UPDATE: As of this morning, the police have charged the six suspects in the gang-rape, assault and ultimate death of the unnamed young woman with the charge of murder. New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat confirmed the six will face the death penalty if convicted. [Source]
In a tragic but not unexpected turn in the violent gang-rape incident in New Delhi of December 16th, the 23-year-old victim, brain-damaged and so physically injured that her intestines had to be removed as surgeons attempted to save her life, has died.
It is a story so brutal and unconscionable that men and women in India have risen up in loud and angry protest in the days since the event, protests echoed by voices the world over. The young physiology student was on a bus with a male friend, heading home after a movie, when six male suspects accosted them, robbing them of their belongings, then viciously beating both and raping the women over hours as the bus driver drove around town to accommodate their crime.
As the victims pled for help, the bus driver reportedly picked up and dropped off more men, circling the city for hours, passing through multiple police checkpoints. The couple were eventually stripped off their clothing and thrown from the bus on a highway at the outskirts of the city. [Source]
While the man survived his injuries, the young woman, who was tortured with a metal rod during the rape so violently that her intestines had to be removed, suffered extensive brain damage and injuries so extreme that, despite her father’s heartbreaking assertion that, “My daughter is strong, she will survive,” there has been little hope of her survival.
After three surgeries at a local hospital, where, for a very brief moment she was thought to be doing better, she was air-lifted to the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, where her condition only deteriorated. Her devastated family was gathered to offer her “comfort and encouragement,” but ultimately her injuries proved too grievous to survive. CNN.com reported her death:
The woman “passed away peacefully” at 4:45 a.m. Saturday (3:45 p.m. ET Friday), with her family and Indian officials at her side, Dr. Kelvin Loh, chief executive officer at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said in a statement.
“She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain,” Loh said. “She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds, but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome.”
While one could argue just how “peacefully” a victim dies after being subjected to one of the most brutal and inhumane attacks a person could possibly experience, the only bitter vindication is the knowledge that the six perpetrators, along with the bus driver and a minor who was purportedly involved, have been arrested. Some protestors and even some Indian politicians have called for the death penalty. [Source]
The sorrow felt by her family has been mirrored in the public response to the crime, which has proved a tipping point in a country that is seen as a sexist one; offering few protections to women who are too often seen as second-class citizens, made to endure assaults and sexual harassment as a matter of course:
Reported rape cases in India — where a cultural stigma keeps many victims from reporting the crime — have increased drastically over the past 40 years — from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011, according to official figures. New Delhi alone had 572 rapes reported last year and more than 600 in 2012. […]
Seema Sirohi, from the Indian Council on Global Relations, said that most women in Indian have stories of sexual harassment and abuse on public transportation, on the streets, and elsewhere. Regardless of how a woman dresses, “You are still open season for men.” [Source]
Women in many third world countries suffer at the hands of patriarchal, misogynistic societies that see them as “less than” a man and, in fact, the property of men. India, however, is somewhat unique in that it wears a public mask of a much more contemporary culture as it relates to technology, careers for women, education, and a strong relationship with western business and industry, yet at the same time perpetrating discrimination and violence against women in measures that caused The Times of India to report in a 2011 piece aptly titled, Indian men lead in sexual violence, worst on gender equality: Study, that Indian culture is a long way from evolved on matters of gender equity:
Nearly one in four Indian men has committed sexual violence at some point in their lives and one in five has admittedly forced his wife or partner to have sex. The findings of a recent International Men and Gender Equality Survey reflects a new low for Indian men. Only 2% Brazilian males and less than 9% of men in Chile, Croatia, Mexico and Rwanda were found to have indulged in sexual violence.
While the study indicated that most of the sexual abuse occurred in homes rather than the outside world, clearly the domino, trickle-down effect of abusing women in the home would create some influence on young men growing up in those homes, potentially leading to a cultural shift that brings more of that violence out into the street, as was clearly the case with the gang-rape of this young woman.
Meanwhile, in New Dehli the reactions to the crime reached critical mass. Riots broke out in the city, causing the police to impose a “lockdown” to prevent further violence. Before they could, however, barricades were set afire, injuries occurred, and men and women filled the streets to loudly protest what they believe is the callous, dismissive attitude of police and government officials towards crimes against women. The government’s response to the rioting was measured. From the Wall Street Journal:
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told television channels that students have a right to protest but “calmly, quietly and silently.” Mr. Shinde declined a request from Sushma Swaraj, leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in the lower house of Parliament, to convene a special session of lawmakers to discuss the matter. “As and when it is required, I will take the assistance of all political parties,” he said. […]
In a separate statement Monday, the government said it has decided to form a panel of three legal experts, headed by former chief justice of India, J.S. Verma, to look into possible amendments to criminal laws to allow for quicker trials of alleged rapists and more severe punishments. The committee will submit its report within 30 days, it added.
Viewing this horrific event from the west, it’s clear the pervasiveness of rape throughout the world brings the issue front and center for all women, demanding an examination of global gender attitudes. When even in the United States we can spend an entire election season discussing rape as if it were merely an inconvenience to be controlled by women’s bodies; parsing the word “rape” with such frequency and ease that one might presume it was simply the default holler of women looking for an excuse to abort, it is not a stretch to picture eastern societies, traditionally less evolved in gender politics, dismissing rape all together. Stories like the New Delhi gang-rape – horrifying, heartbreaking stories like these – painfully remind us that rape is an act of violence, perpetrated by sociopathic men who lack empathy and compassion, and see women as fodder for their hate and anger. Until it is viewed as a crime as unforgivable and demanding of action as any crime of violence perpetrated against a man, we will likely hear more stories like these.
For the sake of the women, may that not be the case.
[View video of New Delhi riots in response to the crime:]