News / Asia

India's Benchmark Year for Women’s Issues

Demonstrators shout slogans during candlelight vigil marking first anniversary of deadly gang rape, New Delhi, Dec. 16, 2013.
Demonstrators shout slogans during candlelight vigil marking first anniversary of deadly gang rape, New Delhi, Dec. 16, 2013.
Anjana Pasricha
Adjacent to the Delhi’s Chief Minister’s office in the capital, six women answer a stream of phone calls from women in distress. The toll-free 181 number was set up by the government after last year’s brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old student in the capital led to her death.

The response to the hotline has been unprecedented: more than 1,500 calls every day.

More than half of the callers complain about sexual harassment or domestic violence, and roughly one in five calls fall in the “red” color code, which means they involve serious crimes: grievous hurt, rape, dowry harassment.

  • Demonstrators hold a sign outside a court where four men were sentence to death for a gang rape, New Delhi, Sept. 13, 2013.
  • A demonstrator shouts slogans outside a court where four men were sentenced to death for a gang rape case, New Delhi, Sept. 13, 2013.
  • A woman writes on a poster demanding death by hanging for the four men convicted in the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a New Delhi bus last year, outside a court in New Delhi, Sept. 11, 2013.
  • Delhi police secure a gate after protesters broke through a police barrier and entered the court complex demanding the death penalty for the four men convicted in the fatal gang rape of a young woman, New Delhi, Sept. 11, 2013.
  • Protesters shout slogans outside a court in New Delhi, Sept. 11, 2013.
  • Defense lawyer A.P. Singh reacts to a protester heckling him for defending a convict in the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a New Delhi bus last year, outside a court in New Delhi, Sept. 11, 2013.
PHOTOS: Four Men Sentenced to Death in India Gang Rape
Women’s issues were propelled to the center of Indian public debate in 2013, following the horrific December 2012 gang rape of a young student.

While widespread street protests led to the enactment of stricter laws for violence against women, allegations of sexual misconduct against some prominent people brought the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace to the forefront.
 
According to Khadijah Faruqui, a women’s rights activist who heads the toll-free distress line, although these problems are old, the shattering of the “conspiracy of silence” surrounding the crimes is new. 
 
“The good part about my experience is that women have become very assertive," she says. "They have shed that taboo — you know, that 'I should not talk about being sexually abused, because that will give them a bad name.'”
 
Crimes persist despite outrage
 
The fury of young street protesters who rallied across the country in days following the high-profile gang rape story marked a crucial turning point in India’s approach and handling of women’s issues. But the violence against women has not stopped, and disturbing reports of rapes and even gang rapes continue to pour in.
 
But under a new, stringent law passed in the months since the gang rape, penalties for rape are stiffer, and stalking and voyeurism are now counted as crimes.
 
For Ranjana Kumari, member of the National Commission for Empowerment of Women, a small shift in attitudes is apparent in parts of the historically conservative country, where for decades women accepted the treatment they received. 
 
“A majority of Indian women are still under the cloud of all kinds of social and legal pressure, but certainly urban, educated women are now much stronger," she says. "This is the kind of beginning of change where you do see voices coming forward and some kind of leadership has to come from middle class, educated, more confident women, and that is what we are seeing happen now.”
 
In the streets of Delhi, many echo that rising confidence among women. Authorities say the higher number of rape cases being reported is due at least in part to more women registering complaints in a country where insensitive police and a slow-moving judicial system often leave victims disinclined to speak up.
 
Workplace harassment
 
If sexual violence was the concern at the start of the year, two cases of sexual harassment at the workplace drew headlines in recent months. One involved the arrest of a prominent magazine editor Tarun Tejpal on charges of sexually assaulting a young female employee in a hotel elevator during a magazine sponsored event in Goa. A second case involved high-profile, retired Supreme Court judge A. K. Ganguly, who was investigated for sexual misconduct following complaints filed by a law intern.
 
Women’s activists say both cases involving powerful men might never have seen the light of day a year ago, but that 2013's new sensitization to women’s issues has forced them into the spotlight.
 
While both cases will test the newly tightened laws in the days to come, slow prosecution remains a huge concern. Outcry following last December's gang rape ensured speedy justice for the victim in a fast track court, where four of the assailants were sentenced to death.
 
But for thousands of others, the wait will be painfully slow.
 
“Now that all the cases have been investigated, now that all the complaints have been filed to the court, there is huge amount of delay in dispensing justice to women victims of sexual assault," says Kumari, adding that she laments government failure over the past year to augment a system that fast-tracks all cases.
 
"Unless we will streamline the total justice system, [unless] we sensitize the law enforcement machinery and judiciary, and unless there is political will, there is a total lack of political will to address this issue.”
 
Room for optimism
 
But even if political will remains elusive, optimism can be found in other places. New Delhi-based sociologist Dipankar Gupta, for example, points to the spontaneous social mobilization of both men and women that followed last December's gang rape.
 
These young people hold out hope of ushering in change which could go beyond women’s issues and show “us a different kind of politics.”
 
“They have not been internally fractious," says Gupta. "They have not been on cleavages and divisions of society, but in almost every case it is the citizens demanding services as citizens from the state. In this, the young people are going to play a major role, and I just hope that they keep on at it and don’t give in to the old bogies of caste, class and other such divisions.”
 
Women activists say there is still much work to do. They worry that change will be much slower to come to the countryside, where two-thirds of all Indians live.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

1 Billion People Used Facebook on Single Day

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised the accomplishment in a posting on the social media site More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs