Rape culture in India raises new outrage, old questions

After their 5-year-old daughter had been missing for two days, a couple living in New Delhi, India, heard her cries in a neighboring apartment.  They broke down the locked doors and found their daughter sexually assaulted, tortured and left for dead.

Authorities rushed the girl to a local hospital where doctors removed candle fragments and a small bottle from her genitals. Her condition is currently listed as critical, but stable.

This assault took place four months after the infamous Dec. 2012 rape, also in New Delhi. In said case, six men beat and gang raped a 23-year-old woman on an evening bus ride.

The involuntary insertion of an iron rod inside of her genitals resulted in 95 percent of her intestines being ripped out and, 13 days later, death.

Although they received some media coverage worldwide, the brutal Delhi incidents are miniscule in a larger context.

According to the Indian Police Service, a woman is raped every 18 minutes in India. In a population of 1.2 billion, the cries of even more victims likely fall on deaf ears.

Commissioner of Delhi Police Neeraj Kumar said “I am completely satisfied with the performance of Delhi Police,” in an interview with The Guilfordian.

Contrarily, an assistant commissioner was caught on camera slapping a young woman across the face while she protested the five-year-old girl’s rape.

Earlier, the 5-year-old’s family reported that local officers offered them 2,000 rupees, or 40 dollars, to disappear without registering a report.

“It’s no surprise,” Vikrant Girwalkar, ICICI Bank employee near Mumbai, India, told The Guilfordian. “Police will do anything to get a case off their hands.”

Further down the ranks of Delhi Police, officers do not seem to appreciate the magnitude of the situation.

“It is not as bad as it seems,” Jitendra Mani, Delhi Police Officer of law and order, told The Guilfordian. “Issues like this just get blown out of proportion.”

As authorities struggle to get their grip, increasing attention has fallen on Indian women, the victims of rape and the activists against sexual assault.

“The activism at the ground level of women working together is just fascinating,” said Guilford Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Julia Winterich, who is also chair of the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Department.

Female activists draw from their cultural heritage as a source of inspiration.

The history of Indian women reflects a tradition of significant political and social justice work.

While much of the Western world continues to struggle with the idea of women in politics, India had its first female prime minister in 1980.

While many women in 19th century Europe were forbidden to join revolutionary activities, Indian queens led armies into battle against British imperialists.

“When you think of the past, the oppression of women today is just shocking,” said Shuddhamati Uppin, an advocate for gender equality in Latur, India.

Speaking out against rape is no easy task for Indian women, who are often restricted to the household. But, with increasing media coverage and support for feminist women’s rights organizations like Swayam and Rising Voices, some argue that change is imminent.

“With social media now, we have ways of getting and sharing stories at the street level,” said Winterich. “If the media attention on India continues, the government is going to feel quite pressured to do something concretely for women.”