Another year, another death of a gang rape victim in India


A young lady who reported two intense attacks was discovered dead on New Year’s Eve, almost exactly a year after the gang rape and loss of life of a lady on a Delhi bus. Has anything changed?

On New Year’s Eve, just as many of us were eager for toasting the end of the year with wine, loved ones, a 16-year-old girl passed away in Kolkata, Indian after reporting two brutal gang rapes. It first showed up that she had taken her own life given the continual threats and abuse she had endured. But then reports showed up of police evidence that she was doused in petrol and set alight by two of her claimed assailants.

 Another year, another death of a gang rape victim in India

Like many of you, I would rather not have learned about this case a day after the pleasures of New Year parties. But, at a traditional time of reflection, it is hard to think of a better example of how little has changed over the past year, especially when it comes to sexual violence in India.

The teenager died exactly two days after the first anniversary of the death of a student who was brutally gang raped on a Delhi bus. This horrific assault raised awareness of sexual violence not just in India but around the world, in a way that few others have. It led to mass protests, new tougher anti-rape laws and a far greater interest in the issue from the media and politicians, locally as well as globally.

There have already been suggestions that, without the will to enforce the new laws, even global attention and local activism would not be enough to bring about change. And then this young girl died.

There have been other cases of abominable violence, of course. We could discuss the 10-year-old raped by an ambulance driver in Chhattisgarh, central India after he took her mother to hospital or the 22-year-old photojournalist gang-raped while working in Mumbai.

But the death and gang rape of a 16-year-old on the anniversary of another all-too similar death seems particularly poignant somehow. The trauma started back in October when the teenager was allegedly gang-raped in the town of Madhyamgram, a 90-minute drive from Kolkata. The next day, she was gang-raped again, allegedly by the same group of six men, to punish her for filing a police case. Continued harassment saw the family move home and first reports suggested that the young woman set herself on fire on 23 December, keen to end the torment for good, and eventually died on 31 December.

The entire case is mired in corruption amid allegations that the attackers are linked to the ruling party in West Bengal and that the police harassed the grieving family by insisting on cremating the dead girl before they wanted to. The victim’s taxi driver father is a member of a trade union, CITU, which has helped organise protests so far.

No two horrors are the same of course but exactly what difference has a year brought? This latest grim case has attracted more media interest in India and online than perhaps it would have done before December 2012. And in further echoes of the Delhi bus rape, supporters are calling for harsh death penalties for the perpetrators. The new anti-rape law proposes life sentences of at least 20 years for such criminals. In the earlier case, four men have been convicted and given the death penalty while another died in prison.

Slim pickings, I know.

At the heart of this story is the fact that a young woman is dead and suffered horrific sexual violence. After the Delhi bus rape, MJ Akbar, a veteran commentator, suggested that reform would be slow, saying: “It is a few weeks of outrage against hundreds of years of tradition.” Yet in an age in which we can learn about these crimes at lightning speed, share and discuss them and wonder how things can ever get better, change must come faster than it did in 2013. If I have any wish for 2014, it’s that.

Source: theguardian

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