacks. But is the answer to rape culture in India capital punishment for those convicted, and the hundreds of rape cases filed, to finally be trialed. Or is there a need for societal change, on how women are perceived and treated.

“Violence prevention needs to comprehensively address the many interrelated, multi-level determinants of violence. Instead of focusing solely on the individual level, violence prevention efforts must target family, community and societal contexts for individual behaviour. This requires commitment and collaboration of diverse stakeholders, including different levels and departments of governments, wide-ranging service providers, researchers, survivors of violence, perpetrators of violence, and the general public,” says Mawani. “ Every sexual assault against a woman in any part of the world, represents a multi-system failure. We need to work hard towards change to prevent such failures that have such grave consequences on the lives of women, families, communities, and societies. I hope that this is a turning point that enables diverse people to come together and work towards the common goal of improving women’s lives, which will in turn improve the lives of families, communities, and societies.” M

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