Published On: Sun, Dec 30th, 2012

India Must Act Now to Combat Sexual Violence

Ottawa ,December 29, 2012:  The World Sikh Organization of Canada calls on India to take substantive action to combat the epidemic of sexual violence against women in India.

The death of a 23 year-old student who was gang raped on a Delhi bus earlier this month, along with several other high profile incidents of sexual violence must serve as a catalyst for reforming India’s inadequate laws and practices with respect to sexual assault.

On December 16, five men and a youth under 18 brutally beat and raped a 23 year-old physiotherapy student as she travelled on a private bus in New Delhi. Both she and a male companion were beaten with an iron rod, stripped, robbed and dumped on the roadside.  The assault caused massive internal injuries and after a courageous fight the woman died today of severe organ failure in a Singapore hospital to where she had transferred on Thursday.

According to her brother, the victim’s last days were marked by a fear of stigma if her identity became public.  The family also faces ongoing police and governmental pressure. In the victim’s brother’s words, “when she hears of politicians coming, she gets scared. She keeps asking my mother if she has told anyone what happened.”

The death of the Delhi victim follows the suicide of a 19 year old woman in Patiala Punjab, 44 days after she too was gang-raped.  The Punjab Police, apparently under pressure from politically connected villagers, took 14 days to register a case in the matter. In her suicide note, the victim accused the Punjab Police of pressuring her to withdraw her case and repeatedly calling her to the police station to ask her humiliating and uncomfortable questions about the assault.

Rape is the fastest growing crime in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the number of rape cases registered in India increased by 873.3 %, from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011.  New Delhi recorded 572 rapes in 2011; that total is up 17 percent this year.

Police officials have often themselves been implicated in sexual violence.  The Punjab Police has been accused of routinely employing sexual violence as an interrogation tool. Former Punjab Police Chief KPS Gill was convicted of ‘molesting’ Indian Administrative Service officer Rupan Deol Bajaj.

In another prominent case of sexual assault, in October 2011 adivasi teacher Soni Sori was sexually assaulted while she was in the custody of the Chhattisgarh Police.  Her case was highlighted by the Khalra Centre for Human Rights.

Security forces and police enjoy impunity from prosecution in rape as per Section 197 of India’s Criminal Procedure Code and Section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958.

Victims of rape are often shamed into silence or pressured to withdraw their cases. Women are routinely blamed for inciting sexual violence. Victims who wish to register charges against perpetrators are often subjected to humiliating questioning and the invasive ‘finger test’ where doctors use their finger to determine whether a victim is a virgin or ‘habituated to sexual intercourse’.

WSO President Prem Singh Vinning said, “the gang-rape and murder of this 23 year old Delhi student must serve as a call to action for the Government of India.  The state and police have consistently turned a blind eye to sexual violence and have in many cases themselves been party to such brutal crimes.  Without concrete action to ensure that victims are treated with dignity and perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice, statements of sympathy by various Indian politicians ring very hollow.”

WSO Senior Policy Advisor Gian Singh Sandhu said, “rape and sexual violence have been endemic in India for far too long.  Perpetrators of rape, whether they are lay citizens, members of the security forces or politicians, must be prosecuted.  It is time that India develop an effective approach to assisting the victims of sexual violence so that they receive justice. Nobody should be above the law.”

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