Sunday, December 30, 2012

India: Victim of Gang-Rape in New Delhi Dies in Singapore, A Critical Time for Drastic Change

According to The Associated Press, Indian police in New Delhi have charged six men with murder, adding to the accusations that they severely beat, tortured and gang-raped a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in the capital two weeks ago.

The murder charges were filed on Saturday (December 29), hours after the woman died in a Singapore hospital, where she had been flown for treatment.

A New Delhi police spokesman said the six assailants face the death penalty if convicted, in a case that has triggered protests across India for greater protection for women from sexual violence, and raised questions about lax attitudes by police toward sexual crimes.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was aware of the emotions the attack has stirred, adding it was up to all Indians to ensure that the young woman's death will not have been in vain.

The victim of the vicious physical attack died early yesterday at Mount Elizabeth Hospital  in Singapore with her family and officials of the Indian Embassy by her side. 

The victim's body was cremated earlier today (December 30) in New Delhi soon after its arrival from Singapore on board a special Air-India flight, amid an outpouring of grief by people across the country.

Singh and Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party, were at the airport to receive the victim's body and meet her family members, who had also arrived on the special flight.

The victim, a medical student, and her male friend, were on a bus in New Delhi after watching a film on the evening of December 16, when they were attacked by six men who subsequently raped her. The men beat the couple and inserted an iron rod into the woman's body, resulting in severe organ damage. Both were then stripped of their clothing and thrown from the bus, according to police.

Mourners express their grief nationwide and have demanded stronger protection for women and the death penalty for rape, which is now punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment. Women face daily harassment across India, ranging from cat-calls on the streets, groping and touching in public transport to rape.
COMMENT: A global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June found that India was the worst place to be a woman because of high rates of infanticide, child marriage and slavery. 

New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures. Government data show the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17% between 2007 and 2011.

Wholesale sexual assault and forcible rape are by no means new in India, where even foreign women have been raped with little sympathy or support from local police, most of whom are a contributing factor to the problem, rather than being a solution to the problem.

It is hoped that the severity of the attack on the medical student, as countless bus passengers stood by without rendering aid to the victim, will produce meaningful change in how sexual assault and rape are handled in Indian society.

Then, again, it is also possible that once the December 16 gang-rape drops below the media threshold, India will return to business as usual.

Yet, let's hope that that is not the case, for the sake of women of all ages.