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

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid