Rape In India: Sexual Assault In Assam Reflects National Crisis

ANALYSIS

  @Gooch700 on July 13 2012 10:39 AM

An attempted sexual assault on a teenage girl by a mob of men in Assam has again brought India’s rape epidemic under the harsh and unflattering glare of the media.

In the Assamese state capital of Guwahati, police have video showing at least a dozen, perhaps as many as 20, men stripping and molesting the girl on a busy street for half an hour on Monday night after she came out of a bar.

Thus far, only four of the suspects have been arrested.

All those identified [by the video] with the brutal assault will be arrested, the director-general of Assam’s police, Jayanta Narayan Chaudhury, told reporters on Friday.

Local residents are demanding the police do just that, while Assam’s chef minister Tarun Gogoi said he will create a government task force to probe cases of violence crimes against women across the province. He also vowed a crackdown on bars, discos and clubs that violate curfew.

Womens rights activists are also outraged by the slow response to the assault by police – it took them four days to make any arrests despite having a video of the crime.

Assam has witnessed other public assaults on women that sparked outrage.

Just last week, a politician from the ruling Congress Party, Rumi Nath, was beaten up by as many as 100 people in the town of Karimganj, allegedly for marrying a Muslim man without divorcing her first husband (a Hindu).

The attackers misbehaved with me,” she told local media. “They even tried to rape and kill me. I believe it was a political conspiracy.”

In April of this year, a young girl was raped by two members of the Bodo ethnic minority – an atrocity that led to violence clashes between police and outraged residents.

In another spectacular case, five years ago, a tribal woman was stripped and assaulted in public in Guwahati.

The rate of violent crimes against women is particularly high in Assam, double the national rate for India.

But police chief Chaudhury seemed to downplay the latest episode.

This incident does not prove that there are predators lurking in the city,” he told Indian media.

This is just an isolated incident when local people took advantage of the situation and indulged in the crime.”

Many people would disagree… on the whole; India is a very dangerous country for the fairer sex.

In northeastern India, the issue of rape is further complicated by the presence of leftist insurgence groups, separatists and tribal peoples who are in long-standing conflict with security and paramilitary forces – thus, many sexual assaults are blamed on the very forces of law and order who are supposed to prosecute such behavior. Many such rapes go unreported due to the stigma attached as well as the unwillingness of victims to face their attackers and the public scrutiny.

Assamese media reported that between 2006 and 2011, police in the state received over 7,000 complaints of rape – but the actual number of such assaults is believed to be much higher.

Rape and the sexual assault of women in a national disgrace for India.

Consider the case of the teeming capital city of New Delhi, which accounts for an astounding one-quarter of all rapes officially recorded in the vast country, according to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau, or NCRB.

Delhi leads India in all incidents of crimes against women, including rape, molestation, dowry harassment, and domestic violence, Jagori's Safe Delhi Campaign reported.

The capital also was the site of 23.8 percent of rape cases, 38.9 percent of kidnapping and abduction cases, 15.2 percent of dowry deaths, and 14.1 percent of molestation cases.

A women's-rights organization, Jagori stated: “Women in Delhi face high levels of violence ... Women are ... unsafe on Delhi streets, running the daily risk of harassment, attack, assault, rape, and murder. On the other hand, they do not seem to be very safe at home either -- official statistics show that, in Delhi as elsewhere, most crimes against women are committed by close relatives within the four walls of the home.”

Last year, Indian media reported on the particularly horrific experience of a woman in Delhi who was raped by an older relative. When she escaped his house and hailed a taxi, the cabbie and two of his friends then raped her again.

An Al Jazeera video documentary indicated that in Delhi, a city of some 20 million, 80 percent of women said they have been at least sexually harassed. If accurate, this figure would mean that at least 5 million women in the city alone have had this unpleasant experience (or worse).

Moreover, an astonishing four-fifths of all women in Delhi fear for their safety on the streets, especially at night.

However, the actual number of rapes in Delhi -- and India as a whole -- is likely to be dramatically higher than suggested by published statistics.

For example, Jagori stated that while almost one-half (45 percent) of women in Delhi say they have been stalked by men in public, only a scant 0.8 percent of these women even bothered to report such harassment to the police.

Almost three-fifths (58 percent) of women who have been so abused said they didn’t even consider notifying police because they felt the cops wouldn’t do anything or would blame the women themselves for the assaults perpetrated on their bodies.

Also, it is reasonable to assume that educated Indian women are more willing to report rapes than are uneducated, rural, poor women -- who fear both the authorities and the repercussions of a rape allegation.

Moreover, while most rapes in India that are reported to police occur in urban areas, there are untold numbers of sexual assaults in rural villages that are never recorded because police either do not exist there or they are hopelessly corrupt or incompetent.

Consequently, rape and crime statistics in India are vague.

Nonetheless, Anita Raj, a professor in the division of global public health in the department of medicine at the University of California at San Diego, said that crimes against women in India have indeed been steadily rising over the past several years.

This view is echoed by women's organizations and rights activists across India, citing anecdotal evidence.

“I feel this [increase in rape statistics] may be attributable in part to increased reporting and convictions,” Raj said. “There is greater support for rape victims in India than ever before, but simultaneously, the stigmatization of rape victims [including the negative effects on the likelihood of future marriage] remains all too often the norm.”

It is unclear why Delhi has witnessed a far worse epidemic of rape and sexual assault than megacity peers such as Mumbai and Calcutta (which also boast huge populations and a mass migration of people from the rural hinterlands).

Jagori cited a number of factors that make Delhi unsafe for women: dark or poorly lighted streets; derelict parks and empty lots; badly maintained public spaces; inadequate signage; lack of public toilets; poor public transport, as well as rude bus drivers and conductors; insufficient presence and unresponsive-aggressive attitudes of police and civic authorities; isolation from neighbors and the lack of community life; traditional notions of privacy and refusal of neighbors-police to intervene in situations of domestic violence; a macho culture; and a general lack of respect for women’s rights.

However, such conditions exist across much of urban India -- thus, there must be other factors behind Delhi's particularly virulent atmosphere of brutality against women.

Al Jazeera contended part of this apparent escalation in violence against women may be attributed to the fact that in past 15 years, the number of women in Delhi's workforce has more than doubled. As a result, women have become more visible in public, and many are dressed in modern Western attire, having chucked traditional clothing.

This would suggest that part of the violence stems from men’s resentment of changing gender roles and the erosion of cultural and traditional norms.

Indeed, as India's economy modernizes, more women pursue higher education, get jobs, marry later in life, and have fewer children.

For the millions of Indian men who haven't benefited from the buoyant economy and remain trapped in poverty, the sight of successful, independent women is anathema.

 Raj also noted that, as is the case in the U.S. and other Western nations, most Indian rapists are friends, neighbors, or even relatives of the victims.

“The vast majority of rapes are perpetrated by an individual known to the victim,” she said.

Citing official data, Raj pointed out only 4 percent of men arrested for rape were strangers to their victims, while the other 96 percent were known to the victims or their families.

“This really belies this belief that rapes have increased because women and girls are more mobile in societies,” she said.

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