December 16, 2013


[Even for a city that had seen its share of horrific crimes, residents of the nation’s capital were shocked, then outraged as they learned of details of the Dec. 16, 2012, attack on the young woman and her male friend on a moving bus by six people. Besides being gang-raped, she was assaulted with an iron rod, requiring doctors to remove her intestines. Her male friend was also beaten, and the two of them were thrown out of the bus and into the street, nearly naked and left for dead.]
Betwa SharmaAsha Devi, mother of the Delhi gang rape victim, at her house in Dwarka on the outskirts of New Delhi on Dec. 2
A year after the gang rape and assault of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi, four out of six defendants have received the death penalty for her murder, another is dead and the last one received the maximum sentence for a minor, three years in a reformatory home.
It is the sentence for the sixth defendant that drives Badri Nath Singh and Asha Devi to fight for what they call “full justice” for their daughter.
Even for a city that had seen its share of horrific crimes, residents of the nation’s capital were shocked, then outraged as they learned of details of the Dec. 16, 2012, attack on the young woman and her male friend on a moving bus by six people. Besides being gang-raped, she was assaulted with an iron rod, requiring doctors to remove her intestines. Her male friend was also beaten, and the two of them were thrown out of the bus and into the street, nearly naked and left for dead.
“They literally ate my daughter,” said Mr. Singh. “There were bite marks all over her. I cannot rest until they are all dead. They did not commit a crime but a sin, and for a sin, there is no forgiveness.”
Early this month, Mr. Singh, 54, and Ms. Devi, 46, returned home exhausted after a hectic day at court. But their night was interrupted by phone calls from relatives who had heard on the news about the couple’s petition to the Supreme Court.
They had argued that the minor –whose age established by a Juvenile Justice Board to be six months short of 18 when the crime was committed on Dec. 16, 2012 — deserved a harsher punishment, especially after the police investigation found that he had used the rod on their daughter.
Explaining why he wanted the death sentence for the juvenile defendant, Mr. Singh said, “After seeing her suffering for 15 days, how can as I as father not get justice for her? I, she and the public who cried for my daughter will only be at peace then.”
Acting on the parents’ plea, the Supreme Court has ordered the central government to respond in four weeks about whether the juvenile status in a heinous crime can be ascertained by a criminal court instead of a Juvenile Justice Board.
While the young woman fought for her life in a Delhi hospital for two weeks, thousands joined nationwide protests to demand security for women and speedy justice, which led to a new anti-rape law that broadened the definition of sexual crimes and prescribed tougher penalties.
“And these changes are not over yet,” said Ms. Devi as she ladled curry in the kitchen. “We are going to try to get the juvenile law changed in such kind of heinous crimes.”
The physiotherapy student was called Nirbhaya, which means fearless, first in the media and then by the rest of the country, because of her efforts to ward off the drunken rapists, her insistence on making a detailed statement to the police despite her agonizing condition and her battle to stay alive. She died of injuries on Dec. 29, 2012.
One year on, Mr. Singh said that their family was proud of his daughter for the courage she showed during her worst hours, which they believe has spurred more women to speak out instead of hiding the crimes committed against them.
“She was always our strength, and now she is and will be the strength and inspiration for many girls,” said Ms. Devi.
Her husband expressed admiration for the journalist who recently spoke out against her boss Tarun Tejpal, an influential newsman, who is accused of molesting her in an elevator in Goa. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy to go up against a powerful man,” he said.
The family recently instituted the Nirbhaya Trust, which will help young women who have suffered violence find shelter and legal assistance. “The condition of acid attack victims is very bad,” he said. “So many people supported us, so if we want help those girls who have no one.”
What moved millions of Indians was not just the tragedy suffered by this family, but also by the story of how Mr. Singh prioritized his daughter’s education over his two sons. He came to be known as the father who sold off farmland in his native village and worked two shifts a day loading luggage at the airport to pay for her college education.
“It never entered our hearts to ever discriminate,” he said. “How could I be happy if my son is happy and my daughter isn’t?” he said. “And it was impossible to refuse a little girl who loved going to school.”
When Mr. Singh was growing up in a remote village of Ballia district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, girls were not sent to school, but educating boys was also not valued. So after the 10th grade, Mr. Singh, who dreamed of becoming a schoolteacher, was sent to work in the fields.
