The case of a 23-year-old medical student who died Saturday after a brutal gang rape on a bus in New Delhi has seemed to snap India to attention about its endemic sexual violence problem.
Hundreds of Indians poured into the streets of New Delhi to mourn the young woman, and police announced that the six men arrested in connection with the attack had been charged with murder.
In recent years, New Delhi has earned the title of "rape capital" of India, with more than 560 cases of rape reported in the city, but violence against Indian women is widespread and has deep roots. Here's a look at some of the reasons behind the issue that's bringing Indians into the street:
1. Few Female Police
Studies show that women are more likely to report sex crimes if female police officers are available. India has historically had a much lower percentage of female police officers than other Asian countries. In New Delhi, just 7 percent of police officers are women, and they are frequently given inconsequential posts that don't involve patrol duty, according to the Times of India. Of the 161 district police stations in Delhi, only one has a female station house officer.
When women do report rape charges to male police, they are frequently demeaned: "The police refused to file a complaint. Instead, they asked my sister such vulgar details, it was as if she was being raped all over again," the sister of another recent rape victim, who committed suicide, told The Washington Post. "There was no lady police officer, they were all men. My sister cried in front of them and kept asking, 'Would you still ask such questions if I were your daughter?' "
As a result of the gang-rape incident, Delhi Police said they will launch a special effort to recruit more women.
2. Not Enough Police in General
There aren't enough police dedicated to protecting ordinary citizens, rather than elites, a Brookings Institution article this week argues, and the officers that are available often lack basic evidence-gathering and investigative training and equipment:
"Delhi . . . is home to one of the largest metropolitan police forces in the world with some 84,000 officers," the article states. "But only one-third are involved in any kind of actual 'policing' at any given time, while the rest provide protection services to various politicians, senior bureaucrats, diplomats and other elites. According to the Times of India there is one officer for every 200 citizens and about 20 officers for every VIP. Many of those who do perform police duties can be found shaking down motorists, participating in protection rackets and simply looking the other way as crimes take place."
3. Blaming Provocative Clothing
There's a tendency to assume the victims of sexual violence somehow brought it on themselves. In a 1996 survey of judges in India, 68 percent of the respondents said that provocative clothing is an invitation to rape. In response to the recent gang-rape incident, a legislator in Rajasthan suggested banning skirts as a uniform for girls in private schools, citing it as the reason for increased cases of sexual harassment.
4. Acceptance of Domestic Violence
The Reuters TrustLaw group named India one of the worst countries in the world for women this year, in part because domestic violence there is often seen as deserved. A 2012 report by UNICEF found that 57 percent of Indian boys and 53 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 think wife-beating is justified. A recent national family-health survey also reported that a sizable percentage of women blame themselves for beatings by their husbands.
"When a boy grows up seeing his father assault his mother, he starts to accept such a behavior and repeats it," Anuradha Gupta, mission director for India's National Rural Health Mission, was quoted as saying.
5. A Lack of Public Safety
Women generally aren't protected outside their homes. The gang rape occurred on a bus, and even Indian authorities say that the country's public places can be unsafe for women. Many streets are poorly lit, and there's a lack of women's toilets, a Women and Child Development Ministry report said recently.
Women who drink, smoke or go to pubs are widely seen in Indian society as morally loose, and village clan councils have blamed a rise in women talking on cellphones and going to the bazaar for an increase in the incidence of rape.
6. Stigmatizing the Victim
When verbal harassment or groping do occur in public areas, bystanders frequently look the other way rather than intervene, both to avoid a conflict and because they — on some level — blame the victim, observers say. Male politicians contribute to the problem, making statements that make light of rape or vilify rape victims' supporters.
One regional policymaker, Anisur Rahman, recently asked a female minister what "her fee" would be for getting raped. The son of India's president also recently apologized after calling those protesting against the Delhi gang rape "highly dented and painted" women, who go "from discos to demonstrations," the Associated Press reported.
7. Encouraging Rape Victims to Compromise
In a recent separate rape case, a 17-year-old Indian girl who was allegedly gang-raped killed herself after police pressured her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers.
Rape victims are often encouraged by village elders and clan councils to "compromise" with the family of accused and drop charges — or even to marry the attacker. Such compromises are aimed at keeping the peace between families or clan groups. What's more, a girl's eventual prospects of marriage are thought to be more important than bringing a rapist to justice.
8. A Sluggish Court System
India's court system is painfully slow, in part because of a shortage of judges. The country has about 15 judges for every 1 million people, while China has 159. A Delhi high court judge once estimated it would take 466 years to get through the backlog in the capital alone.
9. Few Convictions
For rapes that do get reported, India's conviction rate is no more than 26 percent. There is also no law on the books covering routine daily sexual harassment, which is euphemistically called "Eve-teasing." The passing of a proposed new sexual assault law has been delayed for seven years.
10. Low Status of Women
Perhaps the biggest issue, though, is women's overall lower status in Indian society. For poor families, the need to pay a marriage dowry can make daughters a burden. India has one of the lowest female-to-male population ratios in the world because of sex-selective abortion and female infanticide. Throughout their lives, sons are fed better than their sisters, are more likely to be sent to school and have brighter career prospects.
In recent days, Indian politicians have put forward a slew of potential remedies for India's sexual violence problem. But it's worth noting that it will be hard to end discrimination against women at police stations when it starts in the crib.
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Lakshmi reported from New Delhi.
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