Last month a 22-year-old photojournalist was gang raped in the city of Mumbai, this followed the news that in December of last year a 23-year-old woman was gang raped in similar circumstances in Delhi. The culprits of the latter incident have recently been handed down death penalties by the courts in India. Does such a decision provide adequate closure to the family of the victim? More importantly, will the decision in the Delhi case be repeated for the culprits of the Mumbai gang rape, and is the decision the correct one in the struggle that India is facing to reduce violent crimes against women?
The 22 year old who was raped in Mumbai last month was working as a photojournalist for a Mumbai based English-speaking magazine, where during a visit to an abandoned textile mill five men beat her male friend and committed gang rape. Mumbai's reputation as a safe place for women is what has made this latest incident particularly shocking. Unlike Delhi, where women are encourage to stay inside after 9PM, Mumbai is generally seen as a safe place to travel around for women.
The two incidents in Delhi and Mumbai over the course of the last year have highlighted the massive problem that the Indian government has been struggling with for years, but international attention has only been focused on the problem as a result of these two recent cases. Where previously, many incidents of rape may stay unreported, the reaction of the Indian people on social media in response to both gang rapes was staggering. Social outcry pertaining to the safety of India's streets, the speed and fairness of the Indian judicial system and issues of discrimination of Indian women has now been recognised internationally. As a result there is significant pressure coming from outside, and inside, of India to provide reforms to change the 'rape culture' of the country.
So what are the possible solutions for India? In March of this year the country's India's Parliament passed new tough anti-rape laws, largely in response to the gang rape that was committed in Delhi. The Indian government set up the Justice Verma Committee, which received 80,000 recommendations and considered methods used by other countries around the world to deter potential rapists. For the first time in India it is now a crime to stalk a women, or commit voyeurism against a woman (that is, spying on a woman). There is now also compulsory jail time for any official who does not register a complaint a sexual assault and free medical care is to be provided immediately for anyone who has been the victim of a sexual assault. Perhaps most significantly, the sentences for committing a sexual offence have been increased and repeat offenders, and those who bring death to the victim will be given the death penalty.
One could see this as a distraction from the true issue that India is facing. There are no long-term studies that demonstrate successfully that the death penalty provides an effective deterrent for violent crime. Whilst killing the culprits of heinous crimes may provide short term relief, it is no substitute for tackling the root of the problem and providing a long term solution to the causes of violent sexual crime. These two gang rape cases in particular have shone light on why India suffers from such a problem. It may be surprising to read that, these men were not known criminals, nor had they been subject to upbringings that predisposed them to committing sexual crimes. These men are from a similar background to millions of other Indian men. They were semi-skilled workers on a low income and with a poor education who had moved from the countryside to the city in search of work. 'Bright Lights Syndrome' has seen India rapidly expand from a country full of rural workers to one that is heavily industrialised, on the verge of becoming one of the World's two biggest economies. Millions of men in India are in the same position as those who committed the gang rapes in Delhi and Mumbai, marginalised by the country's rapid expansion and failed by the country's education system, which has so far failed to instill the necessary cultural and social attitudes that are needed to reduce the amount of violent sexual rimes against women.
The new amendments to India's anti-rape laws are an encouraging start for India. Their implementation will hopefully provide some relief to the problem hat the country has been struggling with for years. But this is not the solution to the problem. The criminal justice system in India needs to improve and expand; low conviction rates and poor investigation need to be eradicated. An open social debate among Indian's needs to take place and some internal reflection is required by the country. Perhaps most importantly, India needs to become a fairer, more equal country with less people forced out to the margins. Those who are are left frustrated, angry and stranded in a cycle of poverty that is intimately linked with crime. The new legislation will not stop sexual crimes in India, but these cases have brought the problems that India is facing into the national conscience and may provide the catalyst for future reform.