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.

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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid