Another gang rape occurred this week in India. Five young boys were arrested for allegedly gang raping a 10-year-old girl in the northeastern state of Assam on Sunday.
This news comes just days after four men were sentenced to death after being convicted of the December gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman.
When news of that rape broke, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in protest, igniting a debate and leading to new laws.
But is the treatment of women in India actually improving?
Vrinda Grover is a New Delhi-based lawyer who has argued on the side of rape victims and appeared before a committee earlier this year to give recommendations for reforms.
While Grover applauds the conviction, she told Here & Now that she believes the death penalty is “counter productive” and “distracts both society and the state from creating systemic changes.”
Grover says women’s rights advocates face major institutional obstacles to put women on equal footing with men.
Grover cites economic inequality, continued gender bias and the legacy of the caste system, as some of the reasons for pervasive violence against women in India.
She cites male officials and lawyers who blame the victim in cases of rape. For example, the lawyer defending two of the four men in the Delhi rape case said he would have “burned his own daughter alive” if she had been having premarital sex and staying out with her boyfriend.
“We have to battle against misogyny of the crudest kind,” Grover said.
To change the culture, Grover says the first step is recognizing the biased attitudes against women.
“Let us recognize there is an institutional bias against women,” Grover said. “And then start putting in corrective measures, because agencies and institutions, if left alone to act, will act against the rights of women.”
Grover cites incremental changes in the law that are encouraging.
“Certainly we’ve had important amendments. We have also got some changes in procedure — certainly not enough,” Grover said. “We don’t see investigations of a professional nature. No special public prosecutors are being appointed for all rape trials. And therefore we still need to develop that kind of jurisprudence and understanding of the crime of rape.”
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
In India, five minors were arrested on Sunday for allegedly gang raping a 10-year-old girl in the state of Assam. The arrests come just days after four men were sentenced to death for the brutal December gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi. Now that shocking case galvanized India, launched waves of protests and led to changes in how the country deals with rape. But have those changes gone far enough?
Vrinda Grover is a Delhi-based human rights lawyer. She's been named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people. She also appeared before an Indian government panel to recommend legal reforms regarding sexual assault. She joins us via Skype. Vrinda, welcome.
VRINDA GROVER: Thank you.
CHAKRABARTI: First of all, what's your reaction to the fact that these four men did receive the death penalty?
GROVER: I welcome the conviction. I strongly believe that the death sentence is counterproductive.
CHAKRABARTI: Why do you think it's counterproductive? There are many people who would say that it's precisely the deterrent needed to dissuade people from doing such violent acts of rape?
GROVER: The death penalty does not create deterrence. What the death penalty does is that it distracts both society as well as the state from creating systemic changes.
CHAKRABARTI: Before we leave this issue of the death penalty, I have read - in the Wall Street Journal, for example, you were quoted as saying that, "violence is very deeply ingrained in us," us meaning Indian society.
GROVER: India society, yes.
CHAKRABARTI: Yes. Seems a rather broad indictment of Indian society.
GROVER: Well, it plays itself out almost daily, both in the private and public sphere. I think there are very clear reasons for this violence: the levels of inequality, what the caste system teaches us, the gender bias, as well as the huge disparity in income levels.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, after news back in December of the Delhi rape had been released, thousands of people protested in the streets of India. Do you think that the revulsion over that - this case is signs of the beginning of some positive change there?
GROVER: Certainly. But I think what I would underline as the major change that has taken place since then is in the articulation of the issue in the public discourse, particularly by women. Women are no longer false saying that they have invited the sexual violence upon themselves. Women are saying rape is not the end of life and are willing to fight for justice.
CHAKRABARTI: Did this case, this Delhi case, it was so violent and so brutal in the eyes of authorities in the Indian government, the police, the legal system. Is it seen as a case that's setting a new benchmark for how sexual assault should be treated? Or is it actually being seen as an exception?
GROVER: Unfortunately, it is being seen in isolation. We don't see investigation of a professional nature. No special public prosecutors are being appointed for all rape trials. And therefore, we still need to develop that kind of jurisprudence and understanding of the crime of rape.
CHAKRABARTI: Yet you appeared before a committee a little earlier this year and recommended changes to the Indian legal system to deal with exactly these issues. Certainly there have been some improvements, have there not?
GROVER: Certainly, we've had important amendments. We have also got some changes in procedure, certainly not enough. Today, the law says if a police officer does not investigate in accordance with law, he will be put behind bars in cases of sexual violence. Of course, this law has not been applied even once till now, but at least it is there on the statute book for us to fight for it.
CHAKRABARTI: Hmm. There was a study published last year, I believe, that said, in India, a woman is raped every 22 minutes. And even since the Delhi case, there have been a number of high-profile horrible attacks against women. I mean, I just recently heard over the weekend of a BBC reporter in Calcutta went to visit a family who's 11-year-old daughter was burnt to death after being sexually assaulted. I mean, I'm just wondering, is it as pervasive as the current media attention makes it seem?
GROVER: It is actually even more widespread. A very large number of rape cases take place within extended families. Those cases are not even reported now. So we are not even seeing the scale and intensity of the problem.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, here's exactly why I'm asking because a change in law is one thing, but how effective is it without a change in attitudes in India because we're just reading that, for example, the defense lawyer who defended two of the four men convicted of the Delhi case, he said after the trial, quote, "that he would have burned his own daughter alive if she were having premarital sex and went out late at night with her boyfriend."
Now, he's facing a misconduct hearing now. But the sheer fact that such a statement would be made after the most high-profile rape and murder case in India, what does that tell you about attitudes in the country?
GROVER: Well, what it tells us is that we have to battle against misogyny of the crudest kind over here. Today - sorry - yesterday, Mr. Ram Jethmalani, one of the senior-most criminal lawyers of this country, a former member of parliament, while defending Asaram, who has been charged with sexual violence of a minor girl, has stated before the high court in Rajasthan yesterday that the young girl suffers from a psychological disorder which causes her to want to alone with men. This has been said by a lawyer who has been the former law minister of this country. And, mind you, there are no misconduct proceedings being held out against him.
CHAKRABARTI: Certain misogynistic attitudes, as you say, are so deeply ingrained in Indian society, and that's one of the problems at the base. What's the first step you would recommend to change that?
GROVER: Let us recognize that there is an institutional bias against women. And let me substantiate that with a statement made in late August by a sitting judge of the (unintelligible) high court, who says women are also responsible for the sexual violence that takes place on them. And referring to the December 16th gang rape, he says: Why was she out at 9 p.m. in Delhi? This was a comment made in a public meeting, reported in a newspaper by a sitting judge of the high court.
So can we recognize that there is an institutional bias against women in this country, and then start putting in corrective measures? Because agencies and institutions, if left to their own to act, will work against the rights of women.
CHAKRABARTI: That's Vrinda Grover, a New Delhi-based human rights lawyer who appeared before an Indian governmental committee earlier this year to provide recommendations on reforms to the Indian legal system when it comes to sexual assault. Vrinda Grover, thank you so much.
GROVER: Thank you.
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
Police have ID'ed all the people killed in the Navy Yard shooting, and we're learning more about the eight wounded. One police officer and two civilians are being treated and doing well. The officer was shot in the legs, one woman in the shoulder. Another woman whose skull was grazed by a bullet is in good condition. Back in a minute, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Jeremy Hobson joins Robin Young as co-host of Here & Now in its new 2-hour format, from WBUR and NPR.
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