Activists all over India have angrily taken to the streets to demand accountability from the government after news emerged of a brutal gang rape in the capital earlier this week. A 23-year-old medical student was reportedly attacked on a private bus by a group of men, four of whom have already been arrested. The brutality of the crime– the victim is said to be in critical condition with severe internal injuries– sent shockwaves through a country which has seen an increasing level of rapes in the past ten years.
Students gathered outside the house of Delhi’s chief minister on Wednesday to express their frustrations with the inadequacy of the state response to such cases and demanded tighter security for women. The Indian government is also coming under increasing pressure from within to address crimes against women. Not surprisingly, opposition politicians are leading the charge. A group of MPs from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party angrily denounced the government’s ineffectiveness in controlling what has become a huge problem in day-to-day life for Indian women. One BJP legislator pointed to loopholes in the law which she said emboldened criminals to rape with impunity. The BJP has called for the death penalty in this case, though India’s maximum punishment for rape in ten years in prison.
Delhi alone had 600 reported cases of rape last year, though the actual total is expected to be much higher. India’s National Crime Records Bureau estimates that a women is raped every twenty minutes in the country. The shocking frequency of rape and sexual harassment is not a new phenomenon in India. However, a few high-profile cases in the past year have shed light on the scope of the problem, which is greatly underreported due to the stigma in Indian society. As commonplace as harassment has become, the pushback against harassers and sex criminals has become more and more vocal. The question is how effective the outcry resulting from this most recent case will be in affecting change in government policy. Sonia Gandhi, the chief of the ruling Congress party visited the hospital where the victim is being treated and assured the public that strict measures would be taken to prevent future incidents, but it remains to be seen what these measures will entail specifically. Many activists point to how deeply-rooted issues of violence against women are in India’s culture. Even women who choose to brave the stigma and report violence against them often come up against uncooperative authorities who often find a way to blame victims for sex crimes. A change in policy would be a good start in addressing the problem, but a long road stretches ahead in tackling a problem that is deeply entrenched.