The brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman in Mumbai underscores yet again how unsafe India remains for women. Five men took turns at raping the young photojournalist. The horrific assault brings back memories of another savage attack that took place in December in New Delhi last year, where the victim, eventually succumbed to her injuries.
Protests have erupted in the wake of the Mumbai gang-rape just as they did following the New Delhi incident. The government then promised better security for women and fast-track courts, among others. Indeed, the trial of the accused in the New Delhi case is in progress. The government also enacted legislation - the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 - to provide India’s criminal justice system with more teeth. However, in the eight months since, countless incidents of rape and violence have been reported from various parts of the country, the gang-rape in Mumbai being the most recent.
Public awareness about issues relating to sexual violence has increased in the wake of the New Delhi incident. However, patriarchy – to which the roots of sexual violence can be traced – remains well entrenched in India. Making strong laws and implementing them as well as tight policing go some way in deterring rape just as the setting up of a sensitive criminal justice system provides victims of sexual violence with a more supportive environment to seek justice. However, so long as we continue to see women as objects to be used and misused, to control and subjugate, rapes will continue. The Mumbai gang-rape is a reminder that we need to tackle the root cause – patriarchy - urgently.
Rape rightly evokes public outrage, but for all the wrong reasons. Many condemn it because it is seen as a blot on family honour. These sections are reluctant to condemn marital rape as they fear that throwing the spotlight on rape within the institution of marriage will shake up this institution. The drama we saw following the New Delhi incident is unfolding again with politicians indulging in the same tired rhetoric and histrionics. They are blaming “outsiders” and migrants for the rape and calling for summary trials, castration and death penalty for the assailants. India’s women will not become safe by targeting “outsider” or hanging rapists. It is the devil within us – our patriarchical mindsets – that must be eliminated.