The New Delhi gang rape case was a brutal and tragic event which occurred on 16 December 2012. The victim, a 23 year old Indian student, was on her way home from a movie with her male companion when they were attacked by the passengers and the driver of the bus which they were travelling in. The woman was raped and beaten by six men on the bus, sustaining grievous and brutal injuries in the process. The woman and her friend were then dumped out of the vehicle.[1] The female victim was transferred to Singapore to receive specialist medical care due to the severity of the injuries sustained, but unfortunately, she succumbed to her injuries.

This gruesome incident received widespread attention both within India and in the international world. The six perpetrators, which included one juvenile, were quickly arrested by the Delhi police after the crime, and tried in a “fast tracked” court.

Public protests
The brutal and horrific nature of the crime resulted in protests and condemnations from people all over India, who agitated for tougher actions to stop sexual crimes against women. This rape case galvanised thousands of Indians who took to the streets to protest the crime. Protesters deplored government inefficiency in preventing sexual crimes, and urged the government to enact stronger laws. Protests were held in New Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, Mumbai, and other Indian cities.[2]

Indian demonstrators calling for better safety for women. Source:
Indian demonstrators calling for better safety for women. Source:

Women’s rights in India
The incident also highlighted the discrimination that women face in India. Despite having several prominent female politicians in the Indian government, ordinary Indian women still face widespread prejudice in their society. A largely traditional society where sons are preferred over daughters, most Indian women face discrimination from young. A recent survey by TrustLaw indicates that India is the worst G20 country in which to be a woman.

Crimes committed against women are also rising. The number of rape cases increased by 9.2% from 2010 to over 24,000 in 2011. Many rape cases also go unreported, as victims are often stigmatised by their families and outsiders. New Delhi, the city where the brutal bus gang rape was committed, even had the dubious honour of being known as the “rape capital” of India. In 2011, Delhi registered 568 cases of rape, compared to 218 in Mumbai.[3]

The police services are also reluctant to protect the rights of women. Some police agencies are also less than willing to pursue rape cases, preferring to drag their feet over rape investigations. In one instance, an Indian rape victim committed suicide after the police pressured her to drop her rape case and marry her attacker.[4]

Much of the problem is rooted in the deep-seated perceptions on women in the conservative Indian society. This resulted in “deeply entrenched patriarchy and widespread misogyny” in the country, which can only be solved through “deep-rooted changes in social attitudes”. [5]

Shortcomings of the judiciary
This shocking crime also exposed various problems related to India’s justice system. Notorious for its inefficiency, it is estimated that there are more than 30 million pending court cases in India, which will take more than 450 years to clear. Therefore, to ensure that the criminals responsible for the gang rape case would be tried swiftly, they were tried in a special “fast track” court set up to deal with sexual crimes. Due to the horrific nature of the crime, the Saket district lawyers' association also refused to represent the accused.[6] There are also concerns that in the pursuit to obtain a swift judgement, the defendants of the crime may not receive a fair trial.[7]

The culpability of one of the perpetrators, a 17 year old juvenile, was also put into question. While all the other men were facing the death penalty for their crimes, the juvenile will face only three years at a reform facility under India’s laws. Despite calls for the minor to be tried as an adult, the court ruled that he will be considered a juvenile under the law, outraging many.[8]

The brutal crime and the subsequent protests prompted the Indian government to introduce new measures to combat sexual crimes. A committee headed by retired Justice Verma was set up to recommended changes to protect Indian women. Based on the report, laws on sexual assault were tightened in an ordinance passed by the Indian Cabinet. Stiffer penalties were introduced to deal with rape, stalking, voyeurism, stripping a woman or carrying out an acid attack. Offenders of rapes which leave the women in a vegetative state may also receive the death penalty.[9]

Looking ahead
Despite the outcry over the brutal nature of the crime and the swift response by the government and judiciary of India in response to the gang rape, it remains doubtful that there will be any significant improvement to the problems faced by Indian women. The negative perceptions of women remain deeply entrenched in the minds of many Indians, especially those living in the rural areas.

Meanwhile, serious sexual crimes against women remain common in India. A Chinese woman was raped in New Delhi on 30 January 2013, and policemen in Bangalore were allegedly involved in a gang rape of a women accused of theft.

Thinking questions
  1. Should a juvenile be tried as an adult if he is involved in serious crimes, or if he is fully aware of the consequences of his actions when committing the crime?
  2. Many lawyers refused to represent the men responsible for the gang rape due to the horrific nature of the crime. Should an accused receive representation even if he is involved in heinous crimes?
  3. A “fast tracked” court was set up to deal with sexual crimes in India. Should certain crimes receive priority attention in the courts? What about the other cases pending in the justice system?

[1] India 'gang-rape': Student, friend attacked on Delhi bus
[2] Protests in India after Delhi gang-rape victim dies
[3] Shame: Delhi still India’s rape capital
[4] India Teen Commits Suicide After Police Pressure Her To Drop Gang Rape Case, Marry Attacker
[5] How India treats its women
[6] Delhi gang rape suspects charged in India court
[7] Do India's 'fast track' courts work?
[8] Delhi gang-rape suspect faces maximum three-year jail term
[9] India gang rape prompts tough new laws on sexual assault