It is sad that this first post of the year is about the brutal killing of a young woman in New Delhi. However, a saying attributed to Buddha states that: “[t]here are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.” We better start recognizing fairly quickly the obvious truth that we, as a society are failing women, and that we have a moral and legal obligation to do better.
As the world knows, on Dec. 16, a 23-year-old woman and her male friend were returning home after watching a movie at a mall in southwest Delhi. After they boarded what seemed to be a passenger bus, the six men inside gang-raped and tortured the woman so brutally that her intestines were destroyed. The attackers also severely beat up the woman’s friend and threw them both from the vehicle, leaving her near death, and her friend with severe injuries. On Saturday morning, 13 days after she was brutalized, she died of multiple organ failure.
Shortly after the attack, tens of thousands of people took to the streets and faced down police officers, tear gas and water cannons to express their outrage. It was the most vocal protest against sexual assault and rape in India to date, and it set off nationwide demonstrations. The protesters took to the streets outraged about the lack of legal protection for women’s rights in the largest democracy in the world.
Although India has laws against rape; seats reserved for women in buses, female officers; and special police help lines, these measures have proven ineffective in the face of a patriarchal and misogynistic culture. It is a culture that believes that the worst aspect of rape is the defilement of the victim, who will no longer be able to find a man to marry her, and where the solution is often for the victim to marry the rapist. The rapists are obviously at fault in these cases, but those who blame women who are victims of rape, or do nothing to protect them, are accomplices in the victimization.
In 2012, of the more than 600 rape cases reported in Delhi, only one led to a conviction. Police officers, politicians, diplomats, heads of States, and regular people in the street who turn the other way are contributing to the problem. Victims often believe they will not receive justice, and that they will be shunned if they report the rape; and the lack of convictions for rape support their belief. Rapists do not fear the consequences of their actions, because often their actions carry no consequences.
The volume of protests in public and in the media has made clear that the attack was a turning point and hopefully this horrendous tragedy will lead to more stringent laws that protect women. In Geneva, Navi Pillay, the U.N. Commissioner on Human Rights, called Monday for fundamental change in India: “Let us hope that 2013 will be the year the tide is turned on violence against women in India and all women can walk free without fear. … The public is demanding a transformation in systems that discriminate against women to a culture that respects the dignity of women in law and practice,” said Pillay.
I call for fundamental change not just in India but also everywhere in the world in the protection and respect for the victims of rape and other gender violence. I hope that this tragedy will be a catalyst for change in women rights around that world and that what the victim of this horrible crime had to endure serves to prevent further suffering for other women.