The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gang rape of a woman on a bus in New Delhi raises outrage in India

NEW DELHI-- The gang-rape of a 23-year old medical student in a New Delhi bus on Sunday night has outraged India's otherwise apathetic middle class against the increasing lack of safety for women in the nation's cities.

The horrific details of the crime -- the young woman and her male friend were brutally beaten with an iron rod inside a private bus as they were returning home after watching a movie in a mall; she was then raped by four men before being thrown out and left to die on the street – has caused an uproar on the streets, social media, television and in Parliament.

The incident has highlighted, once again, the utter disregard for women’s safety in India and how politicians, police and powerful community leaders often blame the women for venturing out late in the night, visiting pubs or for even dressing in a certain way.

College students protested outside the police station in New Delhi on Tuesday, holding up placards saying, “My voice is louder than my clothes,” “Your gaze is bad, why blame me?” and “Delhi’s Shame.”

The Indian capital has earned the dubious reputation of being the “rape capital” of the nation, topping a list of ten big cities. According to police data, the number of rape cases reported in New Delhi rose from 459 in 2009 to 568 in 2011. This year, there have been more than 600 cases, so far. One in three women feels unsafe using the city public transport, and 92 percent of working women reported feeling unsafe after sundown, said a new study by ASSOCHAM Social Development Foundation.

Sexual harassment and molestation of women in public spaces is routine in India, but it is often swept under the carpet with the innocuous-sounding euphemism of “eve-teasing.” Changes in definition and language are being proposed in a new sexual assault law that Parliament is now considering.

News television channels ran headlines on Monday and Tuesday saying “India betrays its daughters,” “Nation outraged,” “Raped and left to die,” “No more talk, time for action.”

Police have arrested three of the accused, including the bus driver, who ferried school children in his bus by day.

The young victim continued to battle for her life in a hospital, helped to breath by a ventilator and with severe injuries all over her body.

Protestors asked for more camera surveillance across the city and a tracking system to be installed inside public transport. Others lamented that an earlier Supreme Court order against vehicles using darkened glass windows is not being enforced. Some vented their anger at the number of policemen deployed for VIP security, leaving ordinary citizens vulnerable.

One street surveillance camera caught the image of the bus, with dark tinted-glass windows and curtains drawn, speeding past three police vehicles in busy traffic during the period when the young woman was being raped inside.

“What is Delhi police doing? What is the government doing?” asked Sushma Swaraj, a lawmaker in Parliament. “There are no words left to condemn this.”

While Swaraj advocated death penalty for rapists, Abhijeet Singh, leader of India's nascent gun rights lobby said that the rape incident demonstrates the need for easing the government's strict norms for obtaining gun licenses.  "There is talk of pepper sprays and martial arts as self-defense for women, but none of this is really effective," Singh, who heads Indians For Guns said. "If the woman had a gun, this was preventable. We need to get rid of our victim mindset."

On Twitter, the anger was palpable.

@rukmini_shrini: I find this Munirka rape terrifying because the girl made the same risk assessment I often make: male companion + public transport = safe.

@ArvindKejriwal7: 635 rapes regd in delhi during 2012. Anyone punished so far? No? Doesn't it encourage such crimes? Each rape case shud be decided in 1 month

@ZahirJ: Not enough to condemn rape. As men we need to acknowledge the misogyny we are fed, we buy into, we propagate

@realpreityzinta: Its disgusting how unsafe Delhi is becoming 4women! Either there should be capital punishment 4 rapists or they should be castrated #Justice

@ShomaChaudhury: Rapes here go on becoz the discussion is always becomes about women's dress, emancipation, character and culture! Glad the outrage's peaked

@CourtWitness1: Dear MP's: Your outrage is fake as long as you collectively put your security above ours. Every cop added to VIP detail means more crime.