A 23-year-old physiology student who was gang raped by six men at the back of a bus in New Dehli on December 16 was badly beaten and died on December 28 in the Singapore hospital where she had been transferred for treatment. She had suffered brain damage, had some of her intestines removed and endured three surgeries and a cardiac arrest.
Many have joined protests about women’s safety in Dehli, India’s capital, that have become violent with police turning water cannons on demonstrators and blocking off streets for days. In northeast India, a journalist was shot and killed by police in demonstrations over the sexual assault of an actress.
228,650 of a total of 256,329 violent crimes occurred against women in India in 2011. The reported number of rapes in Delhi has risen 17 percent to 661 this year and some are asking if there is an epidemic of rape going on in the country. According to Al Jazeera, “some 80 percent” of women in Delhi say they have been harassed. Just on Thursday, a 17-year-old Indian woman who was gang-raped, and had been urged by police to drop the case and marry one of her attackers, committed suicide.
India’s Government Says It Will Investigate, Public Demands Harsh Penalties
India’s government has ordered an inquiry into the assault on the 23-year-old woman who had boarded the bus with a friend. Both were beaten with iron bars and then thrown out of the moving bus. Last Wednesday, India’s finance minister announced that a retired judge would be put in charge of a commission to “identify the lapses” among authorities and “fix responsibility.”
A magistrate who took a statement from the woman in the hospital said that police had interfered, a claim disputed by the chief of Delhi police. But as a journalist, B. Arun, says in Al Jazeera, India’s police ”have their priorities skewed”; they have been accused of pressuring women — like the 17-year-old — not to report rape cases.
In the face of rising public anger and many demanding the death penalty for the attackers, India’s government has said that it will seek life sentences for the accused and announced measures to make Delhi safer for women, such as night patrols by police and banning buses with tinted windows or curtains.
The Government’s “Coded Language” About Keeping Women “Safe”
These measures are a start but hardly enough. S. Mitra Kalita, who lived in New Delhi between 2006 and 2008, says simply that “it’s going to take more than that to make India’s women feel safe.” It is “day-to-day” injustices, from catcalls to groping in public places, that are sending thousands into the streets. She references a speech by Kavita Krishnan, the secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, in which she that argues that the gang rape brutality and such is “coded language” about ensuring women’s “safety”:
…the word “safety” with regard to women has been used far too much — all us women know what this ‘safety’ refers to, we have heard our parents use it, we have heard our communities, our principals, our wardens use it. Women know what “safety” refers to. It means – You behave yourself. You get back into the house. You don’t dress in a particular way. Do not live by your freedom, and this means that you are safe. A whole range of patriarchal laws and institutions tell us what to do in the guise of keeping us “safe.” We reject this entire notion. We don’t want it.
In discussing “India’s rape epidemic,”Al Jazeera notes that a top police official has said that the reason for the rise in sexual assaults on women is that they are better educated, more empowered and more prone to report cases than before.
In keeping with Krishnan’s speech, the message to women in India is that if you get raped, it is because you are not taking proper “safety” precautions and “behaving yourself”; you are “making yourself available” because (thanks to your better education) you can be out in public more, maybe even in a job in which you are working alonside men. If you get raped, it is because you were, know it or not, sending out some kind of “signals” (maybe through flirting) or wearing certain clothing (like a skirt) — all sentiments that have been heard too often in the West to blame survivors of rape for what happened to them.
“Making Krishnan’s speech required viewing, or keeping it on continuous loop” on television screens on every bus might well be more effective to keep women safe, writes Kalita. What does it take for society, and certainly government officials, to understand that the person guilty of a rape is the rapist?
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