Sep 30, 2013
On December 16th, 2012, a 23-year-old physical therapy student was tortured and raped in Delhi, dying of her injuries. After eight months of trial proceedings, a tribunal has called for the death penalty for four of the men accused of this crime. A fifth man – the main defendant – hung himself in prison last March in conditions that remain unclear.
Last December, tens of thousands of young people, mainly students or those from well-off backgrounds, went out into the street to demonstrate their anger at this disgusting murder, whose victim was one of their own. But behind this legitimate indignation, there were forces whose objectives were anything but legitimate. The November elections to the regional assembly of Delhi were less than a year away. The two major rivals in these elections, the Congress Party (currently in office) and the BJP (a far-right Hindu nationalist party), tried to outdo one another – pretending to defend women by calling for the death penalty for this rape.
A human rights activist, Tara Rao, one of the rare people who publicly criticized the death penalty in this case, said that this kind of sentence “will accomplish nothing except short-term revenge … and its use will not eradicate violence against women in India.”
It will not because the violence against women is a product of the social servitude imposed on Indian women.
The most recent official statistics, from 2011, record 24,200 cases of rape. Landowners who are members of the “superior” castes commit the large majority of these rapes. They believe they have the right to rape the wives and daughters of their farmworkers and tenants, who often come from the supposedly inferior castes – the Dalits or Untouchables. While the two big parties have made such an outcry over the rape of a young student on December 16th, they said nothing, for example, about the 19 rapes of Dalit women during the single month of October 2012 in Haryana, the state that surrounds Delhi, where the Congress Party is in power.
In 2011, almost 9,000 young married women were killed because their families had not fulfilled the conditions of their marriage contracts. This ancient practice is supposedly forbidden in modern India, but its practice shows that women continue to be treated as merchandise in relations between families.
Ninety percent of rapes go unrecorded, sometimes because the victims don’t dare to press charges, and sometimes because the police refuse to take down their complaint so as not to upset the accused.
These rapes and murders, like the other forms of violence of which women are victims in India, have in common that they are the byproducts of endemic poverty and a class society. The crying inequalities in Indian society feed such barbaric practices and prejudices inherited from an ancient past, practices that the ruling classes and its political parties keep alive. In a social order like this, the life of the poor, particularly of poor women, is not valued highly.
That social order was kept in place for at least 150 years by British colonial rule. Since 1948, the major Indian political parties have done little to end these centuries-old practices.