Inside Story

India gang rape: Progress one year on?

We ask if the 2012 rape and murder of a New Delhi student changed attitudes in a land that has long favoured its sons.

Last updated: 17 Dec 2013 12:46
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The first anniversary of a fatal gang rape in India has been stirring fresh debate on women's rights.

The savage sexual assault in December 2012 shook the nation, and the world, setting in motion nationwide protests and much soul-searching about attitudes towards women.

The 23-year-old victim suffered appalling injuries at the hands of six men, after being attacked on a bus while travelling home with a friend.

I do not feel so unsafe in travelling in busses, or walking, anymore. I have developed confidence in the people around, not much in the security forces but in the people around me … I would say [that] what has happened is that people have come out to the streets … there has been an expression that this cannot go on, and I think that is now contributing to women like me, even younger women, to start to feel a little more confident that they can protest against harassment, and they expect that people will understand and will support.

Sehjo Singh, the director of programmes and policy at ActionAid India

She died 13 days after her terrifying ordeal in India's capital, New Delhi. Prosecutors said it was an assault that shocked India's collective conscience. Women's groups spoke out about what they called a rape epidemic, and a widespread sense of impunity, in the country.

Four of those convicted were later sentenced to death by hanging.

The government has since passed tough new laws, carrying a minimum 20-year sentence for rape, and making stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment a crime.

Twelve months on, it has also introduced fast-track courts for rape cases, and vigils have been held across the capital. Campaigners, rights activists and supporters prayed and lit candles. But there have been mixed emotions.

"I don't think things have changed. It's just that women are less fearful of saying what's happening. I still feel scared to go out beyond 11 at night." one woman told Al Jazeera.

Another protester said: "I am here today because I have a mother, a sister, a sister-in-law, a girlfriend, who are not safe. In the days to come, my wife-to-be will not be safe and neither will my [future] daughter. Because in this country, where a rape occurs every 20 minutes, no woman can be safe."

But commenting on the new laws, Naresh Agrawal, a leader of India's regional Samajwadi Party, said: "We are not in the favour of this bill. We talk about the safety and security of women, but the way the bill has included stalking, staring and other small crimes to be punishable as non-bailable offences, it seems that the society is being divided by them."

And Farooq Abdullah, India's new and renewable energy minister, added: "Today we feel scared to even talk to a girl; such is the condition right now. Now I feel none of us is going to employ a female secretary, because god forbids, if such a complaint is lodged against us, we would be imprisoned."

One of the hopes is that the publicity generated by the 2012 attack will embolden women to speak out. As such, the police say they expect to see a rise in the number of reported cases.

The National Crime Records Bureau says the number of reported rapes almost doubled from 706 in 2012 to 1,330 in the first nine months of this year, and cases of sexual assault quadrupled in the same period, to 2,844.

Looking further back, reported cases of rape rose by more than 50 percent between 2001 and 2012, but the conviction rate dropped from 41 percent to just 24 percent.

So, one year on, has the shocking rape and murder of a young woman helped change attitudes in a land that has long favoured its sons? Can perceptions casting women as the weaker sex be successfully challenged?  And in a land of 1.2 billion people, is real progress being made?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Sohail Rahman, is joined by guests: Sehjo Singh, the director of programmes and policy at ActionAid India; Srila Roy, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Nottingham, and author of books on gender violence; and Rajeev Awasthi, a lawyer in India's supreme and high courts.

"I think after the Delhi rape case there was a tendency ... to talk of it as a specifically Indian problem … media seem to present it as a uniquely Indian problem, or a problem of Indian culture, and then question why are Indian men raping Indian women, and obviously that is a very dangerous discourse, because we all know that violence against women is a global phenomenon … What I would say [is] it isn’t exceptional to the Indian context but in every context."

- Srila Roy, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Nottingham


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