With India rocked by another sexual assault case, US lawmakers have been told that rape cases are not only being hushed up in the country due to fear and stigma but are also very poorly investigated, many ending up in acquittals.
"In India, rape cases have been hushed up and not reported due to fear and stigma. The cases which are reported are very poorly investigated and many end up in acquittals," Ravi Kant, president of board of directors of non-governmental Shakti Vahini, told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing.
"Brutal rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old in a crowded area of Delhi, physical and mental torture of a minor housemaid by a highly qualified MNC employee, mysterious death of a tribal girl employed as a domestic help are all instances that have shocked and shook the public conscience in India and have led to massive outpouring of anger," Kant said.
India, being a predominantly patriarchal society, has seen manifestations of violence against women in various forms, Kant told the hearing on Wednesday. "While some occurred in broad daylight, some happened within the four walls of our houses, nicely hidden in the pretence of morals and tradition. While in India, a country with a large section of people and almost all religions pray to goddesses, we have also high rates of violence against women in various forms," he said.
Chairing the Congressional hearing, Congressman James McGovern said some reports indicate that cases of rape have even increased since the December 16 gangrape in a moving bus in Delhi last year.
"Earlier, there was non-registration of cases. Now, a lot of them are coming out and speaking and registering the cases. So this is a big step for us. In fact, with the increased sensitivities in the police and the administration, it is going to increase because people who are not reporting are going to report," Kant said.
He said the government of India has taken steps to strengthen the law enforcement responses on crime against women and children by bringing in legislation for their protection.
"After the massive protest which happened after the unfortunate Delhi gangrape in December, police across the country have notified various procedures to be followed by the law enforcement in investigation, evidence collection, medical examination, and trauma support to victims," he said.
"The Criminal Amendment Act 2013 has strengthened the law on rape and has also brought in new provisions related to stalking, voyeurism, and acid attacks," he said, adding that the Indian government has ratified the UN protocol on trafficking.
The government of India has also created faster courts for trials related to sexual offences, Kant said. Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal's alleged sexual harassment of a colleague a few days back in Goa has snowballed into a major controversy.
Image: An anti-rape protest in New Delhi