Over the past month, India has been shaken by increasingly shocking reports of physical violence against women in the country. Some of these incidents include the rape and murder of a seven year old girl during a wedding ceremony in Etah, and the alleged rape of a seventeen year old girl by member of the legislative assembly (State Representative).
The most prominent of these has been the brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl named Asifa who belongs to the nomadic Bakarwal community in the Jammu and Kashmir area. These incidents, have shocked Indians and the international community who are still reeling from the impact of the 2012 case of a young woman being gang raped in a moving bus in New Delhi, the nation’s capital.
Here are four essential facts to know about the situation and recent developments relating to physical violence against women in India.
1) The overall situation is quite serious: The National Crime Records Bureau reports that there were over 34,000 rapes in the country in 2015, admitting that this is a grossly under-reported figure because of taboo, poor support for victims, lack of justice and intimidation of victims. Out of these incidents, only one in four cases end in conviction. While the above mentioned recent cases stand out for their brutality, they are also similar in the fact that the attackers did not know their victim. In this sense however, these instances are the exception with the National Crime Records Bureau in India reporting that 95 percent of rape victims knew their attackers.
This of course does not include other forms of violence such as gender-specific abortion, and structural violence such as poorer education and employment rates
2) While any instance of rape is detestable, in the religiously-charged climate of India, these instances have now taken on a religious colour with the religion of the victim and attacker being factors to stir up action and political undertones. For example, one of the accused was a legislator coming from Prime Minister Modi’s BJP. While in two other cases, the attackers had prominent links to Hindu temples, and in the Asifa case, the victim came from a small Muslim community who are trying to be forced out of their land by the dominant Hindu community in the area.
In one instance, a group of several lawyers ever blocked the victim’s lawyers from entering the courtroom to file her charge sheet. The lawyer has spoken on record saying that she fears for her life.
3) In response to these recent developments, the Indian government cabinet approved the death penalty for rape of victims twelve years and younger. However, critics point out that this is a reactionary move by the government to counter bad press from Prime Minister Modi’s silence on the issue. To this extent, it has not been clearly thought out and the age limit represents only a small portion of victims. What happens to others?
4) The Church in India has Responded: The General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, which represents 14 million Christians in the country, wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister of India condemning this increased violence and the government’s apathy to address it. The church has also worked very hard to incorporate ways of promoting the White Ribbon campaign which works towards educating men and boys on respect for women.
What these four facts indicate is that despite the terrible situation for women in India, violence against women continues to be used as a political tool rather than seriously considering ways to ensure a broader, safer society and a fuller enjoyment of rights. Superficial and stopgap laws are not the way to do this. Rather a broader approach. We commend the church for its efforts but also acknowledge that more needs to be done by individuals and organizations.
Photo Credit: Author