Rape and sexual violence against women in India has received more attention since the widely-reported gang rape and murder of a student in the capital, Delhi, in 2012.
A number of rape cases in India in the past few months have put a spotlight on the issue of gender-based attacks in the country. Experts say deep-seated patriarchy has created a “second-class” status for women in India.
Each day, about 90 rapes are reported in India, but many more go unreported due to the fear and stigma surrounding sexual violence. In just the past month, high-profile cases have included a 27-year-old veterinarian who was gang-raped and murdered; a four-year-old girl who was allegedly raped by her neighbor; and a six-year-old girl who was found by family members lying in a pool of blood after local media reports said she was allegedly kidnapped and raped by her neighbor in northern India.
Crimes against women have been on the rise in the South Asian country. Experts say that a woman is raped in India every 16 minutes.
India, thus, has been dubbed “the most dangerous country for women” by many human rights activists. But why is India so prone to gender-based crimes?
Experts point out that violence against girls and women usually takes place in their immediate surroundings. More than 32,500 cases of rape were registered with the police in 2017, about 90 a day, according to the most recent government data. Indian courts disposed of only about 18,300 cases related to rape that year, leaving more than 127,800 cases pending at the end of 2017.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau data from 2017, 93% of all rapes in India are perpetrated by people known to the victim. These could be family members, friends, neighbors, employers, and even online friends.
Instances of brutal rape and violence against the women who report it have given India the dismal reputation of being one of the worst places in the world to be female.
Here are some cases:
Nov. 1973: Aruna Shanbaug, a 26-year-old nurse, is attacked by a ward attendant at a Mumbai hospital during her night shift. Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, who was later convicted and jailed, sodomized and strangled her with a dog chain – cutting off the oxygen supply to her brain and leaving her in a coma.
Left in a vegetative state for more than 40 years, Shanbaug died in 2015.
1990: Hetal Parekh, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, is raped and murdered by Dhananjoy Chatterjee in Kolkata. Chatterjee is sentenced to death and hung in 2004, the first hanging in India in 13 years.
1995: A Jaipur court acquits five men accused of gang-raping Bhanwari Devi, a lower-caste woman who worked with the Women’s Development Project in Rajasthan, in 1992.
Later, a petition is filed in the Supreme Court, which leads to the Vishaka Guidelines being put into place, to protect women against sexual harassment at the workplace.
1996: Law student Priyadarshini Mattoo is found raped and strangled in her Delhi flat. Santosh Kumar Singh, a fellow law student and son of a former senior police officer, is sentenced to death, after being initially acquitted due to a lack of evidence and then retried following a public outcry.
Dec. 2012: A 23-year-old student is beaten and gang-raped on a moving bus in the capital New Delhi and later dies of her injuries. Five men and a juvenile are arrested – four of the men have been sentenced to death and one hanged himself during the trial. The juvenile was freed after completing three years in a reform home.
The crime sparked large-scale protests and led thousands of women across India to break their silence over sexual violence that often goes unreported. Authorities stiffened penalties against sex crimes, introduced fast-track trials in rape cases and made stalking a crime.
Jan. 2018: An 8-year-old Muslim girl is drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in Kathua town in northern India.
Six men, including a Hindu priest and three police officers, were convicted of the crime. Three were given life sentences.
Jul. 2018: Eighteen men are charged in Chennai with repeatedly raping a 12-year-old girl over a seven-month period, sedating her with drugs and then taking her to vacant apartments in the block to assault her.
Oct. 2018: Catholic bishop Franco Mulakkal is arrested in Kerala after a nun accuses him of raping her repeatedly over two years. He has denied the charges.
July 2019: A young woman who accused Uttar Pradesh state lawmaker Kuldeep Singh Sengar of raping her in 2017 and her lawyer are critically injured in a highway collision, when a truck hit the car in which they were traveling. The woman’s two aunts, who were also in the car, were killed.
Sengar denies the rape and any involvement in the car crash.
Nov. 28, 2019: The charred remains of the veterinarian are found under a flyover near Hyderabad. Four men are arrested on suspicion of gang-rape and murder.
Dec 5, 2019: A 23-year-old rape victim is set ablaze by a gang of men, including the alleged rapist, as she made her way to court to attend a hearing in the case, in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh, police said.
And then there are the women who are raped and do not report it to the police. According to India’s National Family Health Survey, 80% of women who have experienced sexual violence never tell anyone about it.
When a rape makes news headlines in India, it’s almost always followed by urgent demands for retributive justice.
“People often say a tough law can bring about change. But what is a tough law? Law needs to be effective and the investigating agency and prosecution more proficient and efficient.