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On Sunday evening, a 23-year-old paramedical student and a male friend boarded a bus in Delhi, India after watching a movie at a mall.They believed it was a public bus — it was not. The Times of India has described it as a chartered bus on a “joy ride”. As the bus was moving, the girl was abused on the bus by male passengers. When her male companion tried to protect her, he was brutally beaten with a rod. The girl was then tortured and gang-raped, with the entire ordeal lasted 45 minutes. Both were left naked on the side of a highway afterwards.
The girl is now fighting for her life in a Delhi hospital. CCTV footage led the police to arrest 4 men in the case, including the alleged bus driver, according to the Times of India.
Violent crime against women in India is depressingly familiar, but in this case the reaction across India has been remarkable, with TV shows and newspapers running coverage non-stop. The Times of India called it a “new low for a city already notorious as India’s rape capital”.
Delhi has a bad reputation. Many women in the city feel that sexual harassment (or worse) is a common experience and that they are treated as provocateurs rather than victims. According to one study, 92 per cent of working women feel unsafe after sundown.
Medha Chaturvedi, an Associate Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, wrote of being “scared” in Delhi for the WSJ:
Delhi can be very cruel to women, especially single ones. You get used to the constant staring and to the unwanted comments. You almost get used to the occasional incident of groping and molestation. You also get used to every man, woman or politician – pretty much anyone with a mouth –giving you advice on what to wear, who to speak to, and which words to choose – all for the sake of your safety.
The BBC’s Delhi correspondent, Soutik Biswas, has described the lengths that women must go to avoid attack:
When my photographer friend travels alone in auto-rickshaw on the city’s mean streets, she keeps having real and imaginary conversations on the phone with friends and relatives. She doesn’t take an auto-rickshaw if she finds the driver overfriendly. If she takes a taxi, she texts the registration number to a friend. She keeps phone numbers for a handful of “reliable” drivers whom she can count on to take her home.
According to the New York Times, nearly 600 rapes were reported in the city last year — more than in Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore combined.
Following this latest attack, protests have appeared on the streets of Delhi and other major metropolitan areas. The Washington Post reports that students in Delhi held up signs saying “Your gaze is bad, why blame me?”
The political class appears to be listening. A tougher law on sexual assault is currently being debated in India’s parliament. Furthermore, the leader of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj, has demanded that the death penalty be applied to rapists. “She will live her whole life as a living corpse if she survives. Why should there not be the death penalty in such a case?” According to Delhi’s police commissioner, the department would be writing to politicians to specifically request the death penalty.
India officially allows capital punishment, but uses it rarely — only three people have been executed since 1995.