Slow change comes to India a year after Delhi gang rape

December 12, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

One year ago, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was raped and murdered. Her story showed the world that women across India are viewed as dispensable, undeserving of full human rights.

One year later, what has changed?

It is heartening that the case of Nirbhaya, as she is known, led to the setting up of the Justice Verma commission that recommended strengthening outdated laws to protect women and their rights. Although change has been slow, more cases of sexual violence are being reported rather than silenced, scuttled or quietly settled. However, crime statistics and prosecution rates show that most of these crimes go unnoticed, unreported and absorbed into the culture of “that’s the way things are.”

Looking through the National Crime Records Bureau’s report for 2012, it is evident that the number of complaints registered with the police, the first information reports on rape, has risen by nearly 3 percent. The number of cases that were charge-sheeted — documented as a crime — was 95 percent. But fewer than 15 percent of rape cases came to trial in 2012.

Violence against women remains the most widespread and tolerated human rights abuse. Catcalling, taunting and grabbing women in public arise from, and perpetuate, notions of masculinity that define “real” men through power and dominance. “Minor” assaults and inequities are part of the continuum that includes rape, domestic abuse and attacks on women and girls.

This culture is enabled by men who tacitly condone it by not challenging it. That’s why to end violence against women, and change the culture, men must stand alongside us.

The Nirbhaya case started an unprecedented wave of activism. Men and women took to the streets. The massive number of men participating proved their growing role as leaders and partners in ending violence against women.

Breakthrough began engaging with fathers and youth in the Bell Bajao (“ring the bell”) campaign against domestic violence. When we began our “Nation Against Early Marriage” campaign in India in 2013, we found another inspiring example. In the state of Jharkhand, where early marriage is prevalent, one father is no longer staying silent. Like other fathers, he married off his daughter when she was 12 or 13. But unlike other fathers, when she suffered abuse and violence at her marital home, he brought her home. Now, he pressures men in his village not to do this. Today, there are several villages in Bihar and Jharkhand where the sarpanch has forbidden early marriage of girls.

As we remember Nirbhaya on the first anniversary of her death, we must continue to learn from what happened. We must remember that for every Nirbhaya, there are countless girls and women whose names do not become symbols of courage or justice. We must remember that what killed Nirbhaya was not a group of horrifically misguided individuals, but a culture with scant respect for girls and women. Hopefully, she will be the one who shows us the way to a world in which girls and women are valued and boys and men are not violent — or silent.

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