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Thursday, March 7, 2024

Rape in India: A Nightmare For Women and Girls

      Because of India's history of infanticide, child marriage, slavery and rape, it was one of the worst places in the world to be a female. Girls and woman who had been raped were routinely blamed for their victimization and discouraged from reporting the assaults to the police. If they did the victims and their families were subjected to public ridicule and humiliation.

     Police officers in this male-dominated society often refused to accept rape complaints. And when they did register rape complaints the crimes weren't professionally investigated. In those occasional instances where rape cases were taken seriously, crime lab delays slowed down the process of identifying the rapists. In India's Forensic Science Laboratory in Rohini, it took 75 days for a DNA report to come back to the investigating officer. These delays were caused by a work backlog caused by a serious shortage of qualified lab personnel. In the rare instance of an Indian rape prosecution the case would drag on for years, and almost always ended with an acquittal. In India rape was treated as a victimless crime.

     Among India's major cities, New Delhi the nation's capital and home to 16 million people, had the country's highest number of reported rapes. Because such a small percentage of these assaults were reported crime statistics did 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 an 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 and threw their nude bodies off the moving bus.

     The unidentified woman 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, 2012, 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. The rape victim's cause of death was listed as brain injury complicated by a lung infection.

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

     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 involved testing the laxity of a rape victim's vagina to determine if she had been "habitual to sexual intercourse." The obvious purpose of this procedure was to humiliate victims and to discourage victims 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 reflected how most men in India blamed rape on the rape victim . 

     City politicians in New Delhi, facing a wave of public anger, tendered the rape victim's family monetary compensation. Officials also offered one of the victim's unemployed relatives a government job.

     On January 3, 2013 five of the suspects were charged with, among other crimes, rape, kidnapping, and murder. The defendants were 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 was a juvenile. He was not 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 called 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 (italics mine) was not committed by just one side."

     A defense attorney representing three of the accused rapist/murderers announced on January 9, 2013 that his clients would plead not guilty. The attorney also claimed that the suspects were beaten by the police.

     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 hanged himself. The suspect's father claimed that he had been murdered.

     On September 10, 2013 the adult defendants were found guilty of rape, murder and kidnapping. The guilty men faced the sentence of death by hanging. In May 2017, following numerous appeals, the Supreme Court of India upheld their death sentences.

     On the night of March 15, 2013, in the wake of the gang rape on the New Delhi bus, another Indian rape case grabbed international attention. On Friday night, March 15, 2013, a Swiss couple on a three-month vacation were camped out in the forest 400 yards off a road near the town of Datia in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The couple had ridden their bicycles to the spot from the temple town of Orchha. In the morning they planned to bicycle to the city of Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal.

     The Swiss woman and her male companion, that Friday night in the Indian woods, were set upon by seven men. The intruders beat them, tied the man to a tree then gang raped the woman. After committing the assaults the rapists stole the tourists' cellphone, laptop computer and their money. The rape victim was treated for her injuries at a hospital in the nearby city of Gwalior.

     Two days after the gang rape of the Swiss woman the police in Datia arrested six men suspected of the assault. The next day the suspects were charged with rape, assault and theft. All of the men were poor farmers from villages near the scene of the attack.

     On January 14, 2014, a 51-year-old Danish woman vacationing in New Delhi's most popular tourist spot in the Paharganj District was gang raped after asking a group of local men for directions to her hotel. A few days later New Delhi police officers arrested two suspects.

     On December 5, 2019 a 23-year-old woman who, in March 2019, had filed rape charges against two men, was set on fire as she walked to a hearing on the case. The next day she died in a New Delhi hospital. The police quickly arrested the two men who had burned 90 percent of her body.

     On the day the New Delhi rape victim died from her burns police officers in Hyderabad, India shot and killed four suspected rapists in an unrelated case. While civil rights activists protested the killings as police vigilantism, the women as well as many men in the community, celebrated the rapists' deaths.

      After the December 2012 gang rape and murder of the young woman on the New Delhi bus, rape was viewed as a prominent criminal problem in India. Although the 2012 case focused attention on the issue, sexual violence against women in India did not abate.

     In 2012, 25,000 rape cases were reported to the Indian authorities. In 2016 there were 33,658 reported cases of rape, an average of 92 a day. In 2017 the number of reported rapes dropped slightly to 32,559. In 2018 the Indian government announced the addition of 1,000 fast-track courts to deal with the rape backlog. But there were too many rapists in the country. In 2019, with national court backlog of 127,800  cases, justice still came slow for Indian rape victims if it came at all. 
     On March 4, 2024 police officers in eastern India arrested three men for the gang rape of a Brazilian tourist and the assault of her husband.
     India is still not a safe place for women and girls.

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