A 23 year old medical student who was brutally gang-raped by 5 persons, 2 weeks ago in a moving bus for almost an hour despite passing through several police check posts in the capital city of New Delhi, India, passed away early hours of this morning in Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore.The woman and a male friend, who were returning home after watching a movie on the night of December 16th, had engaged the services of a chartered bus to return home, but once inside the two students were picked on and taunted by six men, and the male student was eventually knocked unconscious. The woman was then savagely beaten with a rod and raped by the men in turns continuously for close to an hour. They were both then stripped of their clothing, and their bodies thrown out of the bus onto the roadside on the outskirts of Delhi. The woman, so far unidentified, has been battling for life ever since and was moved to the super speciality Hospital in Singapore a few days ago in a bid to save her life. Her male friend who survived the injuries, was able to identify the perpetrators who have been taken into custody and are now awaiting their due punishment.
What makes this young woman’s story unique, in a country where a woman is raped every 20 minutes, is that it triggered nationwide protests, particularly in Delhi, bringing to the forefront years of buried rage, frustration and angst against poor and ineffective governance in the face of rising and hetherto unaddressed, social, communal and economic issues. Over the weekend of this young woman’s story going public, students, activists and politicians from all sections and walks of life, took to the streets of New Delhi demanding action from the government against rising violence towards women, and the setting up of proper structures to ensure swift action and justice for victims.
Official statistics on the status of women in India are gruesome. To quote from a new report issued by Al Jazeera TV, “More than 24,000 rape cases in the country were reported last year alone, of which 570 were reported in the Indian capital, where already this year 635 rape cases have been registered.The legal news service Trust Law says India is the worst country in the G20 to be a woman. It says women and girls continue to be sold, married off at a young age, exploited and abused as domestic slaves.The number of crimes recorded against women, including kidnapping, abduction, and human trafficking exceeds 2.5 million. Many activists say Indians are protesting against what they say is a culture of impunity. There are 40,000 pending rape cases in the country and survivors have to wait years for their cases to be heard – even then the conviction rate is just 34.6 percent – according to the National Crimes Record Bureau.” Compounding the issue, is the shameful narrow-mindedness and biases of the Police, and vast sections of society, many of whom believe that women who are raped have invited the rape onto themselves for reasons ranging from the way they dress, their supposed “immorality”, or because they are in it ” for the money”.
The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has released a statement today following the death, even as the rest of the nation was plunged into deep mourning. ” I am deeply saddened to learn that the unfortunate victim of the brutal assault that took place on December 16 in New Delhi has succumbed to the grievous injuries she suffered following that attack.” “It would be a true homage to her memory if we are able to channelize these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action. The need of the hour is a dispassionate debate and inquiry into the critical changes that are required in societal attitudes. Government is examining, on priority basis, the penal provisions that exist for such crimes and measures to enhance the safety and security of women.”
The young woman’s death has created an unprecedented collective consciousness for change, not just in India, but around the world. We continue to hope, and apply pressure, through the sources available to us, to ensure that her death was not in vain. Rape is everyone’s issue, not just the issue of a small time student in a small time corner of the world. The six highest number of reported rape cases in 2010 were in South Africa, The United States, India, The United Kingdom, Germany and Russia respectively. Giving women everywhere a voice in their struggles to achieve safety, security and justice is truly the great and pressing need of the hour.
© Irene Lopez and An Urban Mystic’s Blog, 2012