The name of ‘Amanat’ or ‘Damini’ or ‘Nirbaya’, whose real name remains a mystery, may not ring many bells, but this 23-year-old physiotherapy intern whose aggravated rape and subsequent death has highlighted the issue of violence and rape against women in India will live on in the memories of many.
What was done to the girl was so brutal even the doctors had to control their tears when asked about her condition. Why was there such savagery in this rape case? While we await the post-mortem of the political fallout of the whole sad saga, what is very clear is women in India will no longer accept the current state of the law and its application, or lack of. Mother India, as it is fondly described, has badly let down generations of its daughters.
The death of Amanat now turns an already horrible crime into murder. It is hard to imagine under these circumstances which is worse – an aggravated gang rape or the death of a victim who would have been permanently scarred had she survived.
How is it possible in a country which boasts to have so many women politicians at the local and national level that young, ordinary girls feel unsafe on the streets? This should boggle the rational mind of most feminists in India or the West, but policymakers are still groping for answers in the dark.
Indira Gandhi ruled for almost 15 years with an iron fist. Her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi is now the head of the coalition government that runs the country. The chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dixit, has been a leading politician running metropolitan Delhi since 1998. We have had powerful women chief ministers in the north, central and south of the country.
Yet, the fate of women has not improved; arguably, it has become worse.
Each time you read news like that of the bestial gang rape, your senses are numbed. What is happening to us? What is this brutality we witness all so frequently now? Can it ever stop? Most rapes and other sex crimes in India go unreported and offenders are rarely punished. A global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June found India was the worst place to be a woman because of high rates of infanticide, child marriage and slavery.
Add to these the high rates of female foeticide, dowry, the practice of sati, and you would wonder why so little has been done by Indian politicians, society, law makers and the police to stem the tide. The depiction of rape in some Bollywood films and the modern glamourisation of female heroines completes the image that in India females are meant to be subservient and may be used and abused by a chauvinistic society.
Of course all men are not like that, nor are most women doormats, but where a crime is committed against women the chances of quick and effective justice are embarrassingly low.
In India, New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India’s major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures. Government data shows the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17% between 2007 and 2011. Politicians are mute spectators to heinous crimes against women in the country.
Perhaps we need to ask how many politicians have rape cases, or have allegations of rape pending against them.
As the Fact Box below shows, we know many of them are already law breakers and corrupt, and therefore we cannot rely on them to uphold the law. The insensitivity of politicians was epitomised by none other than the son of India’s President Abhjit Mukherjee, who called the protesters “painted ladies”, while others blamed provocative clothing and suggested withdrawing skirts at school to curb harassment.
It is important to raise our collective voice against rape as a societal problem. Analysis has focused on India’s deeply patriarchal society, in which misogyny runs deep and women are at best second-class citizens and at worst mere objects to be owned, enjoyed or abused by men. And rape is not something that occurs by itself. It is part of the continuing and embedded violence in society that targets women on a daily basis.
A daughter is unsafe at home, school, college, office and almost everywhere else.
In Indian villages (where 70% of the Indian population lives), victims of rape, mostly poor, are silenced, or humiliated if they dare to report the crime to police. Indian youths have proved they are not just demographic statistics in economic models. They are a potent and fiery political force of change. They are demanding strong laws, gender-sensitive police, and fast track courts.
The government of India has responded by setting up a Commission of Inquiry to identify lapses and fix responsibility for the December 16th gang rape case and also constituted a committee of jurists for reviewing the existing laws to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of sexual assault. It is too late and too little and does not address the underlying causes of violence against women and marginalisation of a large section of society.
In a society where crimes against females are rampant, proper legislation and implementation of laws are paramount. But it is also extremely important to change social attitudes towards women. Mothers have to inculcate in their sons respect for every woman. The commercial portrayal of woman as a sex object in films and advertisements has affected the male mindset. The government’s role comes in providing responsive, humane and efficient policing so crime is prevented.
Amanat’s death need not be in vain. We ask for the enactment of new legislation, named after the gang rape victim. ‘Amanat’s Law’ should establish the basic principles that in the case of any rape, there should swift justice, strict punishment, and the establishment of a sex offender’s register. Attitudes of a society can only change with education and tighter regulatory controls.
With the scars of unspeakable horrors and violence women carry on their bodies and minds day after day, will they continue to find space in the mainstream political discourse of this country? Will the new stringent laws and guidelines be implemented with sincerity? If they do not, anger will not only simmer; it will explode.
• New Indian president could put an end to ongoing corruption – July 20th, 2012
• We need to stand up for human rights in the Indian sub-continent – September 14th, 2011
• India now has a unique opportunity to end corruption – August 25th, 2011
• India making progress in fight against corruption – June 21st 2011