Has rape become normalised in India?

The gang rape of a Spanish tourist in Jharkhand has sparked uproar and put the spotlight on rampant sexual violence yet again

A women's demonstration for safety holds up a placard saying 'Tomorrow is too late; stand up for women today' (photo: DW)
A women's demonstration for safety holds up a placard saying 'Tomorrow is too late; stand up for women today' (photo: DW)


TRIGGER WARNING: This article includes accounts of rape and physical assault

Seven men have been accused of brutally gang raping a Spanish tourist in the Dumka district of the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. The 28-year-old vlogger and her 64-year-old husband have been traveling the world on their motorcycles for several years.

The attack took place on March 1 around 300 km (186 miles) from the state capital Ranchi, where the couple was spending the night in a tent, police said. They had decided to camp in the town since they found no hotels to stay at overnight.

"They raped me, they took turns while some watched and they stayed like that for about two hours," the woman, who has joint Brazilian-Spanish nationality, told Spanish TV channel Antena 3.

The couple had travelled to several parts of Asia on their motorbikes before arriving in India a few months ago.

In a separate incident just days after the attack on the Spanish tourist, police said a 21-year-old stage performer from the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh was allegedly gang-raped by her co-artistes in Jharkhand's Palamu district.

These horrific attacks come on the heels of another incident over the weekend when a 17-year-old girl was allegedly gang raped by two men when she was returning home after attending a wedding function in the Hathras district of northern Uttar Pradesh.

The crude and frighteningly brutal nature of these attacks have shocked Indian society and once again thrust the issue of women's safety into the spotlight.

Brutal rapes have been reported in India on a near-daily basis, and reports of ghastly sexual assaults have risen in recent years.

Crime figures don't paint full picture

An average of nearly 90 rapes a day were reported in India in 2022, according to data from India's National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

The true figure is likely to be much higher, as many such crimes go unreported due to fear of reprisal, prevailing stigmas around victims and a lack of faith in police investigations.

"We are seeing the worst phase of sexual violence and misogyny now," Kavita Srivastava, general secretary of the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties, told DW.

"This is the new India where there seems to be a complete breakdown of the rule of law, which is directly affecting women most, as it is also a period of unabashed consolidation of patriarchy."

Srivastava, who has campaigned on women's safety, says violence against women seems to have become even more normalized.

"For instance, the trolls on social media, who want to either silence, abuse or rape every assertive woman or her daughter are not made accountable," Srivastava said.

"With the increasing impunity that the violators have and the judicial instruments also surrendering to the political masters, fighting rape has become tough."

Jaya Velankar, director of Jagori, an NGO working on women's issues, blames the rise in sexual crimes against women in the country, as well the treatment of those on the lowest rung of the nation's rigid caste system, a result of the culture of impunity from top to bottom that acts as an encouraging factor.

"This is a backlash against women occupying more public spaces and challenging male hegemony in almost all walks of life," Velankar told DW.

"Most men are overwhelmed and do not know how to handle their bruised egos and the widespread unemployment has created an overall hopelessness," she added.

Velankar also refered to the low levels of convictions, with cases getting clogged up for years in India's criminal justice system.

"Shoddy investigations in rape cases and poor evidence collection at the preliminary stage are also factors that have helped those in power and political connections go Scot free," Velankar said.

Failure to protect women

Rights groups say that women from the lowest level of India's centuries-old discriminatory caste hierarchy — known as Dalits — are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and other attacks.

They say men from dominant castes often use sexual violence as a weapon to reinforce repressive gender and caste hierarchies.

The fatal gang rape of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old physiotherapy trainee, who became known across the globe as 'Nirbhaya' (meaning "fearless") in December 2012, triggered outrage and put the spotlight on women in the country, prompting stricter laws on sexual violence.

The notorious 2012 gang rape and murder of 23-year-old Dehli student Jyoti Singh sparked nationwide protests and put the spotlight on women's safety in India.

The fatal attack on Singh also prompted stricter laws on sexual violence and eventually the introduction of the death penalty for rape.

Despite this, sexual crime has not gone away. The nature of rape has become more aggressive, more brutalised and to an extent become a form of vigilantism and gangsterism.

Despite an increase in the number of reported rape cases and more women speaking out, the conviction rate in the country remains low.

In many cases, lack of proof is often cited as a reason for the low conviction rate or for convictions being overturned by higher courts.

"What happened to the Spanish tourist is totally unacceptable and speaks volumes about the lawlessness in the country," Amod Kanth, a former police official, told DW.

"We know that there is gross underreporting of sexual crimes and that must change."

Edited by: Keith Walker

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