International media was alight with the horrific story of a New Delhi student who died following a gang rape on a bus last December. Her attackers’ conviction, however, was the only one that resulted of the 706 rapes reported in Delhi last year.
In fact, the number of rapes in Delhi has nearly doubled this past year since the 23-year-old woman was attacked by six men on a city bus on her way home from the cinema, the Huffington Post reported, citing The Hindu.
While attention from the global community and crowds of protesters in Delhi initially incited promises of sweeping changes by the police and city officials to protect women, little, if any, has materialized, The Guardian reported.
Mumbai’s DNA newspaper found in a survey last week that only 15 percent of women in Mumbai feel safe while travelling in public transportation.
Indeed, while protests were taking place in Delhi over the December attack, another 17-year-old rape victim committed suicide by swallowing poison. She had come forward to police after two men abducted her from a village Diwali celebration and raped her in a field. In the month and a half that transpired between her coming to police and the men being arrested, in the midst of televised protests about the other victim, the young woman killed herself.
Local TV reported that her final words were, “There is nobody willing to listen to us, mother.”
Four out of 10 rapes are reported in India, police estimate.
Reuters published a TrustLaw report in January pointing to prevalent attitudes in Indian society as the cause for the silence: Victims fear being shamed by their families, and even if they do come forward, they are then faced with a series of hurdles in prosecuting their attackers. The police are unsympathetic, often blaming the victims, and outside of Delhi there are no medical centers offering assistance to rape victims.
Additionally, forensic investigations are poorly conducting, so there is little evidence for the victim to use once the case finally reaches trial.
“It takes a very brave person to be a witness in our country because you have to keep coming to court, you have to face hostile cross examination, and you are made to feel like this foolish perpetrator rather than the victim of a crime,” lawyer Rebecca Mammen John told TrustLaw.
“Eventually, you end up asking yourself ‘Why the hell did I bother?’”
The Guardian points to India’s wide gender gap as the source of the problem, calling it “a toxic combination of foeticide, infanticide, excessive neglect of girls, murder and destitution.”
The disproportionate number of men helps perpetuate the subjugation and misogynistic attitudes towards women in Indian society.
Sexual assault in India reaches beyond incidents on the street or on public transportation; the attitude is pervasive. BBC reported on a sex scandal at the prominent investigative magazine Tehalka. Its editor-in-chief and proprietor Tarun Tejpal was charged with sex crimes and simply stepped down for six months to let things blow over. The magazine’s managing editor, Shoma Choudhury, who wrote an article on male attitudes towards sex crimes, was accused in taking part in the cover-up.
Even if, ironically, the media itself is not without blemish, international media coverage is raising awareness about inveterate violence against women in India.
“The media has raised awareness by default that India has a lot of gender problems,” Krishna Khunti, a charity worker who lives in Mumbai, told the Guardian. “People are finally having conversations that were otherwise swept underneath the carpet. It is still not doing enough to educate the masses about violence against women, but the media conversation is finally moving in the right direction.”