For Indian women the battle′s only just begun | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 18.12.2013
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For Indian women the battle's only just begun

Despite stricter regulation on violence against women, public outrage over sexual crimes is still palpable in India. The stringent laws passed over the year haven't yet proved to be an active deterrent.

Danger still lurks around many corners of India, especially in the big cities, when women venture out in the evenings. Women often feel unsafe in public places and when using public transport. Some feel they have yet to claim their space.

Though the gruesome incident of December 16 last year triggered mass protests across the South Asian nation and saw thousands of people, especially women, stand up to stake claims to their rights, nothing tangible has changed on the ground, many feel.

More reporting of crime

"We hear of equally horrific cases from across the country every single day. Sexual violence against women in this country is fairly widespread and systematic," women's rights lawyer Vrinda Grover told DW. Many women view the incident last year as the tipping point that caused more awareness about the prevalence of sexual crimes in Indian society and sparked discussions on the issue of women's safety. High profile cases of rape and sexual harassment are now being debated vigorously, which was perhaps not the case a year ago.

Indien Jahrestag Gruppenvergewaltigung

A number of demonstrations demanding perpetrators of violence against women be brought to justice were held throughout the year

"I see more reporting of crimes and public discussions. That is healthy but we still have a long way to traverse before finding our space," said Madhushree Lal, a social worker told DW.

Although India's parliament passed a strong anti-rape law - making human trafficking, acid attacks, stalking and voyeurism criminal offences - and expanded the definition of rape and sexual harassment, the crimes appear to have ironically have increased.

No change in attitudes

In Delhi alone, according to police records, rape cases have almost doubled in 2013 as compared to the previous year, while molestation cases have gone up by nearly four times during the same period. The capital recorded 1,330 rape cases up to October 15 this year as against 706 last year. Molestation cases have gone up from 727 in 2012 to 2,844.

This trend is likely attributed to an increase in the amount of police reports filed, and not to the number of assaults that actually take place, but for Gita Budhiraja, an English lecturer at a college in New Delhi, mindsets have simply not changed.

"As far as crimes against women and the manner in which men view them as sexual objects are concerned, I don't think that has changed and I don't see any change coming through in the near future," Budhiraja told DW.

Others like Kalpana Vishwanath, a rights activist working for NGO Jagori, believe that women are inviting a counter-attack by claiming their right in public spaces. "The whole change of many more women being seen in public, taking up jobs and claiming their rights to public spaces is creating a kind of backlash against women."

Though the government has regulated the sale of acid, which used to be freely available in wholesale and retail markets, attacks on victims have increased. According to activists, there has been one acid attack every week in the country in 2013, and many cases go unreported.

Indien Jahrestag Gruppenvergewaltigung

Many women feel their situation has not changed much

"Acid is still easy to buy, despite the curbs. Young vulnerable girls are attacked in many parts of rural India. Where is the justice? Justice has long gone," said Laxmi Aggarwal, 25, an acid attack victim, who has now become an activist championing the ban on the sale of acid in India.

Working with an organization Stop Acid Attacks, Laxmi tries to give mental succor to the victims of such attacks and also fights for their rights in local courts.

Nishita Arora, a communications professional believes the culture of impunity still persists and unless there is a fundamental shift in the mindset and attitudes, especially of men, there will be more such attacks.

"Yes, there is a law right now. But what has happened to society? Has the mindset changed? Have people been deterred? Are they scared? I don't think so," Arora told DW.

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