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Tuesday, Feb. 20
The Indiana Daily Student

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Column: Thoughts on Delhi gang rape verdict

I’m starting to worry the “empower women in India” social movement is the “feed the starving African children” trope of our generation.

Both issues are important but oversimplified to the point of becoming a fashionable philanthropic endeavor for wealthy Westerners to support.

At the risk of sounding tired, I’d like to have my say about violence against girls and women in the wake of the Delhi gang rape trial.

The gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi last December sparked a media frenzy in India and around the world.

On Sept. 10, Judge Yogesh Khanna declared “death for all” four men convicted in the trial.

Of the six men accused, one died in jail earlier this year, and another was tried as a juvenile.

The remaining four — Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma, Mukesh Singh and Akshay Thakur — were given the death sentence by hanging.

Charges included gang rape, murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy.

The death sentence is rare in India but was considered appropriate by the court given the particularly heinous nature of the crime.

Various news reports of the incident say the six men were searching for a victim when the woman and her male friend boarded their private bus Dec. 16.

When the pair was found on the side of the road, the woman had been beaten and raped so brutally that her intestines were coming out of her body. She died two weeks later at a hospital in Singapore.

In the time that followed, six fast-track courts were set up to deal specifically with cases related to violence against women.

The Delhi verdict was reached in nine months, compared to the four or five years it may have taken in regular court.

Punishment for rapists increased to a life sentence in prison or the death penalty if the victim dies. The minimum sentence for gang rape increased to 20 years in prison.

The crime these men committed was horrific and the woman’s family deserves justice, but it’s hard to see how this trial will help other victims.

In India, many victims are from low-income families or socially excluded groups.

Most rape cases aren’t committed by strangers on a bus, but by acquaintances.

Women who know their rapists are often forced to remain silent because of familial or societal pressure.

Those willing to come forward may face police harassment, humiliation or refusal to help them file a First Information Report. An FIR is necessary before police can investigate a case and begin the criminal justice process.

Even if the case does go to trial, the Business Standard reports a mere 25 to 35 percent conviction rate in rape cases, though this varies by state.

The average person can’t combat police corruption or improve the Indian court system.
 
However, he or she can improve the way women are viewed and treated in his or her community.

Now that the publicity has died down, it’s time to address one of the root causes in most cases of rape and sexual assault — the low societal value placed on girls and women.

This isn’t an issue specific to India, either. One in five women in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted during her life, according to a survey conducted by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Victim-blaming is as pervasive in America as it is in India.

Stricter sentencing for rapists won’t stop violence against girls and women in India or anywhere else in the world.

Teaching respect for women will.

­— kmthacke@indiana.edu.

Follow columnist Kate Thacker on Twitter @katelynthacker.

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