Man Up

Rape and India's Sexual Revolution

Darren Staples / Courtesy Reuters

In December 2012, the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi on a moving public bus drew global attention to India’s pervasive sexual violence problem. Mass protests soon erupted across the country and, in turn, the government passed stricter sexual assault laws (with harsher penalties for rapists as per the provisions recorded in the Criminal Law [Amendment] Act, 2013) and set up 73 fast-track courts across the country to deal swift justice to the perpetrators. In Delhi, the victim’s rapists were sentenced to death.

In the years following the rape, however, it seems that nothing much has changed. The conviction rates at fast-track courts remain painfully low -- a mere one-third, roughly the same as in New Delhi’s regular courts. As of November 2013, the most recent numbers available, these courts had convicted 178 attackers and acquitted 407. The convictions handed out are in accordance with the new laws, which propose longer prison terms and even the death sentence for rape. More than 1,700 cases are still pending.

Meanwhile, women’s safety remains a pressing issue. Far from decreasing, reported rapes are on the rise. According to statistics from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, over the past four decades, the number of reported rape cases in India has increased around 1,250 percent from 2,487 in 1971 to 33,707 in 2013. Today, a new incident of rape is reported every 22 minutes. Most recently, Indians were stunned by news of the alleged rape of a six-year-old girl in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, famous the world over for its burgeoning software industry.

Those numbers are distressing enough. But surveys by local Indian governments reveal that the problem could be even worse. In some areas, between one and four percent of women say that they have been raped or sexually assaulted in the past year. That implies that the actual number of victims in India is between 50 and 200 times greater than the official count; this would correspond with the results of a 2011 poll cited by a

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