The story of the Indian paramedical student, brutally gang-raped by six men, after she climbed aboard a bus in New Delhi with a male friend, met a fateful end. The horrendous incident, which triggered violent protests in the Indian capital, had shaken many, demonstrating how unsafe women remained in ‘liberated’ India. But the fact that the young woman died at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, to where she had been airlifted as her condition worsened, adds further to the tragedy. The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, will never fulfil her potential. Her death, owing to the multiple organ injuries she suffered, serves as a reminder of just what kind of bestiality exists. What happened to her will make every woman feel less secure.
The question of how the case is to be handled raises more issues. Anticipating further protests, the police have been deployed across New Delhi. There is also talk from members of government about making the names of the convicted rapists and sex offenders public, in the hope that they will be denied employment and socially ostracised. Indian rights activists, meanwhile, point out that more often it is the victims who suffer stigma rather than the perpetrators — with this factor leading to a situation where many rapes are never reported at all.
This, unfortunately, is a situation familiar to us in Pakistan as well. Gang rape is a crime we know much about. The question for us, as for India, is how to make our cities and indeed our villages and towns safe for women. The answers lie in inevitably punishing those behind such crimes. However, this does not happen often enough. The answer also lies in empowering women, raising their status and creating more public disapproval for such atrocities. The street clashes and protests in Delhi depict anger but they are still restricted to far too small a group. In India, and everywhere else, the protests need to be bigger, wider and sustained through peaceful means so that longer-term change can finally be achieved before other women fall victim to similar horrors. This must not be permitted.