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Protests over gang rape in India continue

A national dialogue is needed in India, which has long had a problem with sexual assault.

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Protesters on Dec. 24, 2012 in New Delhi, India. (Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)

Protests continue to sweep across India after the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi on Dec. 16. 

The extreme brutality of the assault, in which six men raped the victim, beat her with a metal rod damaging her intestines, before dumping her and her male friend near a highway, has prompted massive protests in India. 

Large parts of New Delhi and public transport in the nation's capital were shut down on Monday in an effort to clamp down on protests, according to the Wall Street Journal. Officials continued to enforce a law banning groups of more than four people congregating together but large swathes of protesters gathered near India Gate.

Of the thousands of protestors gathered at India Gate, some 200 broke away and started moving towards the "high security zone in Raisina Hills" which holds some of India's most important political buildings including the parliament, the prime minister's office and the official residence of the President of India, according to The Indian Express. Protestors included members of All India Students' Association (AISA), and All India Democratic Womens' Association (AIDWA).

Protesters have been demonstrating against what is widely considered as apathy on part of politicians, and the failure on the part of authorities to protect women. Rapes have become so pervasive in Delhi (which includes the Indian capital New Delhi) that it has been dubbed the rape capital of India. From the WSJ:

This year, some politicians have said a majority of rape cases actually involve consensual sex. Others have suggested reducing the legal age of marriage - currently 18 for women and 21 for men – as a way of dealing with the problem.

These comments have caused anger among activists who say they show a broader culture in which rape is not taken seriously. Many rape cases, they say, are not even reported due to pressure from families not to talk about them.

The National Crime Records Bureau of India shows that 24,206 cases of "rape" were reported in India in 2011, with a low conviction rate of 26.4 percent. This doesn't include "crime against women" including molestation, kidnapping, sexual harassment, which saw 228,650 cases reported in 2011, with a conviction rate of 26.9 percent. Moreover, in a country where rape is still taboo, a large number of rapes go unreported.

Latest figures suggest that a woman is raped every 20 minutes and that rapes in Delhi are up 16 percent to 661 cases this year.

One of the biggest criticisms leveled against the Indian police, is that they often file rape cases under one of the less severe offenses such as sexual harassment or 'eve-teasing.'

Earlier this year Tehelka, an investigative weekly publication, published a series that highlighted the misogyny prevalent in Delhi's police force. Tehelka journalists went undercover and spoke with policemen about rape and found that many blamed the victim for the assault, claimed it was most likely consensual or about money.

And many politicians share these views. Following the Delhi attack, a Congress party official said women shouldn't be on street at night, from the Indian Express: "Do we roam in streets at midnight as we got Independence at midnight? It would have been better if the girl did not travel by a private bus at that time," the PCC President, who is also the state Transport Minister, told reporters here. The outrage following his comments however made him quickly backtrack and apologize.

A three-member committee headed by former Chief Justice of India J S Verma is looking to review existing laws to provide quicker and more severe punishment in "cases of aggravated sexual assault." The panel has 30 days to submit its report to the government.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill of 2012 waiting to be approved by Parliament since Dec. 4 has widened the scope of rape, from The New Indian Express

While earlier, the definition of rape under the Indian Penal Code was sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent, courts have confined it to penile penetration of the vagina. The new amendment though brings under the ambit of this offense penetration of 'vagina, anus, urethra or mouth with any part of the body including the penis, or any other object for a sexual purpose'.

As protests continue, the 23-year-old victim continues to be in critical condition in New Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital. Meanwhile, gang rapes continue across the country, with another assault reported on an 18-year-old in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya. 

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