Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Sexual Violence in India: Part II

by Isobel Coleman
January 8, 2013

A policeman keeps guard outside a court in New Delhi on January 7, 2013 (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy Reuters). A policeman keeps guard outside a court in New Delhi on January 7, 2013 (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy Reuters).

The father of the rape victim in India who died recently from her injuries has publicly named his daughter and asked that Jyoti Singh Pandey be remembered for her bravery. “My daughter did nothing wrong. She died while protecting herself…Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks,” he told a London paper. The family’s decision to speak out publicly about their daughter’s tragic death is another important step in chipping away at the culture of shame that too often blankets rape victims in countries around the world.

As at least some of the suspects contemplate entering a not-guilty plea in court, this shocking and brutal incident continues to roil Indian public opinion. Violence against women is sadly prevalent around the world, but this case has clearly touched a nerve in Indian society. Today in a CFR.org video, I discuss three things to know about the case. First, it exposes much deeper gender inequities in a society that values girls less than boys. Second, part of the public’s angry reaction is directed against the culture of complicity that surrounds violence against women—a blame-the-victim mentality that discourages reporting and prosecution of sexual violence. Third, the public demonstrations in India are in many ways unprecedented and could, as one Indian journalist wrote hopefully, mark the beginning of the end of middle class apathy. You can watch the video here and below:

Substantive improvements for women, however, will depend on more than public outrage. One idea is to expand the legal definitions of rape and sexual harassment. Efforts to streamline India’s overloaded judicial system (about 30 million criminal cases are pending trial) are also in the works. However, while the new fast-track courts being set up in Delhi (and possibly beyond) to deal with violent crimes against women could be a step in the right direction, the challenge will be to make sure that they don’t vanish once the immediate uproar over the rape case subsides. As the Los Angeles Times points out, India until recently had around 1,200 fast track courts, which lost their government support because of high costs and too few judges.

One last note: commenters on my previous article on the Atlantic.com (and elsewhere) are questioning the attention currently being paid to India in light of the reality that rape, sexual violence, and sexual harassment occur in appalling numbers around the globe, including the United States. True, these are universal problems, but citizens’ attitudes and governments’ responses are not universal. Ignoring the situation in India because of injustice elsewhere doesn’t solve anything, anywhere. I hope that many people continue writing about Jyoti Singh Pandey to help ensure that her tragic case is not forgotten and can instead inspire positive change in India and globally.

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  • Posted by betsy teutsch

    It is heartening to see so many men protesting, and hearing the victim’s father speak out in her defense. Rape has been discussed forever as a women’s problem, but no one seems to pay much attention to figuring out why men are rapists. Women can’t solve this alone. There needs to be education, training, and research to figure out how to lower the level of men’s violence against women. One wonders if it is related to the demographic disparity, with so many more men than women.

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