WASHINGTON/NEW DEHLI – Violence against Indian women is widespread and has deep roots. Here are some of the reasons behind the issue:
Few female police:
Studies show women are more likely to report sex crimes if female police officers are available.
India has historically had a much lower percentage of female police officers than other Asian countries. In New Delhi, just 7 percent of police officers are women, and they are frequently given inconsequential posts that do not involve patrol duty. Of the 161 district police stations in Delhi, only one has a female station house officer.
When women do pluck up the courage and report rape charges to male police, they are frequently demeaned. “The police refused to file a complaint. Instead, they asked my sister such vulgar details, it was as if she was being raped all over again,” said the sister of one recent rape victim who committed suicide.
Lack of enough officers:
There aren’t enough police dedicated to protecting ordinary citizens rather than elites, the Brookings Institution argued last week, and the officers who are available often lack basic investigative training and equipment.
In Delhi, “only one-third are involved in any kind of actual ‘policing’ at any given time. . . . Many of those who do perform police duties can be found shaking down motorists, participating in protection rackets and looking the other way as crimes take place.”
There is a tendency to assume the victims of sexual violence somehow brought it upon themselves. In a 1996 survey of judges in India, 68 percent of the respondents said that provocative clothing is an invitation to rape.
The Reuters TrustLaw group named India one of the worst countries for women last year, in part because domestic violence is often seen as deserved.
A 2012 report by UNICEF found that 57 percent of boys and 53 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 think wife-beating is justified, and a recent national family-health survey further reported that a sizable percentage of women blame themselves for beatings by their husbands.
Lack of public safety:
Women generally are not protected outside their home. The gang-rape occurred on a bus, and even Indian authorities say the country’s public places can be unsafe for women. Many streets are poorly lit, and there is a lack of women’s toilets, a Women and Child Development Ministry report said recently.
Women who drink, smoke or go to pubs are widely seen as morally loose, and village clan councils have blamed a rise in women talking on cellphones and going to the bazaar for an increase in the incidence of rape.
When verbal harassment or groping do occur in public areas, bystanders frequently look the other way rather than intervene, both to avoid a conflict and because they — on some level — blame the victim, observers say.
Male politicians only aggravate the problem, making light of rape or vilifying rape victims’ supporters. One regional policymaker, Anisur Rahman, recently asked a female minister what “her fee” would be for getting raped.
In a recent rape case, a 17-year-old girl who was allegedly gang-raped committed suicide after police pressured her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers.
Rape victims are often encouraged by village elders and clan councils to “compromise” with the family of the accused and drop charges — or even to marry the attacker. Such compromises are aimed at keeping the peace between families or clan groups. A girl’s prospects of marriage are thought to be more important than bringing a rapist to justice.
Slow court system:
India’s court system is painfully slow, in part because of a shortage of judges. The country has about 15 judges for every 1 million people, while China has 159.
A Delhi high court judge once estimated that it would take 466 years to get through the backlog of cases in the capital alone.
For rapes that do get reported, India’s conviction rate is no more than 26 percent.
There is also no law on the books covering routine daily sexual harassment, which is euphemistically called “Eve-teasing.” The passing of a proposed new sexual assault law has meanwhile been delayed for seven years.
Low status of women:
Perhaps the biggest issue, though, is women’s overall lower status in Indian society. India has one of the lowest female-to-male population ratios in the world because of sex-selective abortion and female infanticide.
Despite a slew of suggested remedies, it will be hard to end discrimination against Indian women when it starts in the crib.