Three years after New Delhi, India’s rape culture is still strong

21 December 2015 9:47 am

And so the youngest of six people convicted of the 2012 gang rape of a woman in New Delhi, a case that shocked the world, has been freed after the court refused to extend his three year sentence.

The offender, who was 17 at the time of the crime, had received the maximum punishment of three years from the Juvenile Justice Board. The Delhi high court judges said they could not halt the man’s release because his sentence complied with existing law. “We don’t want to interfere in the Juvenile Justice Board,” the two judges said in their ruling.

The case involved a 23-year-old physiotherapy student who was gang-raped by six men on a bus in Delhi. She was assaulted with inanimate objects, and she sustained internal injuries so severe that 95 percent of her intestines had been destroyed by the time she was taken to the hospital. She died from her injuries, and her story drew international attention to the problem of sexual assault in New Delhi.

The adult rapists were sentenced to death.

In response to the attack and the widespread public protests it provoked, India’s government rushed through legislation doubling prison terms for rapists to 20 years and criminalizing voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.

But not enough is being done. The victim's parents petitioned the National Human Rights Commission to stop his release. The court thought otherwise.

Protesters took to the streets to protest the decision so the chances are the offender is not going to survive for that long.

For sure, things have improved. Indian police are now required by law to take rape allegations seriously, transport is safer and women are fighting back.

The bottom line however is that India still has a rape culture. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a woman is raped every 20 minutes in India. Reported rapes are on the rise in Delhi. According to the latest figures, there were 1813 rapes in 2014, up from 1,441 in 2013. A 2013 report by Girls' Globe estimated that 90 percent of rapes in India are not reported, so the figures would be much higher.

The Indian government expanded the legal definition of rape and increased sentences for convictions, but refused to criminalize marital rape, citing India's cultural heritage that understands marriage differently from the West.

Also, women in India are expected to take violence as normal. A study conducted by Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness surveyed over 10,000 high school and college students throughout India, and found that 57 per cent of boys and 52 per cent of girls believed that women can instigate violent behaviour in men when they dress and behave provocatively. The same study found that 43 per cent of boys and 39 per cent of girls believed that "women have no choice but to accept a certain degree of violence."

With attitudes like that in schools and colleges, it’s clear that education can only do so much.

There’s been some progress but there’s a long way to go. "Laws alone cannot bring lasting change. Society needs to change their patriarchal attitude towards women," says Kamla Bhasin, an advisor at Sangat, a South Asian feminist network based in Delhi. “We need to keep pursuing multipronged efforts to sensitize both men and women.”