January 8 2013
Sexual Violence & the War on Women in India
Yesterday, the five men charged with gang raping and murdering 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandi appeared in court for pretrial proceedings.
Jyoti’s murder gained international attention when six men pulled her and a male friend into a bus while traveling home from a movie. The men allegedly battered Jyoti and her male companion, raped Jyoti, and according to Daily Mail, “violated her with an iron bar” causing intestinal damage that led to her death 13 days later. The entirety of the attack lasted two and a half hours.
Fox News reports, “Authorities have charged the men with murder, rape and other crimes that could bring them the death penalty. The crime caused nationwide outrage, leading to massive protests.”
Since the murder, hundreds of thousands of protestors have taken to India’s streets objecting to the treatment of women by men, the government, and the legal system. The Huffington Post reports women finally feel as though women have an opportunity to speak up about unwanted slurs, touching, and sexual harassment.
Indeed, in my own travels in Kolkata, groping, sexual slurs, and sexual harassment were constant threats. And neither I nor other women in Kolkata felt safe reporting violations to a corrupt police force.
India’s police force and legal system is historically lethargic, prone to bribes, bias in favor of men, and fundamentally unjust. Fortunately, the rape cases’ protests and international attention has put pressure on the national government to speedily process court cases and embrace larger reform.
For example, the Nation’s capital city is hiring an additional 2,508 woman police officers to be stationed in all of Delhi’s police stations. The nation’s interior ministry called on police forces across the nation to make 33 percent of their civil forces women:
If there is women police, women complainants will feel more secure, comfortable in visiting a police station. We think 33 per cent civil police -- constables and sub-inspectors should be women.
The ministry believes women may be more prone to briefing policewomen than men in cases of molestation. That makes sense. Today, under four percent of women comprise the nation’s police forces.
Furthermore, India’s rape and sexual assault cases are antiquated, weak, and biased towards men. The New York times reports:
Currently, section 375 of the Indian Penal Code is defined as vaginal-penile intercourse against a woman’s consent. Excluded from the law is the rape of a woman by her husband if the woman is above 15 years of age.
“The world is changing, and because there are changes in society we need to modify the definition of the rape law,” said Monica Joshi, a law officer at the Human Rights Law Network in New Delhi who specializes in women’s cases. “The law needs to include things like oral penetration, anal penetration, insertion of a foreign object into a woman’s body, dating rape, marital rape and deal with direct and indirect consent.”
Under the nation’s current law, Jyoti’s probe with an iron bar does not constitute rape (though other forms of rape did occur).
The New York Times explains that India’s judicial system results in disparities in rape sentencing that can lead to corruption and inconsistent sentencing:
“Unlike some other countries, such as the United States and England, India does not have sentencing guidelines, which provide rules and principles for judges to follow while sentencing,” said Mr. Satish. This contributes to the “rampant disparity” in punishments for rape cases, he said.
India’s ongoing and too real war on women is rooted in cultural bias and the government’s failure to protect women as equal members of society. Yet reform will take much more than legislation. It will take consistent enforcement of laws, protection of victims of all crimes regardless of caste or sex, and priority being placed on justice.