News / Asia

India Rape Case Ignites Awareness of Women’s Issues

A boy places a candle as demonstrators hold placards during a candlelight march for a gang rape victim, who was assaulted in New Delhi, January 16, 2013.
A boy places a candle as demonstrators hold placards during a candlelight march for a gang rape victim, who was assaulted in New Delhi, January 16, 2013.
Anjana Pasricha
One month after the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi, there is a new awareness about sexual violence against women in India and a growing debate about women's rights. Widespread protests by young Indians have turned the spotlight on discrimination that women face in the country.     
As protests in New Delhi carried on for days following the brutal gang rape of a physiotherapy student last month, many people were surprised by the massive public clamor.

Young, urban, educated, middle-class Indians demanded not just stringent punishment for the guilty, but also a change in how women are treated in India. And, they publicized an issue that has seldom made news: sexual violence against women.  
Brutal Gang Rape Shocks India

  • December 16: Victim is gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi
  • December 20: Protests intensify and spread
  • December 29: Victim dies in Singapore hospital

  • January 2: Five suspects charged with rape and murder
  • January 17: Case against five suspects sent to special fast-track court
  • January 23: Government panel calls for new sexual assault laws
  • January 28: Panel rules sixth suspect will be tried as a juvenile
  • February 2: The five accused being tried in the fast-track court plead not guilty
  • March 11: Indian police say one of the suspects killed himself in jail
  • August 31: Juvenile suspect found guilty
  • September 10: Remaining four suspects found guilty
Ranjana Kumari, who heads New Delhi’s Center for Social Research, said the anger expressed by young people is unprecedented.  
“Whenever crisis like this happened or crime, we have never seen other people in society coming forward, in fact only women’s groups and organizations, so far, have been screaming on top of their voices to do something and ask for justice," said Kumari.

She said, "Today, this cry for justice has gone across to everyone, everybody is totally moved, motivated and hopefully this kind of social outcry will continue. So, I am very hopeful that the baton has been given over to young people.”

Sexual violence is a problem across rural and urban India. Rape is seldom reported in villages because of the social stigmatism of such violence. Even in relatively modern cities, outmoded attitudes continue.  Many blame sexual harassment on the influence of "Westernization" on traditional Indian culture. Hence, there are voices that often call on women to dress modestly or not stay out late to avoid becoming victims of crime such as rape.  
  • Sand artist Raj Kapoor holds a candle near a sculpture at the Sangam to pay tribute to a gang rape victim who died early Saturday, in Allahabad, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.
  • An Indian ties a black band as he arrives to attend a gathering to mourn the death of a 23-year-old gang rape victim, in Mumbai, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.
  • An Indian woman shouts at a police officer during a gathering of people to mourn the death of the 23-year-old gang rape victim in Mumbai, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.
  • Indian women participate in a candle-lit vigil in New Delhi to mourn the death of a gang rape victim, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.
  • A demonstrator shouts slogans during a protest in New Delhi, December 29, 2012.
  • Indian men and women lie down on the ground mimicking dead bodies as they mourn the death of a gang rape victim in New Delhi, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.
  • Indians gather next to a makeshift memorial to mourn the death of a 23-year-old gang rape victim, in Bangalore, India , Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.
  • A man participates in a candle-lit vigil to mourn the death of a gang rape victim in New Delhi, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.
  • An Indian woman holds a placard as she joins others in a protest to mourn the death of the 23-year-old gang rape victim, in Bangalore, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.
  • People walk near a sand sculpture with the words "We Want Justice" created by Indian sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik, in solidarity with a gang rape victim who was assaulted in New Delhi, on a beach in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, December 29, 2012.
  • Indian women participate in a candle-lit vigil to mourn the death of a gang rape victim in New Delhi, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.
  • A girl holds a placard as she takes part in a protest rally in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, December 29, 2012.
​Last month's gang rape may be hardening such attitudes. Several village councils have banned girls from using mobile phones or dancing at weddings. In Delhi, police have advised women to go straight home from their college classrooms, provoking an outcry.

But an urban, educated middle class is leading the demand for a change in mindset toward women and their safety. Some said women wearing short skirts, shorts or midis are often stared at,and that women do not feel safe in New Delhi. Others said this type of attire provokes men. And there were those who said men and the mindset that puts them above women need to change.
Sexual violence is not the only concern. Women face widespread discrimination. Young girls are often given less food and less education than young boys. A preference for sons over daughters has led to a skewed gender ratio because of the practice of aborting the fetus of a girl child.  
Ranjana Kumari said violence targeting women is a problem because social attitudes remain outmoded in much of the country. She added that "there  is a lot of violence at home. Every third woman reports violence according to Indian Family Health Survey."

​"We have a mentality which in some way or the other is trying to control women, targeting women," she said. "The correction has to start from family and society. Women have to be given the respect and their dignity has to be honored and that is the only way by changing social mindset we can control crime.”  
Sociologists said recent street protests were not just about the brutal gang rape. They said they also reflect growing frustration and anger in a country where a huge, educated middle class has emerged, but governance remains poor, police are insensitive and a slow legal system often results in delayed justice.     
Sociologist Dipankar Gupta in New Delhi said the rape was an inflection point.  “The rape acted as a kind of tipping point," he said. "It was on top of a lot of grievances accumulating over the years. In my view, what happened on that fateful night, just precipitated matters."

"There is a gradual alienation which has more or less solidified between the so-called political class and rest. You don't have an organized movement, what you really have is an inarticulate cry of the people who don’t know which way to go,” he said. 
For now, that cry is focused on the issue of rape and sexual violence. Throughout the country, cases that rarely received front-page coverage in the news are getting more attention. But activists warn there is a long path ahead before there is any real change in attitudes toward women.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: david from: USA
January 18, 2013 6:13 AM
These women need to free themselves from the aseptically men of India, the young and beautiful come to the USA we will love and protect all of you.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs