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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Rape in India: A Victimless Crime

     Because of the country's high rate of infanticide, child marriage, and slavery, India is one of the worst places in the world to be a female. Moreover, girls and woman who have been raped are routinely blamed for their victimization, and discouraged from reporting these assaults to the police. If they do, the victims and their families are subjected to public ridicule and humiliation.

     Police officers in this male-dominated society often refuse to accept rape complaints. And when they  do register rape complaints, the crimes aren't professionally investigated. In those occasional instances where rape cases are taken seriously, crime lab delays slow down the process of identifying the rapists. In India's Forensic Science Laboratory in Rohini, it takes 75 days for a DNA report to come back to the investigating officer. These delays are caused by a work backlog caused by a serious shortage of qualified lab personnel. (There are many crime labs in the U.S. that have worse backlogs.) In the rare instance of an Indian rape prosecution, the case will drag on for years, and almost always ends with an acquittal. In India, rape is treated as a victimless crime.

     Among India's major cities, New Delhi, the nation's capital and home to 16 million people, has the country's highest number of reported rapes. Because such a small percentage of these assaults are reported, crime statistics do not come close to reflecting India's extremely high sex crime rate. If just half of India's rapes were reported and investigated, the nation's crime lab system, unable to cope with the workload, would completely break down.

     On the evening of December 16, 2012, in New Delhi, a 28-year-old software engineer and his 23-year-old female companion boarded a city bus after attending a movie. The woman, from an urban, middle-class family, had recently qualified as a trainee physiotherapist in a private New Delhi hospital. The bus driver and five men from the city's slums were the only other people on the bus. The passengers began taunting the woman's friend, then knocked him unconscious with a iron rod. Five of the men then beat and gang-raped the woman. At some point, the bus driver turned the wheel over to one of the rapists, walked to the back of the bus, and had sex with the beaten and bloodied woman. Before the one-hour ordeal came to an end, one of the attackers inserted the iron rod into the female victim's body. The men undressed both victims, then threw their nude bodies off the moving bus.

     The unidentified woman (In India, journalists do not have the kind of access given to American reporters.) was taken to the Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi with serious brain trauma and severe injuries to her intestines and abdomen. The police, with the help of the rape victim's friend, quickly identified the bus driver and the five other rapists. Shortly after the suspects were taken into custody, the men confessed, telling the police they had tortured and raped the woman "to teach her a lesson."

     On December 26, following three operations and a heart attack, the authorities flew the victim to Mount Elizabeth's Hospital in Singapore.

     This brutal beating and gang rape on a city bus (operated by a private company) sent thousands of protesters into the streets in several Indian cities. The irate protestors demonstrated against the government's lax attitude toward crimes against women. In New Delhi, demonstrators clashed with riot police.

     Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, facing serious civil unrest, promised police and legislative reforms. But the public demonstrations continued throughout the country, growing in strength daily.

     On December 29, 2012, at 4:45 in the morning, the female victim of the brutal bus attack died in the Singapore hospital. Her body was flown back to India for cremation. (In the United States, there would be an autopsy.) The rape victim's cause of death has been listed as brain injury complicated by a lung infection. The six men responsible for her torture, rape, and death have been charged with murder, which in India can lead to the death penalty. (The Indian media has not provided any information regarding the identities of the rapists, or of their male victim.)

     The fact that Ban Ki-moon, the head of the United Nations voiced "deep sorrow" over this young woman's ordeal and death, reveals how this case has focused international attention on India's rape problem.

     On the day following the 23-year-old's passing, a human rights organization called on the Indian government to ban the so-called "finger test," a medical procedure routinely given to rape victims. This unscientific and irrelevant measure involves testing the laxity of a rape victim's vagina to determine if she has been "habitual to sexual intercourse." The obvious purpose of this procedure is to humiliate victims and to discourage them from reporting their rapes.

     Amid the women's rights protests, a legislator from the state of Rajasthan, in proposing his own rape prevention measure, suggested replacing girls' school uniform skirts with pants. While many ridiculed this politician and his idea, it reflects how most men in India blame rape on the rape victim . If the five slum degenerates and the bus driver hadn't beaten and murdered this young woman, she would be alive, and they would still be out in public raping women with impunity.

     City politicians in New Delhi, facing a wave of public anger, have tendered the rape victim's family monetary compensation. Officials have also offered one of the victim's unemployed relatives a government job. I'm sure they are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts.

     I don't know enough about India to venture a guess as to whether or not this case will be the catalyst for change in that country. But given the nature of government, and how difficult it is to change deeply ingrained cultural traditions, it's hard to be optimistic. There is one good sign, however. At least half of the anti-rape protestors have been men. (The women held candles for the victim while the men called for the perpetrators to be quickly hanged.)

UPDATE

     On January 3, 2013, five of the suspects were charged with, among other crimes, rape, kidnapping, and murder. The defendants are Ram Singh, the 33-year-old bus driver; his brother Mukesh, 26 who cleaned buses for the company; Pavan Gupta, 19, a fruit vendor; Akshay Singh, 24, a bus washer; and Vinay Sharma, 20, a fitness trainer. The sixth suspect, a juvenile, has not yet been charged.

     The male friend assaulted by the men on the bus, in his first public statement about the case, said that he and his friend were lying nude and bleeding on the street for an hour while pedestrians passed by without stopping to help them.

     On January 6, 2013, a popular Indian spiritual guru who calls himself godman Asharam, in a video circulated in the Internet, said, "This tragedy would not have happened if she [the murder victim] had chanted God's name and fallen at the feet of the attackers. The error was not committed by just one side." (Since when is gang-rape/murder an "error?" This so-called guru should rename himself "Asharam The Idiot."

     A defense attorney representing three of the accused rapist/murderers, announced on January 9 that his clients will be pleading not guilty. The attorney has also claimed that the suspects were beaten by the police.

     A second gang-rape involving an Indian bus passenger has occurred in a village in the northern state of Punjab. On January 11, 2013, the bus driver and his conductor drove the 29-year-old victim, the only passenger on the bus, to a vacant building where they and five other men raped the woman. The timing of this crime makes one wonder if these rapists were making a political statement.

UPDATE

     On March 11, 2013, one of the men in custody for the New Delhi bus rape was found dead in his cell. Police say Ram Singh had hanged himself. The suspect's father claimed that he had been murdered.

     

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