What the Verdict in the Indian Rape Case Means for Women’s Rights

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What the Verdict in the Indian Rape Case Means for Women’s Rights

By: Lauren Saccone

It was a crime that shocked the world. In India, a 23-year-old woman was savagely gang-raped while riding a bus. The men beat and penetrated her with iron rods, finishing off the attack by throwing her from the bus. The degree of her injuries was so severe that she died two weeks later. And now the verdict has come in for the young men who attacked her. But will it really change anything about India’s rape culture?

Rape and sexual violence continue to be horrifyingly pervasive throughout India. Between 1990 and 2008, the number of rape cases in the country more than doubled, not taking into account the multitude of incidents that never go reported. While these occurrences are regularly reported by the local media, the sheer brutality of the bus case galvanized the nation, leading for calls of stricter rape laws and greater protection for female citizens.

The courts of India clearly wanted to send a message with the verdict: the four men found guilty of the rape and murder of the young woman have been sentenced to death by hanging. A seventeen-year-old involved in the incident was charged as a minor and sentenced to three years in a reform facility. Another suspect in the case was found hanged to death in his cell before the verdict was announced.

“In these times, when crime against women is on the rise, courts cannot turn a blind eye towards such a gruesome crime,” Saket District Court Judge Yogesh Khanna said in a brief sentencing statement. “There cannot be any tolerance. This crime in every way falls within the rarest-of-rare category, warranting a death sentence.”

The family of the murdered young woman, whose identity has not been publicly revealed, celebrated the verdict, saying justice had been served in a heinous and brutal crime.

“We know she can’t come back,” the young woman’s brother said in a telephone interview with the Times of India. “But there is a satisfaction that these men will be eliminated. We get some peace from that.”

The verdict is in, but what comes next for India? Many advocates against sexual violence, who have used this case to bring attention to a prevalent and deadly serious problem, worry that as severe as the sentence is, it won’t be enough to enact any sort of permanent change.

“Sending these four men to the gallows will accomplish nothing except short-term revenge,” Amnesty International India director Tara Rao told the BBC. “While the widespread anger over this case is understandable, authorities must avoid using the death penalty as a ‘quick’-fix’ solution.” Rao and others have called for programs to protect women, and raise awareness of sexual violence. They believe that this, and not a death sentence, will lead to more positive long-term results.

Human Rights advocates still hold out hope that the case and its verdict will have an impact on the Indian public and provide proof that rape cases will not just be dismissed. The public has been galvanized by the brutality of this incident, but the call for change cannot end with the verdict. Instead, women’s rights advocates need to keep this momentum going and channel this outrage into positive change. This case may be over, but many women throughout India — and the world — continue to fight against sexual violence. Only by keeping this issue in the public forum will their struggle not be in vain.

[Pic via Flickr - Ramesh Lalwani]

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