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Culture of impunity

Interview: Gabriel Domínguez
June 2, 2014

Indian authorities are facing growing criticism over the handling of a series of rape cases. Activist Ranjana Kumari says the country's politicians must stop justifying these crimes and take action to punish rapists.

Police escort one of the four men convicted of raping a photojournalist outside a jail in Mumbai March 21, 2014 (Photo: REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal)
Image: Reuters

Outrage has grown in India over a shocking rape case involving two teenagers belonging to a low caste who were found hanging from a tree after being gang-raped in their village on Wednesday, May 28. The two cousins, aged 14 and 15, had gone missing from their home in a village in the northern Uttar Pradesh state's Budaun district after going into the fields because there was no toilet in their home. Police have arrested five people in connection with the attacks on the girls and a federal police investigation has been ordered.

The villagers accused the chief of the local police station of ignoring a report by one of the girls' father the night before the girls went missing. Authorities have faced public anger since the December 2012 gang rape and murder of a young woman on a moving New Delhi bus, an attack that sparked national outrage over the treatment of women.

Human rights activist Ranjana Kumari says in a DW interview that one of the BJP-led government's biggest challenges will be to implement anti-rape laws approved by the previous government, and calls on politicians to stop making remarks that encourage violence against women.

Indien Ranjana Kumari Frauenrechtlerin
Kumari: 'Irresponsible and insensitive remarks by politicians have created a culture of impunity in India'Image: privat

DW: What role do you think politics is playing in the Indian state's failure to stop and prevent sexual violence against women?

Ranjana Kumari: Irresponsible and insensitive remarks by politicians have created a culture of impunity in India. After the Delhi gang-rape incident, a number of politicians and religious leaders blamed the victim for the crime. However, with respect to the recent rape incident in Budaun, there is also a different angle to the whole issue.

Poor women belonging to the minority Dalit community in the state have continuously been denied justice by an irresponsive system. In another case, where two girls aged 13 and 15 years were gang raped and hanged in the Unnao village, the police refused to register the complaint and went to the crime scene only three days later.

It is important to note that in most of the recent rape cases in Uttar Pradesh, Dalit girls were targeted. As Dalits traditionally do not vote for mainstream political parties, sexual assault is used is a means of political vendetta. Besides, rape is a form of gender-based violence which is used to subvert women.

What do you expect from the new BJP-led government to protect girls and women against such acts? What are your demands?

The BJP's election manifesto promised safety and security for women. The newly-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during his election campaign that it was his top priority to prevent sex crimes in the country. Apart from setting up strong institutions and mechanisms, we also need to change social attitudes.

Do you think Indian politicians are doing enough to keep women safe in India, especially in rural areas?

Politicians should be accountable to their voters. It is unfortunate that it took five days for the Member of Parliament, Dharmendra Yadav, to reach the village of Unnao where the other two girls were raped and hanged. It is imperative for elected representatives to take an action to prevent rape crimes. Also, the civil society has an equal responsibility to change people's mindsets.

New stricter laws against sex offenders were passed under the previous Congress-led government. Did the government do enough or did it fail in terms of protecting women?

The Congress-led government changed the anti-rape laws and made them stricter. Our organization was part of the protests against the Delhi gang rape case and galvanized masses into demanding effective change in the existing legislations.

Unfortunately, the new law has not been implemented and we don't see its results on ground. We are actually witnessing the non-implementation of an otherwise effective law. We hope that the BJP-led government will now take the measures to implement these laws.

Protesters hold placards as they shout slogans during a protest to mark the first anniversary of the Delhi gang rape, in New Delhi December 16, 2013 (Photo: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)
The 2012 gang rape in Delhi sparked national outrage over the treatment of womenImage: Reuters

Last month, the head of Uttar Pradesh state's governing party, the regionally prominent Samajwadi Party, told an election rally that the party was opposed to the law calling for gang rapists to be executed. "Boys will be boys," Mulayam Singh Yadav said. "They make mistakes." What is your view on this?

This kind of attitude is appalling. Irresponsible statements like these have encouraged rapists through generations.

Has the fatal 2012 Delhi gang rape had any impact on changing the culture of tolerance for sexual violence still affecting the country?

Sexual violence is a gender-based crime which is prevalent in every country. Rape, in fact, is related to patriarchy. The crime is committed to instill fear, assert male dominance and control over a woman's body and subvert their independence. Having said that, there is definitely increased social awareness about this issue. But there is still a lot to be done.

Dr. Ranjana Kumari is an Indian human rights activist, director of the New Delhi-based Center for Social Research (CSR) and president of Women Power Connect (WPC), a non-profit organization focusing on gender justice.

The interview was conducted by Gabriel Domínguez

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