A shocking murder
The shocking gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a suburb of New Delhi has cast a deeply unflattering global light on enduring traditions of patriarchy and misogyny still thriving in India. It has prompted widespread demonstrations, demands for tough new rape laws, better police protection for women, and the beginnings of what many hope will be a sustained campaign to change social attitudes to women.
The student, who has not been named, died on Saturday in a hospital in Singapore from massive internal injuries caused by an iron rod used by her attackers. Yesterday a new fast-track court in south Delhi saw charges of rape, tampering with evidence, kidnapping, murder, among others, brought against five men, including the private bus owner on whose vehicle she had been attacked for hours on December 16th. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty and is likely also to proceed against another accused in the juvenile courts.
Many women in India insist they are subject almost routinely to varying degrees of sexual harassment and assault in the street or in public transport, practices still referred to dismissively by many men as “eve-teasing”. Police – only 4 per cent are women – are usually unsympathetic. Last week, an 18-year-old woman in Punjab took her own life by drinking poison after being raped by two men and then humiliated by male police officers who made her describe her attack in detail several times over.
Dozens more gang rapes have been reported in the states of Haryana, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in recent months. But although more than 600 rapes were reported last year in New Delhi alone (population 20 million), it should be noted that such figures compare favourably to Ireland’s record (population Republic 4.5 million) – gardaí recorded some 472 rapes in the past year. The more overt, public sexism of India may largely be a thing of the past in Ireland. But attitudes which can no longer be acceptably manifested in public persist underground. As does the violence against women.