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Narrow focus on New Delhi incident misses scope of India's rape crisis

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  December 20, 2012 03:43 PM

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It is for good reason that New Delhi, the capital city of India, is being hailed by the national media as the "rape capital" of the country. On Monday evening, after a movie trip with her male friend, a 23-year-old-woman was raped and beaten mercilessly in a moving bus by five men, while her friend was battered for protesting. They were stripped naked and were thrown out of the moving bus. The woman now is now battling for her life in a hospital; her damaged intestines had to be removed to prevent gangrene. Angry protesters have taken to the streets and online social media to vent their ire. This year alone, close to 600 rapes have taken place in New Delhi.

India’s National Crime Records Bureau data for 2011 states that 37,929 people were arrested on charges on rape. Five per cent of those arrested were released before any trial. And for those that do go to trial, the rate of conviction is distressingly low. New Delhi is worst by nearly every measure.

By Tuesday, a shocking video was circulating across social networking sites: a news channel camera recorded a car full of men leering at the young woman journalist from the same channel, who was, at that time, reporting about the gang-rape from the streets in New Delhi. With the car's license plate number in hand and the men captured on camera, would they be arrested for violating India’s indecency laws? Unlikely, as the NCRB data shows.

But New Delhi is not alone in India's rape or sexual assault mania. Even as the country has been reeling under the shock of this horrendous crime, news accounts pour in of the body of an 8-year-old girl floating in a canal, in the eastern state of Bihar, on Tuesday. Her body bore injury marks that hinted rape. In West Bengal, a 24-year-old woman was set on fire after being allegedly abducted and gang-raped by a neighbor and his friends. Close to New Delhi, a man was arrested for raping a minor girl, after he had promised to marry her. In the northeastern state of Meghalaya, an 18-year-old girl was raped by 16 men. Last month, in the metropolis of Mumbai, a man entered the house of a Spanish national through the window, raped her, and then escaped with her money.

In July this year, there was much public outcry about a detailed video of a 15-year-old girl being molested by 15 men in the eastern city of Guwahati. The man behind the camera was the videographer of a local news channel. He later resigned from his job, along with the channel's editor, for public outcry capturing the molestation live on camera instead of calling for help, and later for airing the entire episode on television.

Even as India inches towards being a superpower in the economic world playground, women continue to be harbor fear. Earlier this year, the police chief of Gurgaon — a satellite town of New Delhi and an emerging commercial district — said businesses should send women employees home by 8 p.m. News magazine Tehelka's secret-camera investigation of the attitude of the police in New Delhi, with regards to rape, explains the low conviction rate of perpetrators. A common thread weaves through the narrative of this investigation: cops believe that most women agree to consensual sex for money and later cry rape when they are not paid the sum. Some others have asserted that women invite trouble themselves by wearing clothes that reveal skin. One said that a mother who lived with a younger man was giving the wrong signals to her young daughters.

Even as candle light vigils take place for this woman battling for her life in the hospital, scores of such incidents taking place in the hinterlands of the country go ignored by the media, government, and even many of the protesters taking to the streets this week in New Delhi. Rape has long been used as a tool to coerce indigenous women to give up their land for mining; Dalit or "lower-caste" women are raped simply because of their social status. While Parliament demands inquiry and action of the New Delhi incident, Soni Sori, a teacher from a tribal village who was sexually assaulted by police, continues to writhe in pain in a jail in Chhattisgarh, in central India. The officer who ordered stones to be shoved into her body cavities was even given a gallantry award by the outgoing president.

It is this selective choosing which rape to highlight that promises no change in the attitude towards women. Every 25 minutes, a woman is molested in India; every 40 minutes a woman in raped. In the wake of the New Delhi rape on Monday, some are demanding fast-track courts; others are debating over death penalty for the accused. But these are only responses to a crime that has already taken place. The bigger question is, how can such crimes be prevented everywhere in India? Who will take the onus of prevention? And how?

Priyanka Borpujari is the IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow for 2012-2013.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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