Delhi rape broke wall of silence but no let-up in attacks
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Delhi rape broke wall of silence but no let-up in attacks

The fatal gang-rape of a paramedical student sparked mass protests, tougher sex laws and police reforms but the tide of violence against women shows little sign of abating.

delhi Updated: Sep 10, 2013 17:27 IST
Delhi gangrape verdict,Delhi gangrape case,Mukesh Kumar

The fatal gang-rape of a paramedical student sparked mass protests, tougher sex laws and police reforms but the tide of violence against women shows little sign of abating.

Activists say the collective outrage over the attack on the 23-year-old has helped persuade some victims to break their silence and end a longstanding cultural taboo surrounding any discussion of rape.

But a string of other multiple sex assaults, including of foreign tourists and of a photojournalist on assignment in Mumbai last month, has highlighted the continuing dangers facing women.

And campaigners say that for all the welcome changes introduced since the student's killing, too many people in authority have yet to take on board the lessons learned.

"The people have woken up to rape but in many ways the authorities still haven't," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the non-profit Centre for Social Research.

Kumari said other victims had been inspired to speak out by the 23-year-old's courageous fight for life, which ended when she suffered multiple organ failure nearly a fortnight after the December 16 attack.

"People would never even utter the word rape earlier, but the silence is ending now," she told AFP.

Kumari cited a recent case when widely broadcast reports of the gang rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai last month spurred another woman to testify for the first time that she too had been attacked in July by some of the same suspects.

However Kumari said the legal system still betrayed a "deep lethargy".

While the four convicted on Tuesday of the student's murder and rape had their cases dealt with in a fast-track court, the defence team was still able to spin out the trial for more than eight months.

Other rape trials however are still waiting to be heard years after the alleged attacks while campaigners say that the mindset of judges needs to be changed as well.

A Delhi judge who cleared a defendant last month of sexually assaulting his maid upset campaigners when he rued the "unprecedented surge in filing of false rape cases" after the December gang rape.

The attack had created a climate in which "the mere statement of a lady that she has been raped, came to be taken as gospel truth", the Press Trust of India quoted judge Virender Bhat as saying.

Police in Delhi, which has been dubbed the rape capital of India, registered more than 800 rapes during the first six months of 2013, more than double the number recorded during the same period the previous year.

Suman Nalwa, deputy commissioner of Delhi Police's special unit for women and children, said the rise reflected a greater confidence among victims to come forward.

"The numbers are high because there's more reporting of crime, which reflects increased confidence among complainants," Nalwa told AFP.

The public outcry over the handling of sexual assault cases pushed officials in Delhi to revive a "gender sensitisation" programme for all police personnel that originally ran from 2008-2011.

It also set up more telephone helplines for victims and established a 24-hour helpdesk for women at every police station in Delhi, Nalwa said.

"Earlier, gender violence would have to take a backseat, compared with other crimes, but now it is seen as high priority," she said.

"We monitor these cases at the highest levels of the force."

Campaigners acknowledge that the government, stung by outrage over the December 16 attack, has taken an important step forward by strengthening anti-rape legislation, which was approved by parliament in March.

The new law means that sex offenders can now face the death penalty if a victim dies and it includes provisions to punish police officials who fail to register assault or harassment cases.

Kavita Krishnan, an activist for the All India Progressive Women's Association, said such changes were a vindication of the protests.

"I think the rest of the world also has a lot to learn from the struggle in India and how a struggle against sexual violence can be a mass movement," she told AFP.

But other activists like Kumari say deeper changes are needed if Indian authorities are serious about tackling sexual violence.

Victims rarely get sufficient assistance from authorities to cope with the traumatic aftermath of sexual assault, with many officials continuing to treat rape survivors insensitively.

"It's a comprehensive law with a stringent punishment framework, but it's not enough," said Kumari of the new legislation.

"We have tens of thousands of rape cases pending and very few convictions, which doesn't send a strong message at all."

First Published: Sep 10, 2013 17:25 IST