Rape in India and Pakistan

Endemic misogyny

The most recent rape and murder of a girl in Pakistan caused a huge public outcry. Though similar cases in neighbouring India have tended to attract fewer headlines, sexual violence in both countries is an ongoing problem, says Esther Felden

While driving home from a wedding, a 22-year-old woman, her husband and brother-in-law pulled over to take a break. They were attacked by a group of four men, one of whom dragged the young woman from the car and raped her while his three companions held off the husband and brother-in-law at gunpoint, forcing them to watch the entire thing, before fleeing.

Despite the gang's warnings against going to the police, the husband reported the crime to the authorities and a short time later all four of the men were arrested. The northern Indian state of Haryana where the incident took place has gained an unenviable reputation after a spate of recent assaults.

Reports of these violent attacks have regularly hit the headlines since the beginning of the year. In January 2018, the Times of India detailed a horrifying chronicle of six rape cases that took place over a period of as many days – a staggering statistic even by Haryana's standards.

Especially abhorrent was the revelation that one of the victims of these violations had been a three-year-old, raped by a fifteen-year-old boy. An eleven-year-old Dalit girl had been sexually abused and murdered by two neighbours from her own village, the men allegedly continued to sexually abuse the body for hours after the girl's death. A 50-year-old man was arrested for mutilating the private parts of a ten-year-old girl by inserting a piece of wood into her vagina. Two young women were gang raped and the brutally mutilated body of a 15-year-old girl discovered in a canal. She too had suffered massive internal injuries.

An ongoing problem

These cases are by no means isolated examples. Rape is still an everyday occurrence in India, complains Ranjana Kumari, women's rights activist and director of the "Centre for Social Research" in New Delhi. The situation has got even worse recently, she says. "We are demanding the resignation of the head of the local government in Haryana. Some of the recent cases here have been worse than the gang rape of 2012."

Protest in Karachi following the murder of seven year-old Zainab (photo: Faria Sahar)
Vigil to mark the first anniversary of the death of gang rape victim Jyoti Singh Pandey. As a consequence of that crime, the laws governing sexual offences were tightened up, though the number of rapes has not decreased

It was in December of 2012 that the brutal rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey by a group of six men on a bus in New Delhi made worldwide headlines. When the female medical student died of her injuries two weeks later, it prompted a massive outcry and masses of angry protesters took to the streets.

As a consequence of that crime, the laws governing sexual offences were tightened up, though the number of rapes has not decreased. Quite the opposite in fact. According to figures released by the "National Crime Records Bureau", there were nearly 35,000 cases of rape reported to the police in 2015, a rise of almost 40 percent over 2012 when the 23-year-old student died. "There are better laws today, but the number of rape cases is still rising," says Kumari.

Women: second-class citizens?

"An endemic rape culture exists in northern India", says the activist. In the state of Haryana, which borders on the capital Delhi, there were something like 115 gang rapes in 2017 alone. Responsibility for this is something Indian society cannot wash its hands of, she believes.

Sexual violence against women is deeply rooted in Indian society and part of a widespread culture of discrimination and oppression, a culture of which the police and judicial system are a constituent part.

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