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Asia

Delhi rape case has 'awakened' Indian society

The fatal gang rape of a student in New Delhi last year triggered outrage and protests across India. One year after the crime, lawyer Pinky Anand says victims of sexual violence feel more confident to speak out.

On December 16, 2012, a brutal crime sent shock waves across India. According to police reports, a 23-year-old female physiotherapy student and her male companion were coaxed by six men into boarding an off-duty bus they thought would take them home after watching a movie at a shopping mall in New Delhi.

The men savagely beat the man and repeatedly raped the woman, inflicting massive internal injuries with an iron rod. The victims were then dumped naked on the roadside. The woman died of injuries two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.

The brutality of the December attack became the tipping point that brought the issue of violence against women into the limelight, not only in India, but globally. One year on, Supreme Court lawyer Pinky Anand says in a DW interview that the case has made Indian society review the way it deals with the issue of violence against women, but adds that the country still has a long way to go in making women feel safe.

DW: What legal changes have taken place since the fatal gang rape in December last year?

Pinky Anand: The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 was introduced by parliament. The legislation made sexual harassment, voyeurism, and stalking illegal. It also made the punishment for existing offences harsher.

What message did the verdict send to Indian society and has it worked as a deterrent?

There is no clear evidence suggesting that the verdict or their conviction has worked as a deterrent, but it is my understanding that a strong message has been sent to the society that such crimes will not be tolerated and that the perpetrators of heinous crimes such as rape will not go unpunished.

Pinky Anand, a senior lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court of India. (Photo: private)

Anand says there has been a change in the attitudes of Indian men

Sexual crimes against women are being unabashedly reported in the media. There is a stir, some sort of awakening in the people, especially the men in India, which could eventually help reduce the crime rate.

How has Indian society reacted to the death sentences passed on four of the convicted gang rapists?

Most of the people in India feel that the death sentences passed were well deserved. However, there has been a great sense of dismay. The fifth accused in so-called "Nirbhaya rape case," could not be punished as a rapist as he was less than 18 years of age and was therefore tried as a juvenile. The young criminal was alleged to be the most cruel and merciless during the attack on Nirbhaya.

As a result of the mass agitation on this issue, the government is contemplating a major amendment in the juvenile law. Those in the 16-18 age group, who are accused of serious crimes like rape and dacoity, could be treated as adults and tried accordingly. The gravity of the crime and the level of maturity of the accused will be considered.

What still needs to be done, both in terms of the judiciary and police?

Amendments to the criminal law have been introduced and attempts have been made to make the ambit of sexual offences against women wider and punishment harsher. However, we somehow need to introduce an ingenious plan to reduce the crime rate.

Men in our society need to be deterred from even raising a finger at women in an offensive or abusive manner. The police has to be on alert and ensure that there are no more unsafe corners in our society.

Have women become more confident in terms of reporting crimes and abuses?

Sex crimes against women are still considered taboos. Hence, despite considerable awareness, a large number of crimes and abuses go unreported.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 24,206 rape cases were reported in India in 2011. The latest estimates suggest that a new case of rape is reported every 22 minutes in India.

Since the fatal Delhi gang rape, women have been instilled with confidence to report crimes of a sexual nature because they feel that they have support from the state. A lot of women are learning to say 'no' to abuse, and have taken it upon themselves to report such crimes. The police have started becoming more cooperative in registering the complaints by women and investigating the crime.

Has there been a change in the attitudes of Indian men after this incident and how they view and treat women?

There has been a definite change in the attitudes of Indian men. The Nirbhaya incident shocked the conscience of Indian society and triggered a buzz amongst the people. There was an awakening in the mindsets of the people and how they viewed and treated women. Men are gradually becoming sensitized to women's issues.

There is a wave of awareness which will go a long way in making India a safe place for women. We all know that such changes do not come about overnight, but there has been a start and eventually the change will come about.

Pinky Anand is a senior lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court of India. She specializes in cases for women, constitutional law and international law.

The interview was conducted by Srinivas Mazumdaru.