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That rape in New Delhi

The rape of and assault on a young woman on a bus in New Delhi - and now her death - has caused ripples beyond the capital of India.

An op-ed piece in The New York Times by an Indian woman puts things into context.

India has laws against rape; seats reserved for women in buses, female officers; special police help lines. But these measures have been ineffective in the face of a patriarchal and misogynistic culture. It is a culture that believes that the worst aspect of rape is the defilement of the victim, who will no longer be able to find a man to marry her — and that the solution is to marry the rapist.

These beliefs aren’t restricted to living rooms, but are expressed openly. In the months before the gang rape, some prominent politicians had attributed rising rape statistics to women’s increasing use of cellphones and going out at night. “Just because India achieved freedom at midnight does not mean that women can venture out after dark,” said Botsa Satyanarayana, the Congress Party leader in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Change is possible, but the police must document reports of rape and sexual assault, and investigations and court cases have to be fast-tracked and not left to linger for years. Of the more than 600 rape cases reported in Delhi in 2012, only one led to a conviction. If victims believe they will receive justice, they will be more willing to speak up. If potential rapists fear the consequences of their actions, they will not pluck women off the streets with impunity.

The volume of protests in public and in the media has made clear that the attack was a turning point. The unspeakable truth is that the young woman attacked on Dec. 16 was more fortunate than many rape victims. She was among the very few to receive anything close to justice. She was hospitalized, her statement was recorded and within days all six of the suspected rapists were caught and, now, charged with murder. Such efficiency is unheard-of in India.

In retrospect it wasn’t the brutality of the attack on the young woman that made her tragedy unusual; it was that an attack had, at last, elicited a response.

 

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