India is currently living through an episode of sexual violence and miscarriage of justice so outrageous that it borders the surreal.
On June 4, 2017, a 17-year-old young woman was gang-raped by Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a member of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), his brother, and other men when she visited the parliamentarian’s home in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, to apply for work. Although this young woman and her family tried to bring her attackers to justice, their attempts were thwarted by law enforcement and politicians who sought to protect the interests and reputation of the accused politician.
Ten months later, in April 2018, the victim’s father was beaten, arrested, and charged with a crime he did not commit. Five days after her father’s arrest, the victim attempted to immolate herself in front of the home of the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh as an act of protest against injustice. The victim’s father died in police custody, under dubious circumstances, the next day.
Two weeks ago, on July 28, the victim was traveling by car with her lawyer and two aunts when they were struck by a massive work truck. Both of the victim’s aunts perished in the accident, and the victim and her lawyer sustained life-threatening injuries.
Today, the woman, known as “Unnao’s daughter” is 19-years-old and lies in a hospital bed fighting for her life. Her case and the terrible suffering she has endured has reminded the world of the horrifying 2012 case of the gang rape and murder of a young woman in a bus in New Delhi.
Although the Unnao rape case is a high profile one, it is — tragically — not unique.
Despite the fact that India has some of the strictest laws against rape in its penal code, tens of thousands of women still suffer sexual violence without seeing justice. Just last week, a three-year-old girl was taken from her mother at a train station in Jharkhand by three men who gang-raped, strangled, and then beheaded her. One of the men had been recently released from prison for the abduction and attempted murder of a young girl in 2015.
According to a 2018 report published by The Times of India, at least four women were raped per hour in India in 2016. This means that in 2016 alone, there were nearly 39,000 rapes in India — an unconscionable number. And those figures only include rapes that were reported to authorities. To make matters worse, only 1 in 4 of the cases end in conviction. The report also reveals that “nearly 30 percent of all legislators have a criminal background,” with 51 of them having cases involving a crime against women.
There’s a reason why rape victims are afraid of coming forward. Beyond the social stigma they will face, they stand a nearly impossible chance of getting justice.
India needs to accept that there is a cultural crisis in the treatment of women and of the value that is given to women. The label of India being the most unsafe place on earth for women is not going to change unless there is a revolutionary cultural change concerning the value, dignity, and worth of women.
For instance, illegal gender-select abortions have created a crisis for women in India. Because preference is given to the male gender over the female gender at birth, there is a skewed sex ratio of men to women in the nation. According to the 2011 Census of India, there were approximately 933 females for every 1,000 males in the country. The gender gap has been linked to child brides, violent sexual crimes, and human trafficking.
Additionally, marital rape is not considered a crime under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The IPC 16.375, Exception 2 states: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.” This means that a man may force his wife — who could be a girl as young as fifteen — into a sexual act without consequence.
Victims of sexual violence in India must be afforded swift justice. The Supreme Court of India must fast track all sexual assault cases. From investigation to trial and conviction should take no longer than one year. For example, the Unnao case has been going on for more than two years. If India can ensure swift justice for rape cases it will send a clear message that men who commit crimes against women will be held accountable for their actions.
Though Kuldeep Singh Sengar has been expelled from the BJP, charged with several crimes — including the rape of a minor, filing a false case against the victim’s father, the subsequent death of the victim’s father, and gang-rape of a minor — and is now imprisoned in a maximum-security prison in Delhi, he has yet to be prosecuted for his crimes. However, the Unnao case is proving to be a watershed moment. It has come to light that Sengar is suspected to have had a hand in the horrific “accident,” and government leaders — including the chief justice of the Supreme Court — have ordered the investigation into the car crash to be completed in two weeks.
The oppression of women in India is a crisis that can no longer be ignored. This is one injustice that needs to end in our lifetime. We cannot keep having Unnao’s daughters.
Most Rev. Joseph D’Souza is widely considered one of the most influential voices of global Christianity. He is a justice and peace campaigner, civil rights advocate, interfaith peacemaker and Christian theologian. Rev. D’Souza is the founder and international president of Dignity Freedom Network, a multinational advocacy and humanitarian aid alliance dedicated to restoring human dignity to the poor, marginalized and outcastes of South Asia. Since its founding in 2001, the network has impacted an estimated 14 million people through its educational, anti-human trafficking, health care and economic development initiatives. Rev. D’Souza presides as moderator bishop and primate — or archbishop — over the Good Shepherd Church of India. He is a sought-after international speaker, participating in conferences, peace summits and civil society forums across the world and debriefing governmental bodies on religious freedom and human rights issues. He is a contributor at The Hill and The Washington Times, among others. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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