In December 2012, a 23-year old female medical student was returning home in South Delhi, India after watching a movie with a friend. On her bus ride home, she was beaten and gang raped by six men on the bus, including the bus driver. The victim was then thrown off of the moving bus. She spent two weeks in critical condition, after which she died from her injuries. This incident sparked national and international outrage and protests regarding the shortcomings of India’s government in the protection of its women.
Unfortunately, this story is not an isolated case of a women’s rights violation in India. India has a sustained history and culture of violence against women. Less than two weeks after the rape, a 17-year-old girl who was gang-raped committed suicide after police pressured her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers. In February 2014, the husband and parents-in-law of a young woman burned her and her baby girl alive for dowry-related issues. In July 2013, India’s top court ruled that authorities must regulate the sale of acid due to the alarming rate at which it was being used by jilted boyfriends and others to attack women. In June 2012, a man chopped off his twenty year old daughter’s head with a sword after learning that she was dating.
While these were all sensational headlining cases, the reality of the deeply rooted culture of violence against women is far graver. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, “A total of 244,270 incidents of crime against women were reported in the country during the year 2012, as compared to 228,650 in the year 2011, recording an increase of 6.4%.” The total number of reported rapes rose 35.2% between 2012 and 2013. An average of 92 women are raped in India every day. Furthermore, India still has one of the lowest sex ratios on the world with approximately 35 million women simply “missing”.
Now, more than ever, India requires a transitional justice system focusing on gender-based violence. Women are disproportionally disadvantaged in their access to economic, social, and political utilities. For a transitional justice system to effectuate tangible change, the system must be made readily available to the female population of India. First and foremost, gender based initiatives must bring women into the discussions. Too often, women are underrepresented in the creation of their own solutions. When analyzing the trends of gender based violence and injustices, women should be a persuasive voice in the conversation.
Secondly, these issues must be dealt with on a legal, educational, and political level. India must abruptly address the social norms and cultural traditions that result in the crimes against women. The advocacy against gender-based violence should first emerge in an educational setting. To fight the violence, you must first be able to recognize the many forms it takes and it’s root causes. Educational institutions can facilitate this recognition by incorporating teachings on gender equality and the reality of harm inflicted on women. Early education of women’s rights would result in the reduction of victim blaming and social acceptability of violence against women.
From a legal standpoint, India’s laws against gender-based violence are incredibly antiquated and riddled with corrupt enforcement. A zero tolerance stance against gender violence is essential for progress. The cooperation and support of India’s political parties is critical to the creation of zero tolerance laws. Political parties should consider the abhorrent statistics of violence against women as a national failure, and as such, allocate vital resources to the issue. In 2014, India’s prime Minister, Narendra Modi, became the first prime minister to bring up the issue of rape and violence against women in his national address. While this is a clear step in the right direction, it is far from an adequate pace of progress. The state can, and should, play a large and necessary role in the advancement of women’s rights by raising awareness, creating zero tolerance laws, and mobilizing women.
India will require equal participation from educational, legal, and political advocates to eliminate violence against women. Ensuring gender justice and generating societal change will be a difficult, but long overdue, endeavor.