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Stories of rape dominate headlines in India after gang rape case

Source: Fri, 4 Jan 2013 14:57 GMT
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By Nita Bhalla

Since the brutal gang rape and murder of an Indian student unleashed widespread public outrage and demands for better protection for women in largely patriarchal India, there has been a flurry of reports of sexual violence from across the nation.

Today, for example, a soldier was accused of raping a woman with hearing and speech impairments, in a market place in India's northeast state of Assam.

On Thursday, a politician from the main ruling Congress Party -- also in Assam -- was stripped and beaten after villagers accused of him raping a woman. The politician has been charged by the police and expelled from the Congress Party.

The same day, a 17-year-old school girl in the southern state of Pondicherry, was reportedly abducted and raped, after a bus conductor and his friend tricked her into getting onto the bus by telling her that her mother had met with an accident.

Reports of attempts to molest women, where victims have had to jump out of speeding trains and moving autorickshaws protect themselves have also been widely publicised.

Such reports don't usually make national air-time and are often confined to a tiny paragraph in the corner of the newspapers, so it clearly illustrates that the media is (for the time being anyway) aggressively reporting the issue.

More importantly, they have brought to light horror stories of rape from the past, highlighting the fact that amny victims are still awaiting justice and underlining the need for police and judicial reforms.


One such case is the Suryanelli case. It occurred in 1996 and was named after the southern village where the rape victim came from in India's Kerala state. The victim, who was 16 at the time, was first abducted and raped by a bus conductor, who then handed her over to a couple who took her from one place to another and trafficked the girl out to numerous men for sex.

She was raped by 40 men over a period of 42 days. The case, like the Delhi gang rape also prompted public condemnation, and led to the setting up of a special court in Kerala which sentenced 35 persons to prison for varying terms in 2000.

The Kerala High Court, however, ended up acquitting all 35 suspects and found only one guilty of crimes related to the sex trade, sentencing him to five years in jail and a 50,000 ($920) rupee fine. In 2005, the victim's family lodged an appeal at India's Supreme Court against the verdict but has been awaiting a decision for eight years, forgotten about by the judiciary.

The Delhi gang rape case has however brought the Suryanelli case back into the limelight and prompted the Supreme Court to act.

Cases like this clearly demonstrate the need for police and judicial reforms -- one of the key demands of thousands of protestors who had taken to the streets in the weeks after the Delhi gang rape.

Not only are India's under-trained, poorly paid and over-worked police insensitive to such crimes, their investigations are shoddy because rape case are not considered a priority and cases can drag on in the courts for years.

Even, those that are convicted are often given light jail terms and can easily appeal and gain acquittals, gender rights activists sau.

"The Suryanelli case shows how messed up our response to sexual violence is," said one activist. "We need changes now, so these horror stories can stop."


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