Friday, January 4, 2013

Justice for women in India

The brutal gang-rape and death of a 23-year-old female medical student in India has prompted outrage and horror around the world. She was tortured and raped on December 16 by a group of six men armed with a metal bar on a private bus in New Delhi. She later died from her injuries in a Singapore hospital.

Five men and a teenager have been charged with rape and murder. This case has been put on a fast track in the wake of this incident. In contrast to decades of inactivity when it comes to rape, a special court has been set up to handle crimes against women. There are now many cries for the death penalty against these men, if they are eventually judged to be guilty.

The incident has sparked marches all across India where a woman is estimated to be raped every twenty minutes. People are voicing their outrage through huge demonstrations against the treatment of women in India, and demanding tougher laws on violence against women. The death of this young woman has become a rallying cry against the violence that all women in India face in some way.

India has an appalling record of crimes against women. Every day women are raped, assaulted, humiliated, and even burned for lack of an adequate dowry. But now, after this incident, women and men in India are demanding that justice be done. Additional demonstrations and protests have been held all over the world demanding action as well.

For too long Indian women have been shamed into silence. When a 16-year old girl from a lower-caste was gang-rapped by some upper-caste men, she was ashamed to tell anyone, including her family. Only after her father had found out about it and killed himself did she finally seek justice. At first, the police refused to take action against the rapists, but later a half-dozen men were arrested and will be put on trial.

In another case, a lower-class girl was also gang-raped. Congress President Sonia Gandhi later met with the family of this Dalit girl, who had immolated herself after the rape. Gandhi echoed the mood of many Indians when she said that the perpetrators of such “barbaric” crimes must be given a severe punishment.

Sonia Gandhi after she met the family of the Dalit girl 

The caste system was officially abolished when India became independent in 1947, but it persists, especially in rural areas. But caste is not the only factor that contributes to the high incidence of rape and which makes it very difficult for justice to be achieved, there is an another factor as well that may possibly play a role: the strong preference for male babies in India. This preference also exists in other countries such as China.

Time magazine attributes violence against women to the abortion of female fetuses and the neglect of girl children. Sex selection has led to an imbalance in the sex ratio, which in turn led to sex trafficking and bride buying. Now the lack of women leaves many men without marriage partners, and thus it contributes to the high number of rapes in India.

But the Time essay does not discuss the high number of rapes in the developed countries of the world. Even allowing for the under-reporting of rapes in developing countries, the high per capita rate of rape in some developed countries is remarkable. Thus the high incidence of rape in India can hardly be explained by sex selection alone.

Sex selection is important for understanding the propensity of men in India to commit acts of violence against women, but there are other factors as well that help to explain both the frequency of rape and the reluctance to report it. These factors are common in all of India, even if they are not exclusive to that country.

Women are treated in ways that are no longer considered acceptable in developed countries. In India and many other countries, women are treated as chattel. They are property and can thus be abused at will.

This is why Christians especially must protest violence against women. They must encourage Indians to adopt a view of women as created in the image of God, as men are, and thus not inferior to men in any respect. Men and women are equal in the eyes of God and thus they must be treated equally.

As God;'s image bearers, both women and men must be protected from violent attacks. Such attacks will happen because we live in a sinful world, but such violence is inexcusable and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. Yet one day men and women will be able to live in a world free of sexual violence.

Women in India need justice. Unfortunately, those who are mandated to uphold the law and maintain justice in India too often look the other way when women are attacked, especially if the perpetrators are upper-class men. Police and the judicial system must be trained to help women achieve justice.

Sex selection should be declared a crime, especially if it involves abortion. When it is practiced in developed countries there is no excuse for tolerating such a practice. Similarly, female mutilation must be condemned. Every practice that involves killing or mutilating women must be stopped.

This is true not just in India but in every country as well where violence against women is perpetrated. The brutal rape and death of a woman in India is a reminder that such violence can be found everywhere.

If her death has awakened the people of India to the reality of how women are treated in their country today, then she has not died in vain. May the rest of the world also head this clarion call to stop such violence.

That will not happen overnight, but eventually women everywhere will be able to walk the streets of every city in the world, even New Delhi, which has been labelled "the rape capital of the world." Pray with me that it will happen soon. As a father and a grandfather of girls, this cannot happen soon enough!


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