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New Delhi: The Indian government is to publish the names, photographs and addresses of thousands of convicted sex offenders in a bid to tackle a wave of sexual violence against women, and head off growing anger at what has been seen as an inadequate and tardy response by older political leaders out of touch with a rapidly changing society.
The controversial measure, announced by the minister of state for home affairs, R P N Singh, is to start in Delhi, where angry protests continue over the gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student 10 days ago. The victim of the hour-long attack, who suffered serious internal injuries, has now been moved to a specialist hospital in Singapore where her condition remains critical. “We are planning to start the process of identification in Delhi. Photographs, names and addresses of the rapists will be uploaded on the Delhi police website also,” Singh told reporters.
There are fears that identifying convicted rapists will lead to vigilante attacks. Others point out that, with a national average conviction rate of 25 percent for rape cases, and with many charges taking several years to reach court and enormous numbers of incidents going unreported, the measure can only have a limited effect. Women’s rights campaigners have, however, backed the idea.
“It is true that there is a risk of such attacks but at the moment it is the victim who has to suffer the shame and social ostracism,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of Delhi’s Centre for Social Research. “She can’t get married, for example. This will make sure the rapist is shamed. He won’t get a job, or somewhere to live and will be cut off from society. This is a powerful deterrent,” said Kumari, who is also a member of the national commission for empowerment of women.
Authorities, already under fire for their failure to prevent the original attack, which took place on a Sunday evening in a bus travelling on busy public roads, are now under pressure over their mishandling of the protests around India. Images of riot police beating back demonstrators carrying placards with slogans against violence who have attempted to reach parliament, the president’s official residence and the official homes of top officials in the centre of the capital, have reinforced the impression of an uncaring, out-of-touch government.
The incident has revealed deep fissures within Indian society. Described as “eve teasing”, sexual harassment is endemic and rape systematically blamed on irresponsible women behaving in “un-Indian” ways.
Police routinely ignore complaints of sexual violence; senior officers have even suggested women should fight back by hurling chilli powder at rapists. Bollywood films typically feature an initially distant girl who finally gives in to her determined, and often physically aggressive, suitor.
“India is currently in a twilight zone, when the traditional social norms have lost their resonance while modern values based on individual liberty have not yet gained acceptance,” said the financial newspaper Mint, in an editorial.
The six men responsible for the incident in Delhi included a driver of an unlicensed private bus, a vegetable seller and a gym assistant. Most had grown up in deeply conservative parts of rural India before moving to the capital. Guardian News