It evoked an anger and outrage of the sort that we have rarely witnessed. When news came in of the horrific Delhi gang rape which took place this day last year, people reacted with an incandescent burst of rage taking to the streets, shaming those in power, battling the police and seeking justice for the girl who died such a painful death at the hands of barbaric men.
But in the year that has passed, we have seen numerous cases of heinous sexual assaults on women, listened to the most insensitive remarks by our leaders, watched in silence as justice has fallen by the wayside. Yet, the wheels of justice moved very quickly after December 16, 2012 when the feisty young woman who fought her attackers lingered between life and death finally losing the battle in a Singapore hospital.
The Justice Verma Committee, which was set up to recommend amendments to the criminal law so as to provide for quicker trials and greater punishment for those committing sexual assaults against women, submitted its report in one month, a timeline that was unprecedented. It took up the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace, trafficking, acid attacks and made a number of suggestions about setting up rape crisis centres, CCTVs and so on, all aimed at preventing and addressing sexual assaults against women.
It is now quite clear that the tremendous anger against the Delhi government after that incident has been partly responsible for the people voting out the Sheila Dikshit government, even though the police force does not come within its purview. By now, most of the recommendations made by the eminent committee should have been instituted but sadly, as always, noble intentions have outpaced action.
Women across India still live with the daily fear of sexual assault, they are still told that their dress or conduct will invite violence against them and the police are still most cavalier in dealing with such cases. There have been several assaults on young girls with the attackers having made good their escape. A young child who was raped near a metro station in glitzy Gurgaon a few months ago is still battling critical injuries in hospital.
We cannot wait around for mindsets to change but certainly the law can be swift in apprehending the culprits and retribution can be certain. The jury is still out on whether the death penalty, as has been awarded to the guilty in the December case, barring to the juvenile offender, is the answer. But the authorities are simply not reacting enough to the people’s anger. This apathy could prove fatal for women and, as we have seen, electorally lethal for our elected representatives.