The gang rape and subsequent death of a young woman in New Delhi has triggered a national debate. Yet in the midst of India’s soul-searching, rapes and sexual violence continue unabated.
Every evening, Pratima Kaur makes her way to Jantar Mantar. The college student lights a candle at New Delhi’s observatory, which has become the city’s rallying point for those expressing their outrage at the death of the 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist who was savagely gang raped last month.
"My prayer is to see that women don’t have to suffer anymore and that they are treated with dignity and respect all over India. I hope this brave heart’s death is not in vain," Kaur told DW.
Crimes against women persist
The medical student’s death has triggered a wave of national grief and prompted calls for legal changes to protect women from violence.
But even as protesters continue to gather for candlelight vigils, sexual harassment and rape continue.
Across the country, at least 120 reported cases of rape have been reported since the incident on December 16, 2012, according to reports compiled by civil society groups: A 15 year-old raped and abandoned on the streets in Mumbai, a 14-year-old raped and murdered in a police station in Uttar Pradesh, a husband acting as an accomplice in his own wife's gang rape in West Bengal – these are but a few examples of the sexual violence many women endure.
In less than a month, in Delhi alone, the central police station has logged almost 500 telephone calls from women complaining of sexual harassment. Over 60 reported that they had been raped.
"Every single day, we are hearing of equally horrific incidents of sexual violence and sexual assault from across the country. What we are seeing today could only be the consequence of years of condoning and sanctioning sexual violence against women," Vrinda Grover, a New Delhi-based lawyer who has done extensive work on rape law amendments and women's issues, told DW.
Poor conviction rates
At a recent gathering of police chiefs held in the capital aimed at taking stock of the law and order situation, Interior Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said he was concerned by the low conviction rate when it came to cases of rape.
"Why is conviction so low? Time has come to introspect. We have to find out what are the faults," Shinde said.
Investigations into violence against women are often slow and in some cases offenders are never prosecuted.
More than 24,000 cases of rape were registered with the authorities in 2011, a nine percent increase on the previous year, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
"This is a state of anomie. It looks as if all kinds of anti-social elements are at large and this clearly points to the failure of the state to arrest the slide. This is what we are witnessing and this is absolutely abnormal," Ranjana Kumari, who heads the Centre for Social Research, told DW.
Many have begun referring to the victim as “India’s daughter.” Whether her brutal death results in a serious crackdown on rape and wide-spread harassment of women, remains to be seen.