Thursday, June 17

Rape and murder of students again highlight sexual violence in India | Global development


It was a historic day for women in India. Mamata Banerjee and her party won a spectacular electoral victory in West Bengal, defeating the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, defying many predictions. After obtaining a third term as chief minister, she was the only woman in such an important position in India.

The next day, May 3, as TV presenters debated how Banerjee’s victory not only represented a strong force against Modi, but also made her a powerful woman in a patriarchal country, a 20-year-old student known only like Jana (her identity cannot be revealed under Indian law), he was cornered by two men in a village, about 70 miles west of Calcutta, the main city of West Bengal.

The builders were working on his family’s abandoned adobe house, adjacent to their two-story home.

“The girl was cornered by the two men,” police said. “When she protested, one covered her mouth and the other dragged her and then they raped her inside the mud house.”

Students protesting the rape and murder of Jana in West Bengal.  Last year there were almost 250,000 rape cases pending in Indian courts.
Students protesting the rape and murder of Jana in West Bengal. Last year there were almost 250,000 rape cases pending in Indian courts. Photography: Brochure

This happened, the police investigation revealed, in front of a co-worker who was silent as the men strangled Jana to death.

The case once again underlined the reality that India is one of the most dangerous places to be a woman. A violation is reported in the country every 15 minutes, according to data from last year. Annual report on crimes of the Ministry of the Interior. Most of the perpetrators are known to the victim, like the alleged attackers in this case, who had been working in the house for months and were known to his family.

Due to widespread post-election violence in the state, the murder was barely reported in the Indian national media.

Students at the university where Jana was studying took to the streets the day after her body was discovered. With banners and banners, they demanded justice, including calls to hang rapists. The students continued their protests for several days before the state, like other parts of India, was blocked due to the sharp increase in Covid cases.

The mango tree in the village where two girls were raped and hanged by five men in Uttar Pradesh.
The mango tree in the village where two girls were raped and hanged by five men in Uttar Pradesh. The 2014 case highlighted the particular vulnerability of women and girls in the low-caste Dalit community. Photograph: Getty

Sanka Chatterjee was the first police officer on the scene. “There was blood all over it,” he said. “I have not felt as helpless and angry in my 11 years of service as I did after seeing his corpse.”

Chatterjee said all the police at the crime scene were crying. “It was unbearable to see how they subjected her to such a brutal act,” he said.

In 2012, after the brutal gang rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi, India’s rates of sexual violence caught the world’s attention. Thousands took to the streets demanding justice for the victim, who became known in the media as Nirbhaya, which means fearless. Due to public pressure, the new legislation doubled prison terms for rapists to 20 years, and four perpetrators were hanged in March 2020.

However, little seems to have changed. Government figures for 2020 show 244,000 cases rape and sexual violence against children were pending in the courts.

Police said they had arrested three suspects in Jana’s case, but have yet to press formal charges in court.

The delay has left the family dejected and angry. “We are ready to fight for justice,” said Jana’s older sister, 25. “But there is still a feeling among my family that real justice will never be served.”

The house where Jana was attacked.
The house where Jana was attacked by two construction workers. As in most rape cases, the victim knew the suspects. Photography: Brochure

Days after the assassination, the family wrote to the state prime minister, hoping Banerjee would secure swift action, but they have had no response.

Jana’s fellow students remember a brave soul who always spoke out against injustice. “Whenever there was some kind of problem, at the university level or something bigger, she would raise her voice,” said a classmate, SK Sahil, who is one of the students demanding justice for Jana on social media.

For her family, she was a vivacious girl who loved music and was passionate about traveling. “She had recently signed up for a singing course and was following it rigorously,” her sister said, adding that she often talked about the places she wanted to visit and how she would save money to travel.

His father, who is a farmer, and his mother, a community health worker, have been devastated by the crime.

“Her mental health has been greatly affected, not only because something so terrible happened to her, but because it happened in our own home, so close to them,” said Jana’s sister.

Since the incident, the village, which is surrounded by green rice fields, has been eerily silent and villagers are afraid to venture outside, even during the day.

“I don’t let my wife and girls go out alone,” said one villager, who did not want to be identified.

Chatterjee said he had never been involved in such a painful case. “We are connecting each point in our investigation and collecting all the evidence so that the case is airtight in court and they receive the greatest possible punishment,” he said.

But the courts are accused of approaching rape cases with patriarchal and regressive attitudes. Earlier this year, a former president of the Supreme Court of The Supreme Court of India asked a man accused of raping a child if he would marry the victim to solve the case. The incident caused outrage in India.

Mamata Banerjee, center, leads a protest against the gang rape and murder of a woman in the state of Uttar Pradesh and against the BJP-led government.
Mamata Banerjee, center, leads a protest against the gang rape and murder of a woman in the state of Uttar Pradesh and against the BJP-led government. However, the West Bengal Chief Minister has yet to respond to Jana’s family’s requests for help in the rape and murder case in her own state. Photograph: Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP / Getty

Vrinda Grover, a lawyer and activist, said that the legal reforms were introduced in 2013 in response to the public clamor for justice, but sexual violence continued because “the state and society are unwilling to invest resources that would change the underlying inequality, discrimination and prejudice against women ”.

However, Grover said he was optimistic about the future because “women are no longer willing to suffer in silence.”

“They are challenging and speaking out against all forms of sexual violence, often on the basis of the new law, which sets a normative standard that puts bodily integrity and sexual autonomy to the fore as dimensions of the dignity and privacy of women. “, He said.

“The insistence and affirmation of women while claiming freedom as equal citizens, while seeking justice in the courts and in the streets, will force the state and society to transform.”

In the United Kingdom, Rape crisis offers support for rape and sexual abuse cases on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in North Ireland. In the USA, Rainn offers support at 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800 Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html


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