The Gang Rape in India Sheds Light on a System in Much Need of Reform

On December 16th in New Delhi, India, a 23-year-old woman studying to be a physiotherapist was brutally assaulted and raped by six men on an empty bus along with her male companion. The duo boarded the bus after seeing a movie at one of the city malls and were subsequently beaten with metal rods and then dumped on the side of the road, naked and bleeding. The bus even traveled through police checkpoints from the mall parking lot to where it dropped the women off, the abuse not being discovered because of tinted windows. It took almost an hour for police to find them and stop bickering over jurisdiction to take the victims to the hospital. Two weeks later, the woman, who is unnamed due to Indian legal regulations, passed away at a Singapore hospital a few days after going into a coma.

The woman came from a poor background and was trying to lift her family out of poverty. Her father had contributed everything he could to help her realize her ambitions—most importantly, an education—and had defied traditional gender roles in the process. Typically, Indian culture places a higher preference on men, as seen by the fact that India’s gender ratio is 914 girls under age 6 for every 1,000 boys. This is due to sex-selective abortions and in some cases, even female infanticides. The surviving women are trained to become mothers and wives, always deferring to first their fathers and brothers, and then their husbands. Her father said, “I never discriminated between my sons and daughter. I could see nothing else in this world but my children. They had to study at any cost.” He even delayed sending his younger son to engineering college so that he could pay for his daughter’s education because he so fiercely believed that she would succeed. Her mother said, “I always told my children, if you study hard you can escape this poverty. All my life I believed that. Now that dream has ended. My faith has left me.”

Now that the six suspects are on trial (five of them in a regular court and one being tried in a juvenile court because he is 17), the media’s attention is finally focused on the reform of the legal system. In the city that has been called the “rape capital of the world” (Delhi), the culture contributes to the high number of rapes. There are about 75,000 rape cases currently pending, with many of them unreported. According to Jagdeep Chhokar, a retired professor, the number of politicians in India’s Parliament who are facing criminal charges has increased by a third since 2009. He continues, “the trend indicates that political parties believe that winning the elections is the only thing that matters. How the election is won seems to be immaterial.” This attitude breeds and perpetuates a cycle of violence that contributes to cases such as this. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, one woman is raped every 22 minutes in India, and the numbers are increasing constantly.

The future of rape cases in the country remains cloudy, as the system is trying to be reformed, impeded by such obstacles such as the lawmakers themselves being the subjects of such rape or other criminal investigations. How motivated the government officials would be to increase the severity of punishment for crimes they are accused of remains to be seen. Protestors and activists are calling a new bill that Parliament recently passed in response to this incident a “smokescreen”, not completely overhauling the broken system and just attempting to quiet the media attention and scores of protestors demanding change. This new bill still does not mandate barring politicians from impending elections when they have criminal charges filed against them. However, it is a start at changing a system that is so badly in need of reform.

The father of the male victim summed up the rising tension in the country perfectly. He said, “Common people feel they are alone, with no help from the government, police or authorities. People are annoyed, upset, helpless and irritated and nothing changes in India. But the outpouring from ordinary people brings me some hope.”