Will a Horrific Bus Gang-Rape in Delhi Finally Change India's Culture of Rape?

What Women Really Think
Dec. 20 2012 1:12 PM

Will a Horrific Bus Gang-Rape in Delhi Finally Change India's Culture of Rape?

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A December 16 assault on a bus in New Delhi, which left a 23-year-old victim fighting for her life, has triggered nationwide revulsion and protests.

Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images

India may be the world's largest democracy, but it’s also one of the most dangerous countries for women.

As if the Haryana rape spree earlier this year, and the religious and political leadership’s indifference to it, weren’t awful enough, this week brought news of a horrific gang-rape of a 23-year-old med student on a moving Delhi bus, knocking India's entrenched blame-the-victim mentality off its footing. How to demonize a girl who dared watch a film with a male friend before boarding a private bus in a relatively affluent neighborhood around 9 p.m., before most Indians even sit down for dinner? What did she do to invite the next 90-minutes of torture, as six drunk men on board (including the driver, who passed the wheel to a friend so as not to miss his shot) raped her in turn before beating her so badly with an iron rod that medical staff described the site of her naked body, which had been dumped with her friend's alongside the highway, as horrifying? Could this possibly mean that India's pervasive rape culture can't be blamed on women after all?

On Wednesday, angry protests broke out around Delhi, overwhelming police as irate crowds called for police accountability, better protection and even some for public castration. Meanwhile, parliamentarians called for a proper investigation and stricter penalties for law-breakers; some even proposed the death penalty, a far cry from the usual mild finger-wagging. Following suit, the Delhi High Court agreed that the five men apprehended so far should be tried in the fast-track courts, thus saving this case from joining the thousands of other rape cases held up in a system so backlogged that lawsuits often linger 10 to 15 years before going to trial.

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Hundreds gathered outside of India Gate to stage a candlelight vigil on Wednesday evening, but not everyone is convinced that the latest attack will change anything. “People are appalled. And they want instant justice. Chemical castration. Public hanging. Stoned to death. Anything will do. But what has happened is sheer reflection of the way India has evolved. Women being raped day in and day out is a story of Indian evolution,” writes journalist Vivek Kaul. Kaul is describing a country where, almost exactly two years ago, a 13-year old girl was gang-raped by four boys. After they left her by the side of the road to die, she crawled into a brick kiln, where she was found and raped by two other men. Later, she was found and raped by a rickshaw driver, only to be abducted and raped for another nine days by a truck driver and his accomplice. The sad fact that still more gang-rapes have been reported since Sunday's bus attack seems to further confirm that Indian women will continue to stock up on pepper spray and suffer this undeserved short straw in life. India, according to Kaul, is a lost cause.

The thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets this week suggest not everyone is willing to just give up. Similarly, the latest news coming out of New Delhi that the accused have been charged with, among other crimes, kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder, could signal that violence towards women won't be tolerated as it has been in the past. Meanwhile, the young victim remains in critical condition after suffering five surgeries and such massive internal injury that her intestines had to be removed.

Jen Swanson is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.

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