3 Jan 2013

Delhi gang rape a ‘wake up call’ for India’s youth

India’s legal history is punctuated with the names of women whose rapes have lead to changes in law, but three Indian women tell Channel 4 News that only societal change will lead to justice.

Writing in the New York Times, Indian author Sonia Faleiro said that “it wasn’t the brutality of the attack on the young woman that made her tragedy unusual; it was that an attack had, at last elicited a response.”

Sexual violence against women in largely patriarchal India is widespread according to gender rights activists with crimes such as rape, dowry murders, acid attacks, honour killings, child marriages and human trafficking relatively common.

Madhu Mehra, executive director at Partners for Law in Development in Delhi, told Channel 4 News that there “wasn’t enough land in India” for streets to be named after victims of rape.

Following the latest case of a 23-year old student who was raped and murdered in Delhi, India’s sexual assault and rape laws have come under great scrutiny and criticism.

What this particular rape has done for India is make youth look at injustice to women. Dr Vandana Shiva, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology

For many campaigners changes in attitude are needed as much as changes in the law.

Madhu Mehra said: “We need victim and witness protection, we need to make sure the women is screened from the accused and defence when she is standing trial, but despite participating in all of that we have judicial attitudes that also are not yet in tune with the times.

“The few who do report a case and cooperate with the prosecution, a high number drop out because of the hostile and long proceedings we have.”

Kiran Bedi, once the most senior woman police officer in India, told Channel 4 News there is an “Arab Spring” of youth taking place that can bring about change (see video below).

She said that until now women have not been “a pressure group” and that the authorities work under the pressure of VIPs and the rich and mighty.

The former police chief added that stronger deterrents should be introduced: “At the moment the maximum punishment for rape is seven years.

“I think it should be life in prison and where there is a gang rape of this kind the death penalty – people are demanding it. You can’t sacrifice the rights of the victim at the altar of the accused.”

‘The rot is at the top’

The government has set up two panels headed by retired judges to recommend measures to ensure women’s safety. One of the panels, due to make recommendations this month, has received some 17,000 suggestions from the public, according to local media.

India’s chief justice inaugurated the first fast-track court for sexual offences on Wednesday – a long standing demand of activists to clear a court backlog.

A review of India’s penal code, which dates back to 1860, was presented to parliament last month, before the attack, and widens the definition of rape, another demand of activists.

But despite these changes Dr Vandana Shiva, who is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, told Channel 4 News that the “rot is at the top” in Indian politics and that meaningful change would only happen through the political engagement of a young generation of women.

“What this particular rape has done for India is make youth look at injustice to women.

“Young women were the most disengaged – this was such a wake up call. They realise they’ve got all these goodies (from economic growth) but no fundamental security.”