In Memory: A Call to Action

2012-08-13 13.05.15When reading a newspaper on a Kindle you are presented with a list of headlines to select from; there is no opportunity to scan the page to see connected articles. Today under International   there were two related articles: India to name and shame sex offenders as rape protest grows and Indian victim of gang rape dies in hospital in Singapore. In common with many women of my generation sexual violence strikes an uncomfortable chord; few of us will have grown up without having experience of the subject either personally or professionally; directly or indirectly.

In 1987/8 friends and I were amongst the co-founders of Aberystwyth Rape Crisis Line; the uncomfortable co-existence of the university and the town sat alongside the often stifling environment of close knit communities. Neither made reporting incidences of rape (or indeed of domestic violence) easy. Whether the investigation led to a conviction or not the woman at the centre of the violence was invariably ostracised or at least not someone to be trusted in future. The isolation of women in rural agricultural communities probably remains but one hopes is at least a little more sympathetic than in was 25 years ago.

The Guardian today made what would probably be considered a minor editorial error but angered me tremendously as it was one further violation of the 23 year old physiotherapy student gang raped by 6 men on a bus in Delhi 10 days ago. The first of the two articles states that she ‘has now been moved to a specialist hospital in Singapore where her condition remains critical’ and the second well the headline tells it all: the poor battered and brutalised woman has died as a result of her horrific injuries.  Perhaps my use of the word violated is too strong but it seemed an awful, if unintentional, lack of respect.

When I read the first article where plans to upload photographs, names and addresses of rapists on the Delhi police website I confess I had little sympathy with the ‘fears that identifying convicted rapists will lead to vigilante attacks’. With a report national average conviction rate of 25% for rape cases coupled with cases taking several years to reach court if they manage to get to court is there is it a surprise that people might be tempted to excise their own form of justice. Ranjana Kumari, the director of Dehli’s Centre for Social Research accepts that this is a risk whilst highlighting that at the moment it is the victim who suffers the shame and social ostracism.

With such a low conviction rate a relatively small proportion of rapists will be posted on police websites; what about the majority of perpetrators will continue to be invisible. Not only will they go unpunished but they will continue to be a danger to more women. Three pieces of information about this particular case are banging around my head: her attack continued for over an hour; after the attack she (and the man she was travelling with) were left on the side of the road; and 2 women a day are raped in Delhi alone.

The New York Times reported today (29 December 2012)

NEW DELHI — As protests grew in India on Saturday over the death of a young woman who was raped in New Delhi this month by several men in a moving bus, the police said six men accused of attacking her had been charged with murder. A police spokesman, Rajan Bhagat, said that if convicted of murder, the men could face the death penalty in the Dec. 16 attack, which shocked India because of its savagery, led to violent protests and prompted demands for improved protection for women as well as calls for the death penalty in rape cases.

The country’s Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that the death penalty should be used only in the “rarest of rare” cases, and fewer than 50 people have been executed since India’s independence in 1947.

The woman, who has not been identified, has become a symbol for the treatment of women in India, where rape is common and conviction rates for the crime are low. She boarded a bus with a male friend after watching a movie at a mall, and was raped and attacked with an iron rod by the men, who the police later said had been drinking and were on a “joy ride.”

She died Saturday morning in Singapore, where she had been flown for treatment for the severe internal injuries caused by the assault. She had an infection in her lungs and abdomen, liver damage and a brain injury, the Singapore hospital said, and died from organ failure. Her body was flown back to India on Saturday. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/30/world/asia/india-rape-delhi.html?_r=0

http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/29/protests-organized-across-india-over-death-of-gang-rape-victim/?ref=asia

The strength of feeling behind the protests can surely not be ignored but a cultural change is needed to make a difference to the lives of women in both urban and rural areas.

Bring white roses, some suggested. Get angry, some said. Don’t resort to violence, others begged. Let’s not let her die in vain, they said. http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/29/protests-organized-across-india-over-death-of-gang-rape-victim/?ref=asia

India, a rising economic power and the world’s largest democracy, can never reach its full potential if half its population lives in fear of unspeakable violence.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/29/opinion/rape-in-india.html?ref=asia&_r=0

The continued prevalence of sexual violence in global society shames all of us a citizens; as civilised people and as human beings. The reporting of rape as part of conflict across the Middle East; in the prison system in Russia and I could go on. Is it not already too much to inflict physical violence? Why the need to denigrate, to humiliate and violate as part of gaining power in conflict situations?

As a woman and as a human being I leave you with tears of anger, of frustration and of sorrow tinged with despair; and struggling to find some vestige of hope that one day things will be different.

And although I wish so very much this 23 year old woman had not been so brutally attacked in death she is no longer in pain and suffering. Be in no doubt you will not be forgotten; not  in Delhi, nor in India nor indeed across the Globe.

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