In the last few years, there has been a noticeable increase in the reported rapes in India. Once again, India has taken to the headlines as spiritual guru Asaram Bapu has been accused of rape by the 16-year-old daughter of one of his followers.
Although this is the latest view into Indian law enforcement's treatment of rape victims, it is just one of many high-profile rape cases to come out of India. This leads one to question whether or not India is becoming a true hell for its female citizens and travelers.
Bapu has already been a voice and glimpse into the rape culture of India. In 2012, when a 23-year-old woman was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi and even more headlines were made, Bapu said that while the perpetrators were to be blamed, the victim should have been more complacent and begged for their mercy. The woman died a few weeks later due to injuries from the attack. December was filled with protests at the Parliament of India against the treatment of women in the country.
Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, described it as a “national problem” in India. Some forms of rape are not even acknowledged by Indian lawmakers. Marital rape is a reported widespread problem, but there are no laws or penalties against such in India. Child marriage is still common in the country; the UN states that more than half of women in rural India are married before the age of 18. In these areas, such marriages are quite often violent, involving marital rape and abuse. This makes childhood a dangerous time for India’s girls — the male-to-female ratio nationally drops by 0.6 percent between the ages of 5 and 15. The UN has also put India at an "extreme risk" for the trafficking of children.
In May 2013, the Parliament of India passed stronger anti-rape laws, including a death penalty for repeat offenders and increased enforcement of the age of consent, which is 18. However, they failed to criminalize marital rape, which also allows the statutory rape of any girl older than 15 if she is married. There is also a perceived light sentencing on those guilty of breast ironing, acid throwing and dowry killings, which have yet to be acknowledged as sex crimes. The government fails to acknowledge any protection for women who have been victims of sex abuse, and the UN Human Rights Committee continues to criticize the laws.
It is not just Indian women who are at risk, of course. India continues to be a hub of culture and sight seeing. Many college students study abroad there without thinking of the potential risks. University of Chicago student Michaela Cross gained media attention after reporting the nightmares of sexual harassment and threats she experienced in India. She reported being “stalked, groped, and masturbated at” while traveling for her studies.
India may be working sluggishly to implement harsher rape laws, but it is not just the laws that must change, it is the culture.
India is not alone in this endeavor. Rape culture is a global epidemic and must be treated as such. The UN speaks out and educates women on safety issues in numerous countries, yet does nothing to educate on defining rape or sex crimes. India will continue to receive criticisms until their culture changes, and the world will continue to see the plight of women until rape and sex crimes are globally defined.
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