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Indian Activists Say New Rape Law Falls Short

  • Aru Pande

Demonstrations continue in India, where some women say the government is not doing enough to protect women following the December 16 brutal gang rape in the capital. Residents and activists in New Delhi, who say an ordinance approved by the president on Sunday is far from adequate.

Consider Purnima Rao, who has lived in New Delhi her entire life. She does not remember a time when she felt safe in the city, whether it was as a young girl or now as a 33-year-old filmmaker.

“You get stared at, you get abusive comments hurled at you, sexually abusive comments," Rao said. "If you get into any form of public transport and there are men around, they feel free to grope you, rub against you. It’s there everywhere, it’s there in the workplace, and with the colleagues you are supposed to trust.”

Rao never spoke out about what she and many other women suffer on a daily basis. And she says her silence was part of the problem.

She has since been compelled to join the protests that have taken place almost daily in the Indian capital after a young student was beaten and gang-raped aboard a bus on December 16. The 23-year-old victim later died of severe internal injuries in a Singapore hospital.

Six suspects have been charged with rape and murder and a government-appointed panel has recommended measures to protect women against harassment and violence.

But women’s rights activist Saheba Farooqui says an ordinance approved Sunday by President Pranab Mukherjee on leaves out key recommendations by the commission - specifically, punishing those who commit marital rape and members of the Indian military who commit sexual assaults.

“We don't have any faith in the government because this is a typical type of government - to defuse the tensions, to defuse the pressures, just bring out some ordinance, bring out some commissions, bring out some other things. I don't think so, we don’t think so, I don’t think they are ready to bring a comprehensive bill.”

The government says the legislative process is far from over and that key issues will be addressed.

Purnima Rao says she only hopes leaders will follow through on their promises.

“I would like to see more action, a more sensitive reaction to what the women of this country and really what the men are saying, really, they just want basic human rights, so that is my hope.”

A hope shared by many who know change will likely be a long and uphill battle.

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