India reacted with huge relief yesterday after a judge in Delhi sentenced four men to death for the fatal gang rape of a student aboard a moving bus in New Delhi last year in an attack that triggered global outrage and days of violent protests in India. The nation was waiting with bated breath for the verdict by the specially set up court, and finally when it came, there were cries of jubilation. The attack on the medical student in December last year had spurred weeks of nationwide protests.
Death sentences in India are restricted for ‘the rarest of the rare cases’ and the Delhi gang rape clearly fell in that category. The judge Yogesh Khanna described the crime as having “been committed in an extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical, revolting and thus dastardly manner” that “shocked the collective conscience”. Even before the verdict came, Indian home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had said that death penalty was assured. In television debates on the issue, there was an unusual unanimity that the culprits must be put to death. And the judgement received global coverage because of the importance of the case.
After the tragic incident last year, Delhi acquired global notoriety as the rape capital of India. Tourists shunned the city, and the police, roasted by the public for their apathy and inefficiency, became more vigilant, resulting in increased patrolling and arrests of hundreds of miscreants.
There is no doubt that the sentencing to death of rapists will plant fear in the hearts of those who would think of committing such crimes in future. Also, it will renew the debate about sexual violence in India, especially in Delhi. But even after all these, can women walk safely and fearlessly on the streets of Delhi? The answer is a big No. This is because the situation on the streets hasn’t changed yet. Sexual violence against women is widespread and deep-rooted in India and will require serious changes in public attitude and many institutional reforms for true change to happen.
Unfortunately, even after the conscience of the nation was shaken after last year’s rape-murder, crimes against women continued unabated in Delhi. Women are still afraid to go out and rapists are on the prowl.
What India needs to stop sexual violence against women are a strict enforcement of its laws, a more women-friendly police and an efficient judiciary. The existing laws are enough to root out this social disease, but culprits are rarely punished and even if a case is brought to court, India’s notoriously slow judiciary takes years, even decades, to give a verdict.
It seems changes are coming. Yesterday’s judgement could be seen as a beginning•