The recent rape incident in New Delhi that caught the headlines worldwide really brought home the fact that women are extremely vulnerable in India.
Over the last four years I have considered India to be a second home to me, spending all of my summers there. I have always been aware of the dangers women face, as I too have been on the receiving end of mild forms of sexual abuse from men, having been groped several times and faced with aggressive sexual requests. I can’t help but feel very lucky to have escaped anything more severe after seeing the headlines over this last month.
This is the reality that Indian women face though, a reality of living in fear. The statistics show that rape is far from uncommon across the country. More than 220,000 cases of violent crimes against women were reported in 2011 alone, according to official statistics from the Indian government, with the actual number likely to be much higher as many go unreported.
This particularly brutal incident, which left the 23 year old with internal injuries and later led to her death, was to be the last straw. It has left the Indian nation feeling outraged and deeply saddened by the threat that their mothers, daughters and sisters may also face when they step out of their front door. The protests that ensued are not unique to India though, as countries such as Sri Lanka and Nepal are also asking for an end to sexual violence. This people’s movement is inspiring and powerful, showing that if the nations rise up, change will follow. However, in a nation full of anger and emotion, carrying placards stating “hang the rapists”, it is clear that the political and social reform needs to strike a careful balance. That is, in empowering women, they need to ensure that they don’t end up violating another fundamental human right as a result – the right to life.
India is not a nation known for its use of the death penalty, but with many serving on death row and the recent execution in relation to the Mumbai bombings, the Indian authorities must not let this wave of protests encourage a resurgence of the use of the death penalty.
India has the opportunity to face up to its critics by effectively implementing the resources and laws it already has in place to put an end to any further incidences of sexual assault, without creating yet another human rights issue.
This tragic incident is a clear case of the lack of rights women have across the globe, but it is also a promising case with a silver lining, as it is spurring change that will hopefully result in more rights for women, not only in India, but worldwide.