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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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.

PHOTOS: Four Men Sentenced to Death in India Gang Rape

x
  • 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

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid