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Gang Rape Victim's Death Prompts Global Conversation about Women and Rape in India

By December 29, 2012

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The story is rooted in a situation so typical, so commonplace, that it's hard to imagine why it would merit international headlines...until you reach the bitter end. In one of the world's major capital cities, a young woman and her male friend go to a local mall to see a movie and then ride home on public transportation.

Doubtless this scenario has been played out hundreds of thousands of times in London, Paris, Rome, Beijing, and Washington, D.C., and a good time was had by all. End of story.

But for an unnamed 23-year-old and her friend boarding a bus in New Delhi, the story took a horrific and deadly turn. The two were brutalized, beaten with iron rods, and the woman was raped and violated with that same shaft of metal by six men who'd been drinking and were out for a "joy ride" on that same bus.

Ironic that in December -- a month associated with light and joy and celebration -- a woman's life ended in darkness and terror and violence beyond comprehension. Like a Christmas tree after the holidays, she was stripped and dumped by the side of the road, brittle, broken, dying.

If a passer-by had not found her and her companion and phoned the police for help -- and if her story had not gone viral -- the six men would have gotten away with rape and murder.

If it seems inconceivable that anyone could have witnessed her situation and not picked up a phone or offered assistance, consider this: another vicious sexual assault of a twenty-something female student in India occurred earlier this year in July. She was reportedly groped and attacked by 18 men alongside a busy three-lane street for 20 minutes, all the while screaming for help, before someone called the police. It took 45 minutes for authorities to show up. Even more disturbing -- a local TV station took footage of the assault and later broadcast it.

What is wrong with India? This question may have come to the forefront in the past two weeks, but the signs that something is terribly amiss have been with us for decades. In fact, a group of more than 300 gender specialists worldwide recently identified India as the worst place to be a woman.

India is not a backward nation. In fact, it's growing and is expected to surpass China as the world's most populous nation by 2030. Yet its regard for the safety and security of women and girls borders on the nonexistent. If you have wealth and power and privilege, you can get by. But if you don't, you're expendable.

As BBC News Delhi correspondent Soutik Biswas explained in his article "How India treats its women":

Female foetuses are aborted and baby girls killed after birth, leading to an an appallingly skewed sex ratio. Many of those who survive face discrimination, prejudice, violence and neglect all their lives, as single or married women....

With more than 24,000 reported cases in 2011, rape registered a 9.2% rise over the previous year. More than half (54.7%) of the victims were aged between 18 and 30....Delhi accounted for over 17% of the total number of rape cases in the country.

And it is not rape alone. Police records from 2011 show kidnappings and abductions of women were up 19.4%, women being killed in disputes over dowry payments by 2.7%, torture by 5.4%, molestation by 5.8% and trafficking by an alarming 122% over the previous year.

In an earlier article, "Women's tales from brutal Delhi," he shares the experiences of his female friends and acquaintances -- professional women who are often terrified of going out, even in the company of male friends.

How can this be happening in a nation with technology, wealth, education -- a nation that proudly stands as the world's largest democracy?

What is going on in India, and is the senseless death of this unknown 23-year-old going to be the defining moment for a nation that is withering under the glare of world attention? Does it take global humiliation and embarrassment to effect change? Would this have happened without the power and influence of social media?

And why did it require the martyrdom of one young woman -- brain-damaged and torn apart from the inside by a sadistic group of men who derived pleasure from savage misogyny -- for the rest of us around the world to finally sit up and take notice?

Photo Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images News

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