MUMBAI, India — Four men and a juvenile have been convicted in a Mumbai Court for the gang rape of a 22-year-old photojournalist on assignment in the Indian city. The incident highlights the increased attention sexual violence has drawn since the gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus in September 2012. The Delhi incident drew mass protests and media attention and instigated national conversations about the treatment of women.
India boasts the world’s largest democracy, an incredibly diverse cultural population and a steadily-growing economy. However, gender inequality has plagued the large South Asian nation for years. For instance, the country records a rape every 22 minutes, and 54% of married women fear their husbands will beat them should they leave the home without permission.
Additionally, sexual violence seems to occur regardless of economic condition. Cities in the region of Madhya Pradesh have the highest incidence of rapes, over 10% of women in India. This central province has recently experienced high growth but previously was considered one of India’s weakest economic spots. Delhi, on the other hand, is a large economic hub of India. The metropolis also has incredibly high incidences of reported rapes at nearly 8%. As evidenced by the high rate of rape in both developed and developing cities, sexual violence goes deeper than economic standing and represents a deep-seated societal problem.
The pervasiveness of sexual assault in both economically developed and developing areas of India does not justify discounting the impact of poverty on the situation. The World Health Organization notes how living in poverty increases the likelihood that a woman or girl will be sexually assaulted. Specifically, their study concluded that females in poverty are more likely to walk home from work at night on their own, participate in sex work and feel “enormous pressures for them to maintain jobs, to pursue trading activities and, if studying, to obtain good grades – all of which render them vulnerable to sexual coercion from those who can promise these things.”
In India, a place where 70% of the population (totaling 700,000 people) live in poverty, the WHO’s recognition of poverty’s impact on rape and other sexual violence cannot be ignored. Even though sexual assault is found in both the poor and relatively richer areas of the country, those in poverty clearly face an increased risk of attack. Both India’s government, through legislative action, and foreign governments, through international aid and investment, can help alleviate the stresses of poverty and reduce the likelihood of future sexual violence.
In addition to addressing the economic factors present in sexual assault cases, strong judicial action against offenses will help end this disturbing reality. Swift convictions, such as in the Mumbai case, will hopefully draw continued attention to the prevalence of sexual violence and deter future sexual offenders. Stronger sentencing will also contribute to increased deterrence. In the case of the 2012 Delhi gang rape, the offenders were all sentenced to death.
While mistreatment of women in India clearly presents a large problem, the recent convictions and heightened scrutiny surrounding the issue gives reason for hope. Only through an engaged and prolonged discussion can society eradicate rape. India seems to have at least acknowledged prevalent gender inequities and taken marginal steps to correct them. It can continue strengthening judicial action against sexual assaults while also addressing the impact of poverty on gang rapes.
While the issue of gang rapes and sexual violence has drawn recent scrutiny in India, the country is by no means the sole offender. Cultures throughout the world, including the United States, fail to adequately protect the dignity of women and girls everyday. By continuing this discussion on sexual violence, acknowledging its harm and identifying its entangled socio-economic causes the problem of sexual violence can cease to exist.