India’s justice system is under equipped to handle cases of violence against women. Indian women are vulnerable in many different ways under the legal and policing system today. This article explores the high rate of assault, and underreporting of domestic violence against women through the eyes of a teenage girl.
Rape in India: Why the idea of ‘justice’ is flawed.
Vidhi Bhartiya is a tenth-grade student studying in Modern School Vasant Vihar, Delhi. She is passionate about debating and reading, and she uses writing as a medium to voice her opinions and tackle social issues with fresh eyes. She believes that a teenager’s insight, while different, is no less important.
They were hanged at 5:30 AM.
Justice was served.
In New Delhi, the final four men who had brutally gang-raped and murdered a young girl eight years ago at last paid for their crimes.
The girl was named Nirbhaya, or fearless.
There was another girl who was raped eight years ago, but I don’t know her name. No one knows her name, for she didn’t come forward, because she was scared, because she was alone, with no support.. For every fearless Nirbhaya, there are a thousand more who live everyday in fear-
Did Nirbhaya truly get justice when there are countless who didn’t?
India has made Jyoti Singh into an example, a shield to hide behind when faced with accusations about the lax security and minimal improvement with regard to the safety of women. She wasn’t fearless when she was violated. She was a victim of poor law enforcement and lack of action; her rape and murder was a result of our uncaring attitude over the years. She could have been just another statistic, but she was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was seven years old when ‘Nirbhaya rape and murder’ splashed across every newspaper and her alias was shouted across television by reporters.. I was seven years old when I first heard of the brutality and sadism of man and I am fourteen years old right now, finally at the conclusion of the case.
I followed Nirbhaya’s journey throughout my early childhood, from when I couldn’t grasp the gravity of what had been done to her, until I could. I thought that once the perpetrators would be tried to the full extent of the law I could put it out of my mind, except I couldn’t. It was only once they were sentenced and I still felt dissatisfied that I realised Jyoti Singh was never the whole story, but a chapter of it.
From seven to fourteen, I had gotten to know she was not the only one.
The question had always been, “Why was she the only one I knew about?”
There are 35,000 cases of rape reported in India every year, when 90% of rape cases go unreported. Of those reported cases, while over 80% do lead to charges, only 30% end in convictions. If you do the math, this tells us that out of roughly 3,50,000 rapes occurring every year, only around 8400 are convicted.
With an overburdened and broken justice system, the survivors of these cases have their backs up against the wall. They spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulder and waiting for the day their attackers will appear behind them again.
It took six years of brutal crimes and nationwide protests for the passing of a rudimentary Domestic Violence Bill, brought into force in 2006.
The National Family Health Survey(NFHS-4) tells us that 31% of Indian women have been physically, mentally or emotionally abused by their husbands at one point in their lives.
Only 31% of abused women report if they experience domestic violence.
The justice system lacks proper procedures for detection of domestic violence through alternatives other than FIRs, like routine screening in hospitals for signs of violence. In India domestic violence is often treated as a family matter, to be solved by the husband and wife, because in this patriarchal society, “what goes on behind closed doors is no one’s business but their own.” In July 2017, a verdict was passed by the Supreme Court banning immediate arrest of the accused unless “Visible signs of injuries are present” in case of dowry harassment under Section 498A to prevent the misuse of this law by women.
Although this is a step taken by the government to prevent misuse of this law by women, their efforts have not been matched in ensuring that justice is served to women who face psychological abuse even though there is vast empirical evidence of cases where emotionally and psychologically abused women show no outward injuries. Often these women have very little support, financially or emotionally to fight legal battles against their oppressors. The majority of these women have no option but to keep their heads down and their mouths shut, because what are a few bruises compared to no roof above their heads and no food in their stomachs.
What good would come if they spoke up, when the crimes committed against them aren’t even considered crimes in the eyes of the law? India is one out of only ten out of eighty two jurisdictions that still legalise rape within marriage.
Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code explicitly chooses not to recognize rape if committed by one’s husband. One can say that in India, the concept of consent is a privilege not given to married women.
Bitterness. Regret. Hopelessness. Fear. Hatred.
There is no space for love in the hearts of these women.
This is the heart of every girl who was forced to get married against her will.
This is the heart of every woman who endures abuse silently in her own house.
This is the heart of every female who has suffered at the hands of a man under the dark blanket of the night, or the blinding glare of the day.
This is the heart of all those daughters of mother India who wish they were born as sons.
I’m a daughter of India, and I don’t know if I am naive for still having hope for a better future. I know not all men are out to hurt me, but I don’t know how to tell them apart. I choose to believe I will lead a safe and happy life, even as I’m given pepper spray for my safety and told to not pick too many fights lest one day I don’t win. I’m trying to applaud every milestone our country crosses, and trying not to imagine my sister or my friends as one of the statistics in the newspaper. I’m thanking god I’m not a victim of social media and I’m trying to ignore how those girls were my age and were my friends. In this land of nightmares, I still have hope of a brighter dawn with every new law and every new conviction. I still have hope that we can learn from the mistakes of those before us, and a seed planted with a conversation with a child about consent can blossom into a future of equality and respect. We still can turn this around-do our bit in our homes and educate our youth-and make India a land women are proud to walk upon.
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