Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Predators, Their Prey

The world read with horror of the abduction of a young Indian university student studying physiotherapy, who accompanied by a male friend, had taken one of the many privately owned buses that operate in New Delhi, at night, after they had viewed a film at a nearby theatre. The two young people were victims of a handful of men and a teen who were looking for a some excitement.

The young man and his female companion were selected. He was beaten and forced to witness his female friend gang-raped as the bus moved along the streets of the city in 2012.

Following her death from internal injuries caused by a metal stave inserted into her abdomen, two things happened. An unusually loud and determined number of protests took place, alerting authorities that this was an issue whose time had long come to be solved in some manner; to convince men that those who feel they are entitled to attack women will face the backlash of the law stringently applied. The second thing that happened was a more accelerated rash of such attacks.

Women in India were motivated by their grief and rage to gather in large protests to demand safer streets for women. The country is notorious for the number of dreadful types of criminal activities forced on women and young girls. This gruesome event occurred in the city, to a middle-class young woman. Many more horrendous attacks occur in the countryside, where young girls and women living in poverty are seen as opportunities for men to use as they will, and often enough to kill them to prevent being identified.

BBC -- There have been huge protests against rape in India in recent months

But even when girls and women know who their attackers are, when they approach a police station to lodge a complaint, they are often given short shrift and their pleas ignored. There are so many instances of rape and gang rape, of women and children being tortured, left to die in an agony of anguish and pain, that authorities feel it is of little consequence that they become involved; there are simply too many such incidents to clog up the courts and the prisons.

India's parliament, responding to international outrage over the 2012 bus gang-rape of the physiotherapy student, passed new laws in protection of women against harassment and criminal attacks. But the culture of female predation is so ingrained that simply passing a law hasn't made much difference. The courts do, however, attempt to fast-track such cases when they come to public attention and the perpetrators are arrested and found guilty in a court of law.

Last Thursday a court in Mumbai found five men guilty of the charge of gang-raping a photojournalist and a call-centre operator. One of those assaults took place in an abandoned mill the year before; the second more recently. A core group of three men habitually gathered in the mill building, and they were convicted of both crimes. A fourth man was found guilty of participating in the assault on the journalist, and a fifth was found guilty as well of taking part in the rape of the call-centre operator.

Journalists hold placards as they participate in a protest march against the rape of a photo journalist by five men inside an abandoned textile, in Mumbai August 23, 2013. REUTERS-Danish Siddiqui
Journalists hold placards as they participate in a protest march against the rape of a photo journalist by five men inside an abandoned textile, in Mumbai August 23, 2013.

"I hope this verdict will act as a deterrent", stated the Maharashtra home minister. Reports of rape and sexual assault skyrocketed following the wave of protests that took place in 2012. The new laws introduced by Parliament ensured that particularly brutal rapes would be punishable by the death penalty. The reported incidence of rape in India remains low, however, in comparison to Western countries. Family shame, a wish to remain anonymous, social backlash, and indifference all to blame.

Those who attacked the photojournalist in Mumbai, the one Indian city considered relatively safe and fairly cosmopolitan, evinced no dread of consequences in their brazen planning and carrying out of the rape. They separated the female journalist from her male journalist companion; tied him up and proceeded to assault her. They had little fear of police action, even using their cellphones to call friends to join them, using the code message "The prey has arrived".

When they finally released the woman from her anguishing ordeal she was warned that photographs taken during the assault would be published to mortify her socially, if she dared to report what had happened to her. The photojournalist responded by going right to hospital, and reporting the crime. In response, police initiated a broad, high-priority action soon arresting five men in swift succession, and then recording their confessions.

Ultimately, the men confessed to five assaults in the same spot. A public prosecutor recognized for bringing successful cases against terrorists was assigned to the case. "Rape is not the end of life", the photojournalist stated to local media. A statement that went against the grain of the culture where victims of rape are often shunned by their own families as having brought shame to family honour. Society does its part by firing women from their jobs, or driving them from their home villages.

In the photojournalist's case, the four men were convicted of criminal conspiracy, forcibly performing sexual intercourse, unnatural sex, compelling the victim to imitate pornographic video clips, disrobing, wrongful confinement, criminal intimidation, damaging reputation, destroying evidence, and gang rape.

As for the call centre worker's case, those who were involved were found guilty of criminal conspiracy, forcibly performing sexual intercourse, disrobing, wrongful confinement, criminal intimidation, gang rape, damaging reputation and destroying evidence. Their penalty has not yet been announced.

It's a small start on a long journey toward justice and equality for India's women, but only a beginning.

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