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India: a remarkable rape case

A poor girl gets out of jail while her alleged rapists, powerful men, are arrested.

The Banda girl has also benefitted because both the opposition and ruling Bahujan Samaj Party have attempted to get political mileage out of her case. In addition, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati is India’s first female Dalit chief minister, and despite accusations of corruption, she has built her reputation on supporting Dalits.

While these factors have helped the girl so far, some legal experts say it is too early to assume she will get a fair trial.

“I don’t have the confidence that because of this the girl is going to get a better chance of justice,” said Wadia. When the case goes to court, the girl is likely to go through “terrible torture” again and face degrading questions about her morality, chastity and honor, she said.

Factors related to the mindset of judges, the training of medical professionals, the protection of witnesses and the treatment of the survivor make sexual assault cases among the hardest in India to secure a conviction, according to Mumbai-based civil rights lawyer Vijay Hiremath.

He gave an example from 2009 in which the Bombay High Court overturned a rape conviction — for a case in which the woman had her jaw broken, and there were witnesses — because the court assumed the woman's testimony was inconsistent and she was lying. The woman was married, and if she claimed that "complete intercourse" took place, she should have also known that the man would ejaculate, according to the judge's reasoning. “The whole story takes the shape of ‘cock and bull,’” the judge wrote.

The case in Banda “should be the beginning of a more systematic approach to sexual assault,” said Aruna Kashyap, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. She said India needs an overhaul in how survivors are treated that includes institutionalized support for survivors.

Pink sari gang leader Devi says that changes have slowly been taking place in her district in the past few years and more women now speak up about abuse. To ensure that more girls do not face sexual assault, she says, societal mores must change.

“Men must show some respect,” she wrote. “But I also feel that there should be more education for women and more groups like mine, out to fight on the street for the hapless rape victims so that men get a lesson.”

Follow Hanna on Twitter: @Hanna_India