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New Delhi: Brutalised in a bus

Print edition : Jan 11, 2013 T+T-
A CANDLE-LIGHT VIGIL at India Gate on November 19.-SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

A CANDLE-LIGHT VIGIL at India Gate on November 19.-SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

THE fact of the rising number of crimes against women in New Delhi was cruelly reinforced on December 17 when a 23-year-old medical student was gang-raped on a moving bus by six men, including the bus driver. Incidentally, crime data show that in the national capital 600 women were raped in 2012 as against 522 in 2011. There is no knowing what the unofficial, that is, unreported, figure could be.

The medical student and her male friend had boarded a private chartered bus, a common enough practice in Delhi, on the way home. The police said there were only six persons, all men, including the driver, in the bus. They began making lewd comments at the two of them. When they protested, they beat up the man with rods and dragged the girl to the rear of the bus. What followed was an unimaginably brutal assault on the girl until the two of them were thrown out of the vehicle. The girl is in a critical condition in hospital with most of her internal organs said to be damaged.

The National Crimes Records Bureau reports that incidents of crime against women in the country increased 7.1 per cent in 2011 over the previous year. Cases of rape, kidnapping, dowry deaths, torture, molestation and sexual harassment (all offences under the Indian Penal Code) went up by 9.4 per cent in 2011 compared with 8.8 per cent in 2007. Of the total number of rape cases, 10.6 per cent involved girls under 14 years of age, 19 per cent involved teenaged girls (14-18 years) and 54.7 per cent were of girls/women in the 18-30 age group. Some 15 per cent involved women between 30 and 50 years of age.

The sense of national outrage spilled out onto the streets of Delhi on December 19. More than two dozen organisations, including several womens organisations led by the All India Democratic Womens Association, protested outside the Delhi Police Commissioners office demanding increased patrolling and deployment of police, including policewomen; fast-track courts to deal with rape cases; daily hearings so that the verdict can be delivered within a period of six months; a time-bound police investigation and accountability of the police; and for the victims immediate relief, legal and medical assistance and rehabilitation measures.

In Parliament, members of the opposition demanded accountability from the government.

All this notwithstanding, what stands out is the ad hoc approach to dealing with crimes against women. It exists in civil societys demands, which ranges from capital punishment to castration, and in the reports that the Union Home Ministry is mulling the possibility of recommending the death penalty for certain kinds of rape. A hard look is needed at the social and economic processes that shape society today. Many women-related laws remain pending in Parliament or lie in cold storage, child sex ratios have hardly shown any improvement, and the commoditisation of women continues with impunity.

In this situation, as long as the trajectory of development remains unquestioned and the response from the dominant political classes is marked by dishonesty, incidents such as that of December 17 will continue to happen.

T.K. Rajalakshmi