In 1992 a young woman, Bhanwari Devi, was allegedly gang-raped near her village of Bhateri, some 40 miles from Jaipur, capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan. The incident has to be couched in “allegedly” and “reportedly” because – though the fact of the matter has been widely accepted, with compensation being paid to Devi by the state government – the five men accused were acquitted, and an appeal against the acquittal is still – 20 years after – pending.
On Dec. 16 of this year, another young woman, a 23-year-old medical student who has not been named, was gang-raped for an hour on a bus in New Delhi by six men. Using metal rods, the men beat her and her male companion, who tried to stop them, then threw them off the moving bus. The woman suffered grave internal and brain injuries, and has been moved to Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth hospital, where one of the world’s most advanced centers for organ transplants is located. She remains near death. Even if she survives, her life is likely to be severely restricted. (UPDATE: She died in India on Saturday.)
There is no “alleged” about the recent New Delhi rape: Four of the men were arrested, and three have confessed, one reportedly asking to be hanged. No years of waiting for justice this time: A trial is set for next month. And no painful, little-attended struggle to have the law strengthened: Outrage over the crime has sent thousands of women and men to the streets, where they have demanded change. They and the discussion that has attended the protests have subjected Indian society to the most cauterizing of examinations, in which everything – government, political parties, the police and traditional attitudes toward women – is held up through the prism of violated women.
Urvashi Butalia, a feminist writer and founder of the publisher Zubaan Books, wrote in a comment published in The Hindu on Christmas Day that:
“Rape happens everywhere – it happens inside homes, in families, in neighbourhoods, in police stations, in towns and cities, in villages and its incidence increases, as is happening in India, as society goes through change, as women’s role begins to change, as economies slow down and the slice of the pie becomes smaller — and it is connected to all these things.”