India can grow if it treats women better

India's ultimate success will depend on its ability to combat sexual violence against women.

The fatal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in 2012 induced unprecedented outrage and criticism in India. That terrible incident paved the way for strict sexual violence legislation, which provides for the death penalty for repeat offenders. Yet it has hardly proved to be an effective deterrent. Sexual crimes still occur with shocking regularity in India – the latest one being the rape and murder of two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh.

The Dalit (low-caste) girls went out to the fields because their house had no toilet. They never returned. Their bodies were later found hanging from a tree. The widespread outrage over the incident might have been sparked by the haunting image of the hanging corpses that circulated in the media, but it also speaks to the continuation of a deeply unequal society that, among others, the former chief minister of the state, Mulayam Singh Yadav, embodies.

As The National reported yesterday, Mr Yadav dismissed the incident like this: “Boys will be boys. They make mistakes.” So should this mean that rape and murder are the prerogative of “boys” in India? Is it just a “mistake” to rape and kill women? This psychology explains why three to five rapes take place every day in Uttar Pradesh (according to National Crime Records Bureau) or why a rape occurs in India every 22 minutes.

What’s the solution? Gender sensitisation programmes? Better policing? More protests? Faster trials of rape accused? Although the government has created fast-track courts in New Delhi to deal with rape cases following the 2012 incident in the capital, prosecutions still remain woefully slow, while the rate of conviction is equally pathetic. According to some reports, of the 706 recorded rapes in Delhi in 2012, only the widely reported December 16 case saw a conviction.

For a long-term solution, the newly-elected government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, needs to make combating sexual violence a priority. The rights of women will not be won without concrete action and India will never be the country it can be without the inclusion of the whole society.

Published: May 31, 2014 04:00 AM


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