Campaigners in India are calling for tougher penalties for sex offenders after a massive rise in the number of rapes. According to the latest government figures, a woman is now raped in India every 20 minutes.
But despite the increase in sex attacks the number of convictions is falling. In the last 12 months, there have
been a number of high profile cases which have caused outrage across the nation. One of the most shocking attacks happened in the state of Haryana.Unusually the victim waived her right to anonymity.Shabnam, 16, was gang raped by eight men from her village. Her attackers filmed the assault on their mobile telephones.
When her father became aware that the images were being shared around the village, he committed suicide out of shame. Haryana is a tight-knit, mainly agrarian community where family honour and the avoidance of shame are a matter of life and death for many. But the brave schoolgirl wants the world to know what happened because she says too many victims are either too afraid or too ashamed to speak out.
“I don’t want the sacrifice of my father to be wasted. I’ve decided to get them all punished so that whatever happened with me should never happen to anybody else again,” she said. The physical scars of Shabnam’s attack have now healed but her mother Rani fears she will never fully recover psychologically from her ordeal. “My daughter is scared and depressed. She barely speaks because there is so much fear in mind,” she said. The rise in sexual assaults in Haryana reflects what is happening in other states across India.
A preference for sons and the illegal practise of female infanticide and foeticide have left the state with a badly skewed sex ratio. In Haryana, there are just 830 girls per 1000 boys. Women’s rights campaigner, Rishi Kant, says the problems are deep rooted within Indian society. “Young boys are doing all these crimes which are very heinous crimes and they should be booked immediately with a fast track court so that a proper sentence can be given against them.”
Campaigners say India’s laws for the protection of women are robust but are demanding better policing and stiffer jail terms.