Students hold candles as they pray during a candlelight vigil for a gang rape victim who was assaulted in New Delhi, in Ahmedabad

The verdict is in: The four men who were accused of gang raping a 23-year-old college student in Delhi last year are sentenced to death. The news brought back haunting memories of the images, protests, tears, and sorrow that India and the world experienced months ago. But it hardly served as a reminder of the struggle women are facing– just last month, reports of another gang rape of a journalist made headlines.

Since the Dec. 16 attack, countless reports, articles, studies and interviews have shed light on on the condition of women in India. Public safety, government negligence, effects of globalization, economic growth, infanticide, were all written about, analyzed, and discussed. Here’s an account about the background of the four culprits by the Guardian.

Almost nine months later, what has changed?

1. Awareness — inside and outside India. After this rape and the many other stories that followed, the world, and the media, were horrified that these tragic events seemed commonplace in the country that was once dubbed as one of the world’s greatest emerging markets and democracy. When India was discussed, people conveyed severe caution, and friends, family members, and strangers proclaimed fears of visiting the country.

The thing is, violence toward women isn’t a new trend in India. For years, women have faced harassment, heckling, and assaults. Factors like a lopsided men-women ratio (more men than women, especially in cities, due to factors like infanticide) and women becoming more career-oriented have propelled this problem, but it’s nothing new. What has changed is an open discussion of the treatment of women, and a public shame over rape. It took media attention, and mass protests for the country to realize how bad of a problem it was, and that it could no longer be tolerated.

2. The power of the people. The reaction to the Delhi gang rape was India’s “Arab Spring.” People banded together– students, housewives, men, women, all stood together and loudly voiced their disdain. Mass demonstrations to this extent, with the world watching, aren’t new to India. (Hi, Gandhi!) But a protest with virtually every person from every segment of society joining? That was new. And it seems the momentum has continued — from continued protests against gender inequality to the anti-corruption movement, the people of India have found their voice.

3. Change can happen. As a direct result to the mass protests, the government changed its age-old definition of rape and passed strict anti-rape laws. These reforms probably came as a surprise for many Indians, where the government is viewed as corrupt, and real change doesn’t seem feasible. Almost every Indian has dealt with some sort of corruption, and hence the government has never been portrayed in a flattering light (just watch any Bollywood movie, ever). Now, activist Arvind Kejriwal, has been stirring things up with his calls for an anti-corruption crusade. A New Yorker article wrote about his rising popularity and his newly formed political party called Aam Aadmi (“Common man”) is challenging the two establishment parties for elections in New Delhi next year.

4. The government isn’t always to blame.  It’s usually a default reaction to blame the government for any mishaps in India (and usually, they’re right). But the heckling of women riding the bus or walking the street isn’t completely the government’s fault.

Of course, the government is far from clean on this matter. Officials should and are being held accountable. But so should the society as a whole. A popular poster during the demonstrations read “Don’t tell your daughter not to go out, tell your son to behave properly.” The conversation is changing, and silent factions of society have found their voice.

5. More equality at home that has come since December 16 starts at homes across India. It comes from fathers and mothers who are learning to treat their children equally, who are realizing the adverse effects of educating a son over a daughter. It comes from teaching sons that women deserve respect. Never before has there been a universal outcry to stop catcalls of women walking down the street, and to stop the slaughter of baby girls. Earlier this year, infanticide was called an “unspoken evil.”  Slowly, society is forcing itself to talk about it.

As India underwent an economic boom, there were many studies of the problems of a growing income and educational disparity. The effects of an India left behind became painfully real in December, and with each new story of a rape or murder, society is left with reminders of how much progress is still needed.

But the incident made CEOs and rickshaw drivers join together, and a national conversation sparked. It also made the government slowly realize that complacency may be the way of the past.


Swati Sharma is a digital editor for World and National Security and previously worked at the Boston Globe.