Sun, Jan 20, 2013 - Page 9 News List

In India, suicide of another rape victim puts spotlight on inaction

Many sexual assault victims have endured a poorly funded and gender-insensitive justice system, rights groups and lawyers said

By Manoj Kumar, Nita Bhalla and Ross Colvin  /  Reuters, BADSHAHPUR and NEW DELHI

However, police waited a week before formally registering the case on Nov. 27 and ordering a medical examination to be performed, the family said.

Inspector-General Dwivedi said her committee’s initial investigation also showed that police had delayed registering the case. She gave no reason for the delay, but the girl’s family said they were told by police on Nov. 19 that they wanted to investigate before making a First Information Report.

Police arrested the four suspects only after the girl committed suicide on Dec. 26 and her death made national headlines.

The girl’s family says several policemen repeatedly pressured them to reach the an out-of-court settlement with her alleged assailants, known in local parlance as a “compromise,” a common practice even in murder cases in Punjab.They added that when they refused to do so, the policemen threatened to charge the mother and the girl with prostitution. The son of the policeman now in custody said his father denied this.

The second policeman dismissed from the service, Gurcharan Singh, who headed the area police station, is accused of failing to oversee the rape investigation and to make sure that the necessary steps were being taken, Dwivedi said.

Gurcharan Singh was not available for comment, but in a television interview last month he denied there was any delay in registering or investigating the case.

FEAR OF SHAME

For decades, many victims of sexual assault in India have endured a poorly funded, under-resourced and largely gender-insensitive criminal justice system that has failed to provide adequate care and justice, rights groups and lawyers said.

One woman is raped every 20 minutes in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, which reported 24,206 rapes in 2011. Many cases are never documented.

Police estimate only four out of 10 rapes are reported, largely due to deep-rooted beliefs in society that often mean victims are too scared to come forward for fear of being “shamed” by their families and communities.

In a conservative culture where a woman’s perceived sexual behavior is often linked to so-called family honor, and where rape often leaves the victim stigmatized, parents can easily be pressured into marrying off their daughters to their rapists.

It was the fear of being shamed that initially drove the mother of the Punjab schoolgirl to try to marry her to one of her alleged attackers, who came from a nearby village, and delay reporting the Nov. 13 incident to the police for a week.

“I said if they are unmarried she could marry one of them. We had already lost our honor in the village,” her mother explained, sitting on a bed outside the impoverished family’s bare two-roomed dwelling in Badshahpur.

However, the council of the suspects’ village told her the men were already married.

She said she was offered dowry money by the men’s families instead, so the girl could marry someone else, which she rejected.

“I told them ‘my daughter is not a cow or buffalo that can be sold off,” she said.

The suicide note said by the family to have been written by the girl, and seen by reporters, says: “All should forgive me. I am fed up with my life so I am taking this step. Those who have raped me are responsible for my death.”

The suicide note makes no mention of police inaction, but her older sister said the girl, who was sent to live with a cousin in the nearby town of Samana, would call home almost every day for weeks to find out whether the police had taken any action. The answer was always the same — no.

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