|Photojournalists participate in silent protest |
of Mumbai gang rape (Saturday, August 24, 2013).
Yet another gang rape has incited mass protests on the streets of India and cries of frustration from the international community, this time in Mumbai—a city that is (or was?) widely viewed as being the safest in the country for women.
Last Thursday night, a 22-year-old photojournalist on assignment at an abandoned textile mill was working with a male colleague when a group of five men assaulted the pair, tying up the man with a belt before taking turns raping the young woman. The news naturally prompted comparisons to another widely-reported gang rape in New Delhi just last December involving a 23-year-old student who was assaulted on a moving bus and later died of her injuries.
Media coverage has been quick to point out that the women’s rights movement in India has been thrown into the spotlight over the past year as a result of these rapes, among other brutal crimes that have targeted women. However, can we be sure that these protestations are happening where they need to happen in order to ensure that there is lasting, impactful change for the sake of women in this country? While the rest of the world shakes its fist at the handling of these crimes, many have criticized Indian officials for not doing enough to address the apparent flaws in the system for the protection of women. It’s true that parliament revised laws last March to establish harsher punishments for these perpetrators, but many women are still being beaten, raped, and murdered without consequence.
In fact, according to Binalakshmi Nepram, a women's rights and anti-violence activist, a woman is raped every 20 minutes in India (Independent, 8/23/13). Government figures also report that incidences of rape in India have increased over recent years, some believe due to the rapid urbanization and lack of stringent law enforcement in its cities.
“Reported rapes have risen by 873 percent since independence in 1947 and there were 24,206 rape cases in 2011… At the same time rape convictions fell by 44.3 percent between 1973 and 2011” (NBC, 6/12/13).
These numbers suggest, nay, prove, that India’s judicial system still has a lot of ground to cover to make up for its historical lack of safeguards for women living, working and travelling in this country.
As hundreds spilled out onto India’s streets in silent protest that Friday, opposition lawmakers caused a similar uproar in parliament. Since the attack, many have spoken out to publically accuse the party in power of their failures and some are even calling for the current home minister of Maharashta (the state in which Mumbai is the capital) to resign. The rest of the world has taken to social media to express its frustrations. Law enforcement, for their part, has shown unprecedented haste in rounding up the suspects and pledged to punish those found guilty of this crime to the fullest extent of the law.
As much as we criticize India’s apparent lack of responsibility to protect women, it is ultimately the lawmakers and people like the home minister whom have the final say in setting this precedent. All the world can do is continue to put on the pressure. Perhaps one day the proverbial spotlight of women’s rights will extend into the dusty depths of India’s patriarchy, but it isn’t there yet.
By Sabrina Willard