Sexual violence perpetrated against women and children in the Indian subcontinent is, unfortunately, a daily occurrence. As it stands for children, according to BBC online, ‘A child under 16 is raped every 155 minutes and a child under 10 every 13 hours.’ Late last year a three-year-old girl was left fighting for her life, as she ‘was left in a critical condition requiring surgery following her brutal rape by a next-door neighbor in Delhi.’ Further, in January of 2018, ‘the brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old named Asifa Bano’ sparked outrage across the nation. To that end, amongst a string of vicious attacks against women last year, Express online recounts the facts of a select few. In one case, engaging with the police proved fatal as the perpetrators retaliated by murdering the rape victim. In this case, ‘the girl was horrifically burned to death after her distraught parents complained to the police about her being kidnapped and violently raped.’ The occurrence of such crimes remains too commonplace. However, the voice of reason and justice echoes strongly throughout India.
‘Her pain should be our pain’ are the powerful words of Swati Maliwal who is currently serving as ‘the Chair of the Delhi Commission for Women.’ Maliwal exercises a great degree of care and compassion in her advocacy against sexual violence. Turning first to her engagement with the victims and their families, it is noted that she strives to ‘meet with the families of most victims.’ In fact, the Guardian reports that ‘she has lost count of how many women and girls in hospital beds she has sat across… “Probably hundreds,” she says.’ To that end, she has strongly criticized the inadequate nature of the law in bringing perpetrators to justice. Maliwali has stated that ‘if there are no convictions happening in the capital, no wonder the perpetrators don’t feel scared… There’s a message that whenever you do something, you’ll somehow be able to get away with it.’
At the more grassroots and individual level, a landmark ‘public rally was held by Indian rape victims in early 2019 in the capital of New Delhi.’ Its importance for the victims of families cannot be underestimated as many have traveled, some on foot, for thousands of miles to raise their voices in unison against the crime. One such story is that of ‘Teju Bai [who] walked for a month to join the rally.’ The journey came in response to ‘the rape of Bai’s daughter-in-law last year.’ The experience of her daughter-in-law and her family brings to light the existence of a strong and rigid patriarchal tradition in rural India. As opposed to being offered care and compassion by her fellow villagers, victim blaming, and shaming came into play. In the words of Teju Bai, “the villagers ostracized us and called my daughter-in-law names.” In fact, the victims’ character as a woman also became a point of attack following the ordeal ‘as the victim was accused of “enticing men” while her husband was away.’
The continuance of rallies such as these, as well as mass public protests which have been ongoing in India, are crucial in the fight for justice and gender security. While tougher sentencing measures will inevitably send a stronger and clearer message, arguably backdated attitudes must also change. All human beings deserve to live peacefully and with dignity. However, until victims of rape and sexual violence are not protected by their communities the move towards peace and security becomes difficult.
Evidence currently depicts a very dark and grim picture, as it is noted that ‘a rape is reported every four hours in the city and a molestation every two hours.’ And it ought to be noted that these are the reported figures, it is possible that the actual figures are much higher. Since ‘the Nirbhaya Rape case which rocked India’ a wave of swift reforms were put into place which was aimed at strengthening female protection and bringing perpetrators to justice. Amongst such was, ‘the establishment of six-fast track courts that were set up to handle rape cases,’ although no real change appears to have emerged from such a move, despite well-placed intention.
Women and girls in India, and likewise around the world, are entitled to live with dignity and freedom at hand. India needs to continue strengthening the avenues in place through which justice ought to be delivered to victims. Whether this involves exploring means through which the fast track court model can become a stronger and more efficient platform for redress, or whether it involves greater care facilities for those traumatized it is a matter to be considered by Indian authorities. To that end, well into the future public rallies which provide victims, a voice ought to continue. This is because not only does it enable those victimized to share their pain but it also allows their stories to filter into mainstream media. It is also true that attitudes needs to change. The girl is immensely invaluable, however, there are those that may not see eye to eye regarding this point. The fight for justice needs to remain strong and ongoing, for real change to achieved in the future.
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