Words by SUCHARA FERNANDO.
According to John Baylis, security can be defined as freedom from threats to core values for both groups and individuals. Thereby, internal security can be defined as protecting civilians within sovereign borders from threats. A culture of rape and sexual violence is thus an internal security issue because it threatens the freedom and safety of India’s female population. Since the 2012 Delhi Gang Rape and the sensationalist response of the media, the world’s attention has turned to India’s issues of sexual violence. The existing laws have been amended with stricter effect, and recently, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a number of issues that affected women, in his first Independence Day speech. One of these issues was rape.
India’s attitude towards rape culture has shifted from apathy, to recognising it as a prominent problem. This is due to the Gang Rape incident that occurred at the end of 2012, when a woman and her friend were raped on a bus home. This reprehensible event caused an uproar igniting both global and local interest in India’s attitudes towards sexual violence, largely because of the media’s constant attention to the horrific events that transpired. It was a rape case like no other, arousing everyday people’s emotions to the horrific nature of sexual violence. As a result, the event energised Indian activists, women and government officials.
According to the latest statistics from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the number of rapes reported in India has shot up from 24,923 in 2012 to 33,707 in 2013. In Delhi, the number of reported rapes almost doubled from 585 in 2012 to 1,441 in 2014. In addition to these statistics, in India a rape occurs every 21 minutes. These alarming statistics are undoubtedly an underestimation, as many cases go unreported. This is because of the shame that is placed on the victim and her family afterwards. If rape cases are reported it is common for the police to be bribed, and those families that do report a rape to the police are liable to be ridiculed and, finally, intimidated into dropping the case. Cases that do progress to litigation can in theory be won, but the process takes an average of eight years, and sentences are typically low.
Until the 2012 Gang Rape, it was near impossible for Indian women to seek justice for sexual violence. In response to the gang rape, the day after the attack, protests were held and the media was informed. There were hundreds of young urban students in attendance as well as the local Indian newspaper editorials and television was dominated by the sexual violence discourse. As a result India modified its sexual violence laws and a bill containing harsher punishments for rapists was passed by India’s parliament. This legislation may never have reached the forefront of the political agenda, had it not been for the Gang Rape incident. The media’s role in covering the event led to a mobilisation of the masses, seeking to bring change into a patriarchal system.
Late last year, justice was taken into the masses’ hands when a 40-year old man was caught raping a teenage girl in Rajasthan, captured on a smart phone via the video function. The girl was taken to a nearby warehouse but her screaming was so loud that a group of people came to her rescue. The man was pulled off the girl by the group who then stripped him, hacked off his genitals with a meat cleaver, and threw him in the street- all as the scene was filmed on smartphones. This brutal vigilantism after rape incidents, instead of pursuing justice through the law, is another growing issue. It is indicative that communities are losing faith in India’s criminal justice system. This is due to the long process of the judicial system, and the inefficient nature of the police force, and other law enforcement bodies.
However, despite the attitudes that changed as a result of the 2012 Gang Rape, the media is not consistently hovering on the topic of sexual violence. An example of this is when a Danish tourist was raped in New Delhi earlier this year. The woman, who was lost and seeking assistance, approached a group of men for directions, men who then raped her. When this case was reported it appeared grouped with other sexual violence crimes that occurred during the period.
The response taken by the media to not publicise this event to the same extent as the Gang Rape may be due to a number of reasons. First, this event was not considered as sensationalist enough to be constantly reported, secondly, rape cases occur too frequently to be constantly reported on. Thirdly, was the media blatantly stating that some rapes are more important than other cases? The answer to these questions may never be known.
However, despite the media’s sensationalist attention on two different rape cases, this issue still remains prevalent and a constant internal security threat. Although the masses have already been mobilised, and the foundations have been laid to ensure that this threat is addressed. It is the law enforcing bodies need to adjust their efficacy to match the masses.
The Role of the Media
In August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke from the Red Fort on India’s 68th Independence Day. Prime Minister Modi addressed a number of issues, one of which was India’s rape culture. He encouraged Indian parents to engage in their sons’ and daughters’ lives. To not limit questions such as ‘Where are you going?’ ‘When will you be coming home?’ What are you doing?’ to daughters but also to sons. Prime Minister Modi highlighted the topic of rape in a globalised world demonstrating his acknowledgement of the issue and how wider nations feel about India’s response to its rape culture. It will be interesting to see how the different communities of India will respond to Modi’s suggestions. In terms of mobilising the masses, Modi’s speech recognising the rape issue confirmed it as a state problem, an internal security issue that needs to be overcome. How India and the world takes to Modi’s words will be interesting to watch.
It is important to consider that although the media has highlighted the severity of rape in India in a number of ways, sexual violence and rape still remain a crime that is widespread and strongly entrenched into Indian culture. Thus, whether or not the media in India sensationally reports or merely reports on every rape case is irrelevant, as awareness has been laid with many Indians now understanding the threat of rape to half of India’s population.
Despite the media generating awareness and public interest in sexual violence in India, the media is unable to constantly expose sexual violence crimes. Furthermore, the media’s attention does not keep up with the country’s justice system in regards to rape issues, rendering it difficult for the uproar of communities to access justice.
Suchara Fernando is studying Asian Studies/Law at the Australian National University. Her research interests include security and gender issues in South Asia. She has previously spent 5 weeks in India learning Hindi and organised Asia Pacific Week at the ANU.