Almost a year ago a young woman, aged 23, was beaten and gang raped in a private bus whilst travelling in Southern Delhi. This horrific incident resulted in such severe injuries that she unfortunately died very shortly after the ordeal. Not only did this case cause a national outcry in India, but much of the international arena was condemning India for this incident, alongside India's notoriously patriarchal society in general. India, a country with success stories in a multi-billion dollar film industry and an unmatched cricket team, was suddenly receiving unprecedented attention for all the wrong reasons. One year on, I look at what - if anything - has changed in India for the status of women.
Following the rape incident, thousands of women, and even men, took to the streets and protested, demanding a change in the law. In their eyes justice was seeing the perpetrators' fate lead to capital punishment. In September of this year, when the convicts were sentenced to death, many claimed that this was a step in the right direction; that justice had finally been achieved. But is it as simple as that? Certainly the legal framework is necessary to make the prosecution, but in the case of India, there are several problems.
Lets just go back a little; soon after the Delhi rape episode, the Indian government surprised everyone by quickly setting up a commission to update the law before accepting most of its recommendations. Anyone who knows even a little bit about Indian politics, is probably aware of politicians' 'kneejerk' reactions on their forever quest to gain a majority in parliament. But passing progressive legislation is very different to enforcing it; especially in a country where police corruption is widespread and attitudes to women and societal practices change at a much slower rate.
So, although the numbers of women reporting rape and other forms of sexual harassment has increased due to gaining confidence after the Delhi rape, the latest annual figures available show that of the 706 rape cases filed in New Delhi in 2012, only one, the most famous, ended in conviction. This shows how the government is not prioritising an issue that is clearly widespread in the country.
Such an attitude can also spread amongst members of the population. This was certainly the case when working in India during my summer vacation. A photojournalist was raped at Lower Parel station in Mumbai and this scared me because my commute to work was through this station. However, when I expressed this horror to people around me, their reaction was rather surprising, "she should not have been out alone" and "well, everyday four or five women get raped", were comments that I was receiving. Regardless of whether such statements are correct or not, it does not give a man the right to rape a woman. Furthermore, this incident did not receive even half the attention that the Delhi rape one did; it was almost as if people had lost momentum to take action. A few protests here and there, with snippets of coverage by the national newspapers meant that the Mumbai rape incident soon became just another statistic.
What made matters worse were the men who mocked rape. Rape has been happening in India for a very long time, before it even obtained a label; but talking about it rather openly is a fairly new phenomenon. Consequently, several men do not make travelling or simply walking in the streets a pleasant experience for women. They look, they stare, they gawp and they lick their lips like a predator enjoying its prey. Even if rape it not on the menu, generally feeling uncomfortable and unsafe in ones own city is. Of course not every man is an uncontrollable animal, but an attitude of "the streets are unsafe for women" has been firmly embedded into Indian society, making it hard to change such perceptions.
Nevertheless, the media has consistently highlighted how the problem of sexual violence in India underlines the deep-rooted misogyny of a society where men are valued higher than women. This begins with sex selective abortions resulting in a widening gender gap that is increasing through the decades: from a high of 983 girls to 1,000 boys in 1951, to 914 girls in 2011. It is not surprising that men in India are finding it difficult to find wives, causing a boom in the illegal sex trade industry. Hazel Thompson's documentation of Mumbai's "Red Light District" captures some horrific images and stories of girls as young as nine, being forced into sexual slavery. Moreover, in Washington, Time magazine listed what it calls "India's Rape Epidemic" as the ninth top world news story of 2013. This constant negative portrayal of India is the external pressure that will help change attitudes in India.
So, in answer to my question, not much has changed for women in India. While the international arena can help, ultimately change has to come from within the country. Merely a change in law is not enough; a change in attitudes is also necessary to transform Indian society and make it a better place for women.