“Attitudes are changing back home now,” he said.  “But when I left 30 years ago, I vowed never deny my children so sending them to school was fulfilling my desire for knowledge.”
After moving to Delhi, Mr. Singh made pressure cookers, worked as a security guard and eventually a luggage loader. When his daughter started school, he earned 650 rupees, or $10, a month, but he was happy to pay 150 rupees as fees for a private school.
But it was only when his three children grew older did money become a problem. Prices kept rising, but Mr. Singh’s salary hovered around 3,000 to 4,000 rupees. “There was more value for money before, a kilogram of wheat cost 3 to 4 rupees,” he said. “There were a lot of ups and downs, but life kept us moving forward.”
The family now lives in a middle-income flat allotted to them by the Delhi government in a gated complex in the suburb of Dwarka, which is rapidly urbanizing. They have received more than 300,000 rupees as compensation from the governments of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
Sounding contemplative about the passage of years, Mr. Singh recalled that this part of Dwarka was dust and fields when he came to Delhi. He talked about how their small and cramped house, where his children grew up, about 10 kilometers, or six miles, from the new place, was worth 7,000 rupees when he purchased it in the mid-1980s, and now he estimates it to be almost 300,000 rupees.
“But that home is so precious for us that we won’t sell it. We will develop it more,” he said.
Only once in the old house, Mr. Singh recalled, did he tell his daughter that paying for her physiotherapy course in college wasn’t possible. “She fainted, I think from the shock of feeling abandoned. If children can’t depend on parents, then where do they turn so I had to find a way,” he said.
Mr. Singh’s eyes had filled with tears when he first shared this story in January, and the father often broke down in the months after his daughter’s death. In this retelling, he appeared more relaxed. But it was clear that the pain of his loss had not receded.
“There is not a day go by that we don’t cry. I am talking to you, but I’m thinking of her,” he said.
Mr. Singh no longer carries heavy luggage after being employed at the GMR Group, which developed the Delhi airport, to make entry passes. Some of the compensation money was spent furnishing the family’s new house and court expenses.
The rest would be invested in the future of his two sons, one in college and the other in the 11th grade. “Some kind of engineering, soft-something, I’m not sure,” he said, laughing.
Scolding her husband for delaying dinner past 10 p.m., Ms. Devi closed the conversation by saying that while their grief was eternal, their wounds would heal in time when they achieved new milestones, like their sons making successful careers and marriages in the family.
And, Mr. Singh said with a smile, they harbored hopes of a little granddaughter in the future to bring some cheer back in their lives. “We can’t move on yet, but life is never static,” he said.
Betwa Sharma is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.


[“In India, men rape because it’s a manly thing to subjugate the weaker sex,” said Purnima Nagaraja, a psychiatrist who has worked with hundreds of rape survivors in the area. “Our culture puts so much emphasis on ‘being a man,’ which creates huge in­securities for men as they see women’s status rising in society.”]

By Annie Gowen and Rama Lakshmi

HYDERABAD, India The chauffeur’s boss was out of town, so the driver called a friend and said, “Let’s have some fun” — which police say meant finding a woman to rape.
Hopping into a luxury car, the two soon spotted their victim — a young software engineer leaving a shopping mall. They lured her into the car by making it appear to be a taxi, police said, took her to a remote spot and raped her with such ferocity that she bled for hours.
Much has changed in India since the December night last year when another young woman was brutally gang-raped, in New Delhi, and later died — a case thatshocked the country and sparked protests over sexual violence against women. Parliament passed stricter laws on rape and sexual harassment. Police have become more sympathetic to women. Help lines have been flooded with calls.
But rapes by gangs of young men have continued with a disturbing frequency, even though the four men convicted in the Delhi case were sentenced to death by hanging. Law enforcement officials and experts say there still is a widespread sense of impunity among aggressors.
“In India, men rape because it’s a manly thing to subjugate the weaker sex,” said Purnima Nagaraja, a psychiatrist who has worked with hundreds of rape survivors in the area. “Our culture puts so much emphasis on ‘being a man,’ which creates huge in­securities for men as they see women’s status rising in society.”
Packs of young men rape for sport partly because they resent the economic disparity between the rich and the poor, Nagaraja said. The flow of uneducated migrants from rural areas to cities , she added, can leave young men feeling unmoored, away from a village life in which males hold sway.
