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One Year on, Indian Women Continue to Be Blamed and Shamed for Being Raped

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Over the past year, if you opened up any newspaper on any day in India and it is very likely you'd find a report on rape.

Rather than reflecting a new epidemic of violence in the country, it's a reflection of India's growing intolerance of the poor treatment of women and children.

It's nearly a year since a 23-year-old student was brutally gang-raped on a bus in Delhi. She later died of her injuries - her death bringing thousands out onto the streets around the country to demand better protection of women.

Since then, thanks in part to the Indian media's campaign for change, the government has amended its laws on sexual violence and there is much more awareness of the crime. But, as I found out recently recording a BBC Radio 4 Crossing Continents programme, it's still a significant and complicated issue.

Women in India have long had to put up with acts of sexual violence, of varying degrees, in their daily lives.

In 1996 I moved to Delhi as a young woman to take up an internship at the Times of India newspaper. I was determined to live a normal life travelling around the city by bus. But after several journeys that involved extricating myself from groping and pinching hands, I had to give up.

Indian women on the bus advised me to buy a hat pin and quietly spear anyone who got close. For them it was a day to day problem that had to be endured. The onus was on the woman to protect herself and no one dared suggest it was the men who had to change their behaviour.

Part of the problem then, as now, is that India has a complex relationship towards sex.

India is a patriarchal society where a high price is placed on a woman's virginity. A young, well-educated and well-off young woman in Delhi told me that even for her, with a western education and a job, it was impossible to admit to sex before marriage.

There's a palpable frustration in society. On the one hand, sex flaunted in popular culture - in the rolling hips and seductive costumes of dancers in Bollywood. On the other hand, it's extremely difficult for men and women to fulfil their sexual desires outside marriage.

In Delhi's Safdajung government hospital, the chief gynaecologist, Dr Aruna Batra, told me she's seen the nature of rape change.

In the past, she says, it was "simple rape". But now she sees many more cases of gang-rape and brutal rape involving foreign objects.

"People have gone crazy nowadays. I don't know what's gone wrong with their mentality," she told me.

She believes sexual deprivation is behind this new cruelty, and that it's become worse with the recent mass migration of single, young men to India's cities looking for work.

I met several women who've reported rape. As they told me about their experience with the police, at the hospital and in the courts it was clear that their ordeal continued as they tried to navigate their way through India's police and legal systems.

One woman from the Dalit, or untouchable caste, told me how, after being gang-raped by a group of men, the police at first refused to register her case.

Her story is horrific. She was abducted by a group of young men when walking home from her grandmother's house in the afternoon.

They took her to a secluded area where they took turns to rape her, filming her with a mobile phone, before leaving her unconscious.

Later, she and her family tried to go to the police, but they were stopped by the same boys who said they would kill them if they complained. Her father, depressed by the lack of action, killed himself later that day.

After a community protest, some arrests were made and the case was taken to court. But she said that in spite of clearly identifying eight men in the video, only four were held guilty and the rest were acquitted.

Another young woman told me how she felt humiliated by her treatment at the hospital after she reported she had been attacked during a date in Delhi.

She experienced the much-discredited "two-finger test", where a doctor inserts two-fingers into the victim's vagina to ascertain whether her hymen is broken and whether she appears to be what's described as "habituated to sex".

"I was taken for my medical examination to one of these hospitals in Delhi. That place, whatever happened there is something which is there in my memories and I'll never forget all my life," she told me.

The Supreme Court has described this test as violating a woman's privacy and dignity. But despite this, it's still in use in many hospitals.

This past year has seen positive changes in India, but many rape victims continue to be both blamed and shamed. While the public outcry has made it easier to report rape, there is still some way to go before all victims receive the justice they deserve.

Joanna Jolly presents India: Resisting Rape, a Crossing Continents programme on BBC Radio 4, 11am Thursday 5 December, and on Assignment on the BBC World Service at 8pm. It will also be available online here

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