A Plaster On A Gaping Wound: Four Men Responsible For 2012 Nirbhaya rape, hanged

Four Indian men were hanged last week for the violent rape and abuse of a female student on a bus in Delhi seven years. The victim was christened ‘Nirbhaya’ by the press – meaning “fearless one” – and died two weeks after the attack. Although the perpetrators were tried and condemned in 2013, the case was prolonged for over seven years. Hundreds gathered outside the containment facility where the prisoners were held, cheering the news of the hangings. Many worry, however, that the executions – the first in India since 2015 – will do little to improve the safety of women in India.

For the victim’s parents, justice has been done at last. The victim’s mother, Asha Devi said: “I hugged my daughter’s photo and told her we finally got justice”. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that “justice has prevailed”; chants of “death to rapists” were heard from the crowd who had assembled with placards near the prison in Tihar. Geeta Pandrey, however, writing for the BBC, fears that not enough is being done to ensure the safety of women in India. Asked whether women were safer today than in 2012, Pandrey put it bluntly: “A short answer to that question would be: No”. Data from Reuters corroborates her opinion. In 2018, it reported that India was the most dangerous place for women in the world. Some statistics find that a woman is raped every 20 minutes in the country.

This makes for an incredibly sombre reading. Furthermore, there are potentially large numbers of cases that remain unreported, due to social stigma. India has a massive problem with violence against women, and while some may celebrate the executions as a mark of justice, one must feel they are merely a plaster over a gaping, open wound. Modi has been accused of ‘deafening’ silence on the issue of women’s safety in recent months, and the initial laws he passed when elected have clearly not done enough. As Geeta Pandrey has pointed out, education programmes aimed at changing the perception of women among children may yield results in the future – but they leave a gap. The view of women as inferior has proved difficult to expunge. Surely the beginning must stem from actively promoting holistic equality, in workplaces, media and school curricula, rather than trusting that the scare factor of hangings is enough?

The shocking situation in India for women has perhaps been overshadowed by the alarming citizenship bill that was passed by Modi’s BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in December last year, which sparked international protests. The bill was passed just a week after four young men were killed by police for raping and murdering a young woman in Hyderabad, before setting fire to her body. Again, the death of the rapists was celebrated by almost 2000 locals as a victory and vindication for rape victims. Yet the root of the problem seems to be much deeper. Public executions, or hasty police interventions, may well prove to be cutting off the hydra’s head, stirring up a layer of resentment and hatred in some groups of young men. More sensitive thought needs to be put into these perpetrators – it is astounding, for example, that the four men hanged last week pleaded not guilty. It must be understood where these pockets of hatred, violence and sexual entitlement come from. Only then will India be able to tackle them head-on. The current generation of women in India do not deserve to live in fear, hoping that education programmes will make life easier for their daughters. They need a hope for change in their own lifetime.

Joel Fraser