After a 23-year-old woman was brutally gang raped in India last year, international media seemed to focus on the country for a few weeks. The story of this young girl was retold by media outlets, and she soon became a symbol for oppressed girls suffocating under the smothering blanket of a decades-old quiescence on rape.
The coverage stopped, and the declaration by the Indian government to implement new legislation to both increase the sentence for rape by ten years and to add the death penalty as an option in special cases seemed to silence worldwide criticisms of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s longtime lull on the issue.
However, the issue runs too deep for a simple alteration in federal penal code. After a young woman from Punjab was raped in the weeks following the December 16 case, a senior police chief gave a public statement of assurance, quoted in the Toronto Star: “The increased media reporting and the protests have created an awakening among women,” he explained, “this has also made our police force more sensitive to these cases.”
Very soon after another woman was raped in South Delhi in mid-January, she looked outside her window to see her attacker chatting with the officer who had driven her home after the rape.
“If you’re a woman in distress, the last thing you want to do is go to the police,” said Vrinda Grover, a lawyer based in New Delhi.
Changes in police regulations and restrictions have been proposed for years in India, but the alterations never hit the ground because interrelationships between the police and politicians are too strong. The true “war on women” in India is the police neglect of the issue. A few days after the December 16 rape and declaration of governmental action, another 21-year old was gang-raped and murdered. The police failed to file a report.
Yet most news outlets, such as the Toronto Star, either quote a police official in reports on rape or neglect police corruption altogether. Police are called upon to help rape victims, but the police are responsible themselves for the prevalence of rape and the impunity of criminals. The system is cyclically flawed and the corruption runs unchecked.
On February 21, three young Indian sisters were found dead in a village 630 miles south of New Delhi. The police initially classified the case as accidental, and outrage ensued. When two political journalists for Tehelkha magazine interviewed 30 senior police officials in the Delhi area, “more than half had shockingly ugly views on rape victims.” One police inspector stated, “go to a pub in Greater Kailash, South Delhi, where there’s free entry for girls … They’ll drink and also have sex with you. But the day someone uses force, it’s rape.” Another simply claimed, “they go with men for money. Later, when the money is not sufficient, it becomes a rape.”
This is unsurprising, though, because similar traits can be seen in many sections of Indian bureaucracy. According to the National Election Watch, India’s main parties offered candidacy to 27 men that had been accused of rape and more than 250 candidates who had face charges for crimes against women’s rights in the past.
Although the situation is touchy, sweeping police corruption and neglect under the rarely dusted rug is counter-productive. Attention on federal governmental reform in the realm of women’s rights is merited but ineffective because female degradation does not stem from the PM. The problem of rape and assault is local, and until the issue of mismanagement is both addressed and acted upon by media and the Indian feds, rape will continue.
Indian police need to firstly stop being glorified by the media, and then, action should be taken against them. A light has been shone on women for a short 3-week long press circuit, but the core issue of police corruption has not yet been acknowledged because government and media representatives are scared to do so. Corruption in police departments, locally, nationally, and individually, must be acknowledged.
As Al-Jazeera eloquently put it, “a horrific rape did take place in Delhi, but more importantly, Delhi is being raped.”
The rape will continue as long as we remain oblivious to its root cause.