Thursday, August 18, 2016

India, the World's Greatest Democracy

Anti-rape protests swept Delhi after a high-profile gang rape case in 2012 [Getty Images]
In Utter Pradesh, gang rape videos have become very popular items. This is a state in northern India with a population of over 200 million. It is a deeply patriarchal culture with a political culture known to be one of thuggishness. Rapes have been on the increase there, much more so than elsewhere in India. Rapes have doubled in incidence, from 2014 to 2015. Two years ago Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of the state's governing political party spoke against the death penalty: "These are boys, they make mistakes", he said.
"I decided I had a single goal. Justice."
"I have thought about this continuously. Why did they do this to me? Why did they ruin my life -- just because they had money and I'm poor?"
"Everybody knows about the case, people from my neighbourhood. At the same time I've lost my dignity, I've lost my childhood, he's [the leader of the gang that raped her] living a happily married life."
24-year-old student

Courts in India are overburdened, with rampant judge shortages and 22 million pending cases — some taking 10 or more years to complete. In one case, a woman who was gang-raped in 2005, when she was a teenager, waited 11 years for a guilty verdict for the ringleader in the case, and it's not over yet. The young woman, pictured above, is now in her 20s. (Annie Gowen/The Washington Post)

The young woman has refused to surrender her battle for justice. In 2005 she had been gang-raped. The daughter of a poor man who earned a living as a scrap dealer, she was walking along a road with her younger brother, her job as a housemaid finished for the day. It was raining, and they were heading home. A car with four drunk young men, 17 to 19 years of age, stopped and forced her into the car, driving away leaving her little brother frightened and crying.

The girl, then 13 years old, was forcibly confined, raped, sodomized, and repeatedly burned with a cigarette lighter, for hours of tormented horror. After they were finished with her the men dropped her off on the side of the road, tossed a 20-rupee bill at her and drove off. She dragged herself off the road, came across village women, and asked for their help. When R.KS. Rathore, the current deputy inspector general of Lucknow police first saw her bleeding and limping at the police station, his impression was that "It was quite evident she had been brutally handled".

In a way she was fortunate. Despite the horrors inflicted on her as a vulnerable child, she wasn't murdered, as so often happens to poor young girls after they've been gang-raped. In many of these instances, the rapes aren't reported to authorities, since complaints of this nature are common and often shunted aside; police are rarely sympathetic, and many of the rapes are at the hands of privileged sons of wealthy local people with connections.

As it was, taken to an emergency room, a female physician undertook a rape examination. The girl was hospitalized because of excessive bleeding that went on for weeks, but the female physician reported there was no bleeding, and nor was any note made of the burns on her body, witnessed by police. The girl's hymen, she noted, was no loner intact, but she concluded "no definite opinion about rape" could be reached.

The family was threatened, urged to drop the case. The leader of the young men who raped her was the 18-year-old son of a wealthy man. Police, recognizing the potential of the threats, had the girl taken from her family and placed in protective custody, where she was locked into a facility for runaway girls for a period of a year and a half, only allowed to see her parents a few times each month. Eventually the man Shukla was arrested along with five of his accomplices.

Two of the men were convicted in 2007, while a third was convicted in 2013. Two juveniles were sent to detention facilities and both later died in separate car accidents. But Shukla, the son of the wealthy well-connected man had his attorneys enlisted in legal battles to prove he was a juvenile, not an adult when the crime occurred. Lower court trials in India can take over six years, and even longer, with appeals.

At night in the city of Lucknow, a few women on the streets stick to the main lighted streets. (Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The girl languished with her life on hold, aching to return to school, to be able to venture out to the market, live a normal life. The world had been shocked when news came out internationally of a fatal gang rape of a Delhi college student on a bus in 2012. The world attention focused on India compelled the government to act to confront its epidemic of sex assaults against girls and women, with men acting with the impunity of those knowing the penalties were slight to non-existent.

Gaurav Shukla after he was convicted in the gang-rape case in a fast-track court in Lucknow, India, on April 13. (Ajay Kumar/The Times Of India Group)

Shukla was charged with forging a high school certificate claiming him to be a minor at the time of the rape. When the courageous and determined young woman, now in her mid-20s testified at court, she was so tense she vomited. "After all these years, the wait is finally over", she said. Perhaps choosing to forget that though found guilty her attacker could still be freed on bail awaiting appeal of his conviction, dragging the case on for years yet.

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