Indian Rape Case Ignites National Debate On Abuse Of Women
Doctors in Singapore are battling to save the life of a 23-year-old Indian woman who sustained grievous injuries in a gang rape that has mobilized mass demonstrations in New Delhi.
Officials at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore said Friday that the condition of the patient who arrived Thursday morning is worsening, and that she is suffering organ failure.
With the government facing a public revolt over the level of violent crimes against women, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is reported to have overseen the decision to airlift the young student to a specialty medical center.
Investigators say the physiotherapy student was beaten with an iron rod, raped by six men in a bus, and left for dead on the side of the road the night of Dec. 16.
The demonstrations demanding justice for the victim reflect not only the public revulsion at the brutality of her attack, but also the simmering rage over the prevalence of sexual violence in India. There were some 228,000 crimes last year against women, up from the year before.
Nasreen Jahan, a 32-year-old woman who joined a small rally in New Delhi on Thursday, was draped in a red woolen scarf against the cold — or so I thought.
She discreetly pulled back her head covering and revealed a large disfiguring scar.
"I divorced my husband five years ago, and when he tried to take me back forcibly into his house," Jahan explained, "I resisted him. And in retaliation, he threw acid on me. I'm always angry at the kind of violence women suffer. And I know there are people like me ... who will always resist this violence."
A Delayed Response From The Government
Prime Minister Singh said Friday that the public can be assured his government is committed to punishing the guilty. The six accused in the gang rape will reportedly be charged next week.
Singh did not publicly address the rape that unleashed the mass protests until Monday, eight days after the attack occurred. Nor did any government official address the crowds, deepening a perception of indifference.
Unfazed by the public outcry, the president's son, Abhijit Mukherjee ignited new anger Thursday when he described the women protesting the rape as "dented and painted," as if they were a damaged car.
The remark kicked up a storm in India's social media.
Blogger and social media consultant Anna Vetticad told the Indian network NDTV, "It is the light-hearted manner ... in which boys and men are taught to take women that leads to this disdain for women that leads to crimes against women."
She added: "Unless we educate little boys from the time they are in kindergarten, we are not going to be able to prevent these crimes, and all the capital punishment in the world won't make a difference."
Death Penalty For Rape?
In response to public pressure, the government said it will consider changing the law to allow for the death penalty in certain instances of rape.
Critics say it is not harsher punishment but rather investigative and prosecutorial muscle that is needed. Convictions for rape have declined decade-on-decade in India.
Praveen Swami, editor of the The Hindu newspaper, says, "The real battle is to change the way in which men relate to women: to create a culture of masculinity that does not involve subjugation."
Meanwhile, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said he was not obligated to speak to the protesters, and he equated them with Maoist rebels who have long infiltrated the countryside.
The Delhi police, overseen by the central government, used tear gas and water cannons on the protesters, whose ranks included families with children. A police constable died on duty during riots Sunday, though there have been contradictory accounts of what caused his death. Police say he was beaten by protesters. Witnesses who attempted to revive him say he collapsed.
Vinod Sharma, the political editor of the Hindustan Times, says the old ruling guard is out of sync with a new generation of tech-savvy protesters.
"There is a leadership vacuum at every level today, and that leadership vacuum is largely because people are appointed out of cronyism, or that are just plain lucky they get appointed to a key position," Sharma says.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne. This month has brought news of mass demonstrations in India that began with a terrible crime - the gang-rape of a medical student in New Delhi. Doctors are now battling to save the life of the young woman. With the government facing a public revolt at the levels of violent crimes against women, India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is reported to have overseen the decision to airlift the young student to a specialty medical in Singapore. From Delhi, NPR's Julie McCarthy has more.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Officials at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital, in Singapore, say that the young woman who arrived Thursday morning is in extremely critical condition. Investigators say she was beaten with an iron rod, raped by six men in a bus, and left for dead on the side of the road, the night of December 16th.
India has been rocked by protests since.The demonstrations reflect not only the public revulsion at the brutality of the attack, but also the simmering rage over the prevalence of sexual violence in India. There were more than a quarter of a million crimes, last year, against women - up from the year before.
(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (chanting and clapping) We want justice! We want justice!
MCCARTHY: Nasreen Jehah attended this small rally in New Delhi, yesterday. From beneath a red, woolen scarf that draped her head, I could detect a slight deformity over one eyebrow. She discreetly pulled back her head covering to reveal the twisted flesh of a large, disfiguring scar that ran down her neck and right shoulder. Nasreen said after she divorced her husband, he threw acid on her face.
NASREEN JEHAH: (Through translator) As you can see, people who have suffered, like me; people who have suffered attacks from their husband, like me; I'm always angry. I'm always angry about the kind of violence women suffer. And I know there are people, like me, who will always be angry; and they will always resist this violence. And they will gather, they will continue to protest for this cause.
MCCARTHY: The prime minister said today that the public can be assured his government is committed to punishing the guilty. The six accused in the gang rape will reportedly be charged next week. The prime minister did not publicly address the rape that grabbed the conscience of the nation until Monday, eight days after it occurred.
Unfazed by the public fury, the president's son, Abhijit Mukherjee, ignited new outrage yesterday. He described the women protesting against the rape as quote, "dented and painted," a phrase used by mechanics who mask rust with liberal coats of paint. The remark kicked up a storm in India's social media. Blogger Anna Vitticad said, in an interview on the network NDTV:
(SOUNDBITE OF NDTV INTERVIEW)
ANNA VITTICAD: The fact is, that it is the lighthearted manner in which, and the light fashion which boys and men are taught to take women, that leads to this disdain for women...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah...
VITTICAD: ...that leads to crimes against women.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah.
VITTICAD: Unless we sensitize our men, unless we educate little boys from the time they are in kindergarten, we are not going to be able to prevent these crimes; and all the capital punishment in the world won't make a difference.
MCCARTHY: Under pressure, the government has said it will consider changing the law, to allow for the death penalty in certain instances of rape. It has been a difficult week for the ruling coalition. The home minister compared the protesters to armed, Maoist rebels who have long infiltrated the countryside. The Delhi police, who are overseen by the central government, are also under attack; in a city where the vast majority of rape cases reported, never result in a conviction.
Vinod Sharma is the political editor of the Hindustan Times. He says a new generation of tech-savvy protesters are not content to be compliant citizens, and that the old ruling guard is out of synch.
VINOD SHARMA: There is a leadership vacuum at every level, today. And that leadership vacuum is largely because people, perhaps, are appointed - you know, out of cronyism, or they are appoint - they are just plain lucky that they get appointed to key positions.
MCCARTHY: The government has decided to name and shame. It announced that a database of rape convicts will be posted on police websites. As details emerged of another gang rape this week, there was no word yet on steps the government plans, to ensure that rapists are convicted.
Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.