Breaking silence on sexual crime in India

Breaking silence on sexual crime in India
Indian residents hold placards and chant slogans as they take part in a protest against the alleged rape of a passenger by a driver working for the Uber taxi company in New Delhi.

As the Indian capital reels under yet another alleged sexual assault case two years after the gang rape and murder of a 21-year-old student in the city led to an outcry towards crimes against women, there are some reports of women fighting back.

Early this month, a video showing sisters Arti and Pooja Kumar, aged 22 and 19, thrashing three men on a crowded bus in Haryana state because they sexually harassed them went viral.

Although the girls' story has now been called into question after five women testified to the police that the fight was actually over a seat, the sisters, who stand by their story, are getting plenty of support on social networking sites where the video of the episode has been viewed several thousand times.

Other videos too have surfaced purportedly showing women fighting back against men.

In August, Ms Veena Ashiya, a resident of Bangalore chased a man who passed lewd comments to her when she was out for a morning jog. The video, taken by her friend, shows her catching up with the man and making him kneel on the road before kicking him. She later registered a case that led to the arrest of the man who is currently out on bail.

"Taught an eve-teaser a tough lesson! I am posting this video for women to know that change will happen only when we want it to happen!" she wrote in a Facebook post on Aug 8. The term eve-teasing covers everything from passing lewd remarks to molesting.

Similar videos showing women physically taking on their molesters have also emerged from other parts of the country. There are about six videos from Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra states, all this year, posted on YouTube.

Even though these instances are rare, activists say it is a sign of the silence breaking around sexual crimes, which have come under the spotlight in India since the fatal gang-rape of a physiotherapy student in Delhi in 2012. The woman died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital.

The brutal attack triggered protests across the country and forced the government to tighten laws against sexual violence. Activists say the focus on sexual crimes in the last two years has made some difference.

More cases are being registered which activists see as a sign of women willing to come forward. In Delhi, cases of assault with "intent to outrage a woman's modesty" have spiked five times, from 727 to 3,515, and total registered crimes against women have more than doubled from 5,920 to 12,853 from 2012 to last year.

But time and again, there are episodes that show that large parts of India remain a patriarchal and conservative society that is uncomfortable with a growing generation of women working, becoming independent, returning home after dark, deciding what they want to wear and who they want to marry.

Last week, a young company executive said she had been raped by a cab driver, who had previously been accused of assault. The woman, who was assaulted after she fell asleep in the taxi on the way home after dinner with friends, managed to take a photo of the number plate after the driver dumped her and alerted the authorities. The driver has been arrested and the online taxi service banned by the state government.

Last month, actress and reality star Gauhar Khan was slapped by a man during the filming of a show. The audience member was angry that she was wearing short dress. The man was arrested.

Activists said the only way sexual crimes against women can be reduced is by strictly implementing the law to instil fear in perpetrators. But still others are worried that women have to resort to vigilantism to get justice.

"The recording of it on video is new. But every woman (in India) will have a story of having confronted a harasser or slapped an eve-teaser," said Ms Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association. "It is a failure of the state."

This article was first published on Dec 09, 2014.
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