Campaigners are calling for a new deal for India’s women in the wake of the death sentences handed down by a New Delhi judge. Four men were found to have tricked a woman and her male friend on to an out-of-service bus before gang-raping her, so brutally that she later died from her injuries.
The case brought women’s rights protesters across India on to the streets in angry demonstrations against the country’s culture of violence against women, from female feticide to rape. However, activists fear the intense focus on the trial will do nothing to improve the safety of women on city streets. A new report by three Indian academics supports those concerns and says it is India’s infrastructure that needs to change, from bus services to public toilets.
Issuing his decision, Judge Yogesh Khanna said the attack “shocked the collective conscience” of India.
“In these times, when crime against women is on the rise, the courts cannot turn a blind eye toward such gruesome crimes,” the judge said.
Nearly 25,000 reported cases of rape were reported last year in India. In New Delhi, with a population of 15 million, more than 1,000 cases were reported this year until the middle of last month, against 433 reported in the same period last year.
The rise may be in part due to increased reporting, but India’s National Crime Records Bureau says registered rape cases in India have increased by almost 900 percent over 40 years, to 24,206 incidents in 2011. Some activists say one in 10 rapes is reported; others say it is closer to one in 100. In a 2011 poll nearly one in four Indian men admitted to having committed some act of sexual violence.
However, the report, “Invisible Women,” by academics Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan — due to appear in the next issue of Index on Censorship magazine later this month — reflects a real fear that at the end of the New Delhi trial the media spotlight will move away from the mistreatment of women.
The report argues that India’s infrastructure needs to be transformed to give women an equal and safer place in cities.
They write that the Delhi rape “was facilitated in part by the lack of adequate public transport, which meant that [the victim] was traveling in a private bus.”
The women point out that transport, lighting, toilets and other public facilities are designed with an “invariably male” user in mind. Women’s restrooms “are dark and unfriendly” and often close at 9pm, “sending the clear message that women are not expected to — and not supposed to — be out in public at night.” Women “have to learn extreme bladder control and to negotiate dark streets and unfriendly parks,” the report said.
The authors claimed shopping malls were the only places in India’s cities where women felt safe. Streets need to be well-lit, public transport needs to be regulated and to run day and night, and safe toilets need to be available for all women before attacks can decrease.
The victim in the bus rape had been to the movies.
“Changing attitudes may take time, but the provision of infrastructure can be a simple one-time policy decision, which reinforces the point that women belong in public space,” they said.
Mumbai’s scheme for women-only train carriages was seen as a great success because it “enshrined their right to be there,” they added.
The report illustrates the determination of activists to keep the momentum of the Delhi case from fading. “It is the beginning of our movement,” said Anuradha Kapoor of civil rights group Maitree, who was arrested in June at a women’s rights protest. “We won’t give up so easily.”