Official statistics show that rape is the fastest growing crime in India compared to murder, robbery and kidnapping. Every 60 minutes, two women are raped in this country, according to the latest report prepared by the home ministry’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
A total of 20,737 cases of rape were reported in 2007 year registering a 7.2% increase over the previous year, with central Indian state Madhya Pradesh the "rape capital" of the country, with the biggest number of such crimes.
Madhya Pradesh (3,010) accounted for 14.5 % of the total cases, with West Bengal following with 2,106 such incidents. Records of high incidence in other states are Uttar Pradesh (1,648), Bihar (1,555) and Rajasthan (1,238).
According to NCRB, 19,348 rape cases were reported in 2006 registering a 678% increase since 1971, when records commenced.
One-quarter of the victims were minors, 75% of culprits were known to victims and 10% were relatives.
These figures are underestimations as many incidents go unreported due to fear of stigma and non awareness of rights; there are also the countless cases of eve teasing, indecent gazes, pinching, brushes and comments that infringe upon the rights of women, especially in overcrowded spaces and public transport buses and trains.
This year, communal violence in the state of Orissa in August was marked by the rape and naked parade of a Christian nun in Kandhamal, Orissa.
The traumatized victim in a press conference in New Delhi recounted her ordeal and demanded that the case be shifted to a court out of Orissa as she had no faith in the local police probe.
Elsewhere, in February 2008, Scarlett Keeling a British teenager was found dead, raped at Goa’s famous Anjuna beach. Investigations have reached a dead end.
On October 2, 2008, Goa education minister’s son was accused of raping a 14-year old German girl. The status of the case is unsettling as the lawyer of the minor’s mother was brutally attacked by hooligans.
Following reports of harassment by Goa police, known to side with drug and real estate mafia and fearing a similar fate for her daughter as Scarlet, the German mother withdrew her complaint.
In a letter to the media she said: "We are constantly hounded, our names sullied, campaigns organized against us and all sorts of motives attributed to us."
In New Delhi, on the eve of last Christmas, a British woman was brutally assaulted. The victim has alleged that the Indian government is not seriously dealing with attacks on foreign women tourists as official prosecutors failed to appear in her case.
"If the government fails to turn up at the Supreme Court, that’s not taking it seriously; sexual crime against women in India should be taken very seriously", she said.
The Delhi Police Annual Report of 2007 says that in 64% cases, crime against women were committed in homes and 5% had occurred in the slum areas.
The Constitution of India in Article 21 lays down the right of every person to life and liberty. Justice Arjit Pasayat has remarked that "while a murderer destroys the physical frame of the victim, a rapist defiles and degrades the soul of a helpless female.”
In a landmark case in 1997 of Vishaka vs. the State of Rajasthan relating to fundamental rights of working women, sexual harassment was identified as a separate illegal behavior, for the first time.
Recent changes in law have extended scope of criminal liability to charge a husband in the rape of his wife; sexual act with a minor even after consent is punishable and sexual history of the woman cannot be used to undermine her case.
The fact remains that there is sufficient information about crime against women that calls for appropriate remedial actions.
As per the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, in America 1/6th of women and 1/33 the men are likely to face sexual assault in their life time and 73% of the rapists are known to their victims.
The image of India as a tourist destination and more importantly the rights of an individual needs a complete overhaul. There is a need for a drastic change in attitudes and mindsets.
The Goa, Orissa and Delhi cases show that the system tilts in favor of the rich and politically powerful.
Poor investigations, harsh cross examination of victims, senseless adjournment of cases and faulty assessment of evidence and furnishing of evidence by victims in presence of culprits are areas that need reforms.
Section 155(4) of the Evidence Act, whereby the victim is cross examined in the presence of the accused and her past sexual history is recorded is an obstacle as well.
Misdemeanors directed against women have always taken a particular form of commercial interest. Despite changes in the Indian patriarchal system private ownership of property needs radical assessment to tackle marital rape.
As India develops, it stands analyzed: what good can come of a nation that cannot respect women’s rights.
(Priyanka Bhardwaj is a journalist based in New Delhi. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)