Thursday, January 3, 2013

Call for zero rape tolerance in 2013

Protests in New Delhi
Has it started at last?
Has the devastatingly poignant death of the “India Gang-Rape” young woman dubbed “Nirbhaya” -- or fearless one -- let the rape genie out of the bottle in India and other countries around the world?
Is 2013 the year when rapists are punished rather than their victims? Will it be the year when governments, politicians and people join together to abolish this beastly act?
I certainly hope so, and not only in India.
One Indian woman was inspired by the recent gang rape death to speak out.

Sonika Bhasin's tweets
Sonika Bhasin, ‏@sonikabhasin wrote December 29 on Twitter: “Have decided, I am going to call out the guy who abused me when I was just 13. My friend's father, my dad's friend. I'm going to tell everyone.”
Sonika, a media professional from Mumbai, so rightly added: “It's going to take a lot of courage and strength, but I will do it. And I wish all girls do, so that sexual abusers don't get away.”
I am of course talking about the student gang-raped and brutally beaten on a bus in India's capital New Delhi on the night of December 16. The Times of India refers to the woman, whose name has not been released to the public, as “Nirbhaya,” or the fearless one.
Nirbhaya's body beings its sad journey home from Singapore
Lilies surround Nirbhaya's body in the ambulanceas it is driven home in Delhi
She died on Saturday, December 29, at a Singapore hospital where she was airlifted two days earlier, after three operations in a Delhi hospital. She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body.
There are mounting appeals to the family to release her name, allowing the general public to honor and remember her.
The 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist was with her boyfriend, who she was due to marry in February. They had just been to see the blockbuster movie “The Life of Pi. They were attacked when they boarded a bus in the Munirka area of Delhi, intending to travel to Dwarka in the city’s southwest.

Police said men on the bus gang-raped the woman for nearly an hour and beat her and her male companion with iron rods as the bus, with curtains shut, drove through the city for hours, even passing through police checkpoints. The assailants eventually stripped the pair and dumped them on the side of a road.

"Rapist are like cancer, crush them!!" sign on the streets of Delhi
The Indian government has tried to halt rising public anger by announcing a series of measures intended to make Delhi safer for women. These include a greater number of night police patrols, checks on bus drivers and their assistants, and the banning of buses with tinted windows or curtains. The government has also said it would post the photos, names and addresses of convicted rapists on official websites to shame them.
Protesters in Delhi call for the death sentence for rapists
But the protesters say the government's pledge to seek life sentences for the attackers is not enough. Many are calling for the death penalty, including for the six suspects who were arrested by police following the attack. Some of the protesters carried placards reading "Save women. Save India" and "Hang the rapists."
Rape victims, in India and most other countries, rarely press charges because of social stigma and fear they will be accused of inviting the attack. Many women say they structure their lives around protecting themselves and their daughters from assault.

But in India, as elsewhere, it is often the women who are blamed after a rape, not just by ordinary people but by politicians and other influential figures who claim women are at fault because they go out wearing clothes that might be perceived as provocative.

This is the attitude that needs to change.

It was clearly illustrated on December 28, when lawmaker Abhijit Mukherjee, the son of India's president no less, apologized for calling the protesters ''highly dented and painted" women, who go from discos to demonstrations.

''I tender my unconditional apology to all the people whose sentiments got hurt," he told an Indian TV station.

Official figures in India -- the nuclear weapons state, the seventh-largest country by area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people and the most populous democracy in the world -- show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year in the country were against women. The real figure is thought to be much higher as so many women are reluctant to report attacks to the police.
The Legally India website quotes The State of World Population Report suggesting that in India:
  • A Rape is committed every 54 minutes
  • Molestation every 26 minutes
  • Kidnapping or abduction every 43 minutes
  • Eve-teasing every 51 minutes
  • Dowry death every 1 hour 42 minutes
  • A criminal offense against women every 7 minutes.
The Times of India quotes Home Ministry data showing there was only one conviction out of 635 rape cases in Delhi last year. As many as 754 accused were arrested in the 635 cases reported to Delhi Police between January and November 2012, the highest in past five years, Home Ministry data confirmed.

Statistics compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau show that between 1953 and 2011, the incidents of rape in India went up by 873 percent.

In a survey conducted by Thomson Reuters' Trust Law Women, a hub of information and support for women's rights, India ranked with Afghanistan, Congo and Somalia as one of the most dangerous places for women. 

Amongst the metropolitans, it said Delhi topped the list of rape incidents. From 2007 and 2011, Delhi saw 2,620 rape cases. Comparatively, Mumbai had 1,033, Bangalore 383, Chennai 293 and Kolkata 200 cases.

Rest in Peace Nirbhaya
Will “Nirbhaya’s” death, brave actions like those of Sonika Bhasin, and the protests taking place in Delhi lead to the much-needed sexual revolution in India and spread elsewhere?

How many more victims must rapists claim? How many more rapists will go unpunished?

Would 2013 be the year where we move from victim blaming to rapist naming, shaming and punishing?

Rest in Peace “Nirbhaya.” We won’t forget you and your death won’t be in vain.