Considering that India is the second most populous country in the world (poised to overtake China by 2028, according to the UN) and yet ranks in the top five most dangerous for women, the safety of females living, working and traveling here cannot be taken seriously enough. If the frequent news stories reporting the brutal mistreatment of women are any indication, we all sense this need for true leadership to end these patterns of injustice.
While the international spotlight continues to shine on this country and its handling of multiple high-profile rape cases over the past year, it is just as important to scrutinize how authorities are bringing these criminals to justice as how often it’s happening.
As exciting as that moment is when a sex abuser has been caught, the only effective and sustainable way for the justice system to deter these criminals from further acts of aggression is to ensure that the person is justly tried for their crime. India must follow-through in its determination to end violent acts against women at all stages of the legal process in order to bring responsible parties to justice.
A well-known Indian guru was recently arrested after being accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. The situation made international headlines after family members of the victim vowed to go on a hunger strike until police apprehended the 72-year-old man. The father and a few other relatives ended up fasting for nearly two days.
This incident marks the latest in a surge of sexual assault cases being brought to light thanks to highly-publicized public pressure for India to increase protects for women. It would seem that the captivating street protests, passionate pleas from victims’ families, and suspenseful coverage of the manhunts for suspects are serving their purpose of keeping the Indian law enforcement on their toes.
India’s newfound determination to convict sexual assault criminals is an encouraging sign of progress for a country that might have turned a blind eye not too long ago, yet the arrest is just the beginning of a complicated legal process for all involved. While parliament has established fast-track courts and other provisions for dealing with these crimes more efficiently, there remains a significant amount of red tape to endure before criminals can be brought to justice.
When the man who allegedly drove the bus on the night of the oft-cited New Delhi gang rape was found dead in his prison cell last March, it prompted fierce criticism of prison authorities and outrage from his lawyer and family, who claimed that he had been murdered. There continue to be doubts about the true cause of death, but many have expressed the need for India’s prison system to better protect suspects as they await trial and sentencing.
The tragedy last December marks among the first in a series of events that led to the emergence of a movement for gender equality in India. With that in mind, it is to be expected that this case would expose numerous flaws in a legal system that previously provided little for women. Part of its significance is that it paved the way for justice to potentially be served in future cases of sexual violence.
As similar situations emerge, the symbolic role of the New Delhi case in prompting increased scrutiny of the treatment of women becomes more and more apparent. Following a recent gang rape incident in Mumbai, authorities at once promised they would do their “best to collect all the evidence - clinching evidence, scientific evidence - so that a fool-proof case is made out in the court, and they get maximum punishment.” Four out of the five suspects are currently being detained while the evidence from the investigation continues to pile up against them. (Huffington Post, Aug 28)
When a criminal’s day in court has finally come, it is also time for India to be tested on its newfound vow to provide better protections for the treatment of women in Indian society.
At the beginning of September, the youngest man involved in the December 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman was sentenced to three years of reform education and house arrest. The victim’s family and many of their supporters expressed outrage at the verdict, demanding that the teenager be hanged to reflect the punishment he could have faced had he not been a minor at the time of the attack.
“There is no justice for my sister,” said the victim’s brother. “This kind of punishment sends out a message that you can commit rape and you won’t be punished.” (Bloomberg, Sept 1)
Now, the other four men found guilty of the crime await their sentences. Prosecutors have already suggested the death penalty.
The handling of a few sexual assault cases may not end the longstanding cycle of violence against women, but it’s a start. In the future, India will need to do much more in terms of large-scale education reform and awareness programs to prevent the country from undoing the progress it has achieved on this front thus far.
By establishing a protocol to arrest sex abusers and properly detaining suspects until they can be tried quickly and fairly under a just legal system, India is paving the way for society to finally accept gender equality as a way of life. Not to mention, granting peace of mind for countless women.
By Sabrina Willard