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Sexual Violence and Inequality in India

Authors: Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative; Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, and Julia Knight
May 2013
Política Exterior


Originally published in Spanish in Política Exterior:

In 2012, several high profile incidents of sexual assault sparked rage and national debate in India. In the state of Haryana, a spate of rape cases shocked the nation. Many victims were young and from a lower caste, including one girl who was mentally challenged. One incident, the rape of a 16 year-old Dalit girl, was recorded on video and transmitted through men's cell phones; in shame, her father took his own life. Two other Dalit rape victims committed suicide by setting themselves on fire. Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi visited the families of one of the self-immolation victims, but hours after she departed, another Dalit girl was raped.

These cases were overshadowed when in December, another sexual attack jolted the country: in Delhi, a 23 year-old student was gang-raped on a bus and left naked on the side of a road to die of her injuries. More than any other incident, this brutal attack jolted the public consciousness. The victim in many ways represented the Indian dream of modernity and upward mobility. She was studying to be a physiotherapist, and was on her way home from the movies with her boyfriend when she was attacked. As Sonia Gandhi declared, "This brave young woman embodied the spirit of an aspirational India." She went on to describe her as "a symbol of thousands of women, and children, who suffer a similar fate, whose lives are ruined or worse, and who are denied justice."

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