Trigger warning: rape, sexual violence.
On average, a rape is reported every 21 minutes in India.
That’s a harsh reality. Branded by the media as an “rape epidemic”, India has seen a huge increase in rapes being reported to the police, partly attributed to the global outrage which followed the fatal gang-rape of a woman on a moving bus in New Delhi in 2012, which saw the media, who had previously failed to report on the sexual brutality and rape in India, begin to regularly report on the horrors faced by women across the country.
Such public pressure pushed the Indian government into promising to “modernise outdated policies on women and violence” and passing a tougher new law to punish sex crime, including sentences of up to two years in jail for police and hospital authorities if they fail to register a complaint or treat a victim. But these measures have done little to address the problems which women’s rights activists say “just aren’t going away”, problems rooted in the authorities’ failure to monitor rape in India.
It seems like second nature to me – and probably to you, depending on who you are – to give a damn. But in a country where a state minister thinks “sometimes it is right, sometimes it’s wrong” in regards to rape, a country where an Indian politician was caught on video threatening the rape of his rivals’ relatives (after which he refused to apologise, claiming he had said “raid”, and then issued an embarrassingly insensitive apology), from politicians whose allies in the Indian state of Goa blame bikinis for sex crimes on their beaches (as opposed to blaming those who commit sex crimes on Goa’s beaches for the sex crimes on Goa’s beaches), caring about the victims of rape isn’t second nature. The police’s ability to help rape victims is practically non-existent, their failure to ensure the safety of women deplorable.
Women’s rights experts and lawyers say rape victims also have to endure harsh treatment from an archaic, poorly funded and insensitive criminal justice system, where in some instances, a rape victim’s credibility is doubted because the perpetrator told an “equally credible” story to the authority – when rapes are even reported at all. A similar picture across the world, rape goes drastically underreported with victims staying silent in the face of societal pressures, and with a backlog of 31 million cases in India’s courts, the likelihood of the cases being dealt with is even lower, and that’s without considering the reluctance by the Indian authorities to register any reports of abuse.
“This type of terrible sexual violence, though horrific, is not unique to India,” said US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki when asked about what the US Government would be doing to address the issues. Which is true. Such cases are not just happening in India, but across the world, including in the UK. What we see in India is a society where it is easier to take an interest in the rape of a young medical student in New Dehli than the rape of a poor, socially distant woman in a rural region of India – not overly dissimilar even to more developed and modernised justice systems. What we see in India is police often trying to dissuade victims from complaining and suggesting a “compromise” between the victim and the perpetrator, largely because of their insensitivity to sex crimes, but also because police officials are rarely held accountable. As a result, victims are left frighteningly vulnerable and exposed – and the same is evident across the world. But that doesn’t make it any less our responsibility.
Rape victims across the world are battling ancient and slow-moving criminal justice systems, inefficient policing and, ultimately, callous societies which means their attackers are not being brought to justice. This isn’t a case of “United Kingdom or India”, “their problem or our problem”, “their women or our women”. It’s a case of all women, everywhere, all the time and a desperate, unconditional need to maintain their safety.
We cannot fight for the rights of women, fight against sexual violence against women and girls, fight against domestic violence, in this country if we are going to close the door in the face of women fighting in a different country, in a different continent. We owe it to those women, our women, all women, to do something to help India’s rape victims.