Although India passed tighter sexual-assault laws this year, prosecutions remain achingly slow. The government created fast-track courts in New Delhi to expeditiously deal with such cases, but they are overflowing. As of November, these courts had convicted 178 attackers and acquitted 407; more than 1,700 cases are pending.
Their conviction rate — about one-third — isn’t any higher than in the regular courts, according to the city’s prosecution agency.
“It takes so long to convict the guilty,” said Prabhans Mahato, 32, the father of a 5-year-old girl who was held for 40 hours andraped repeatedly by a neighbor this year. She required several surgeries afterward. “People feel there is no law at all,” Mahato added.
After the two Hyderabad men were arrested, they admitted to having sex with the woman but showed little remorse, police said.
“I said, ‘Are you not scared?’” recalled C.V. Anand, the police chief of the Cyberabad region, a large district that rings the central city. “They said, ‘We never felt we would get caught. She would not say anything. Indian women can’t come out about such things.’ ”
Just as Anand was giving his interview, TV news flashed photos of another gang-rape victim — a teenage girl who had been held captive by two older youths and assaulted repeatedly for 10 days. High-profile attacks also have occurred in other cities, including Mumbai and Bangalore, as well as in rural areas.
“Unless the mentality changes,” Nagaraja said, “this is not going to go away.”
‘Men with nothing to do’
In the past 20 years, Hyderabad has grown from a sleepy town to a thriving hub that built landscaped business parks to attract information technology companies such as IBM and Facebook. Nagaraja said common sexual misconduct has worsened from “Eve-teasing” — the term used in India for sexual taunting — to rape and, in the past five years or so, gang rapes.
And India, which has long favored its sons, has an increasing gender gap because of the widespread but illegal practice of aborting female fetuses. Like other developing countries, India has a young population struggling to find decent work.
“There are too many men with nothing to do, just hanging around all day, passing comments on women,” said Uma Sharma, an activist in a New Delhi slum. “We thought all the protests after last year’s gang rape will instill fear in men. We watched it on television. But nothing has changed. This gets worse every day.”
She and other activists marched in outrage to the police station after investigators failed to file charges in a sexual attack on a 15-year-girl; the activists prevailed, but they got little support from the men in their community.
“When we go for the women’s committee meeting, they mock us,” Sharma said. “‘Just because you have a committee, you think you can change the world?’
In rural areas, lower-caste women are often raped by members of the dominant caste. And in recent months, victims have accused high-profile men — from a former judge to theeditor of a well-known magazine — of sexual misconduct.
As cellphone use has spread, access to pornography and violent movies also has increased. Nagaraja has studied more than 2,000 men ages 15 to 25 and says that 58 percent of them watch sadomasochistic pornography.
Fear and community
The accused in the attack on the software engineer in Hyderabad, Vedicharla Satish, 30, and Nemmadi Venkateswarlu, 28, were born in villages to lower-caste families, had little education and had come to the city looking for better lives, authorities said. The two became friends in PJR Colony, a working-class complex of dusty pink concrete that had once been a slum. Family members said Satish was trying to save money to buy an auto-rickshaw, a three-wheeler used for public transportation, to better support his wife and young son.
The case, which roiled the region’s IT community, has striking similarities to the fatal Dec. 16 attack in Delhi last year. Both victims were educated women aspiring to be part of India’s middle class and were raped by men who, posing as public transportation drivers, were looking for prey.
The police called the victim in Hyderabad “Abhaya,” similar to the pseudonym “Nirbhaya” that was given to the Delhi victim. Both mean “fearless” in Hindi.
Police said the two men were cruising around an area called HITEC City when they spotted their victim, a 22-year-old software engineer, texting on her cellphone.
Authorities said that after Satish and Venkateswarlu hoodwinked the woman into the car, they held her captive on a terrifying highway journey before raping her and letting her off at her home around 1:30 a.m. They threatened to return and harm her if she told anyone what had happened.
Even as they raped her, they addressed her as “Madam,” a sign of respect accorded to someone of a higher class, police said.
Satish’s relatives said he later told them that the sex had been consensual. Neighbors — both male and female — were critical of the victim: Why had she not cried out? Or used her cellphone to call for help?
“I’m angry at my husband,” said Satish’s wife, Manjula, 27. “I’m there for his sexual needs. Why should he go to another woman?”
When police, who were called by the victim’s boyfriend, arrived at her home, she first denied that she had been raped. She finally broke down and described what had happened when questioned alone by a sympathetic female police officer, who had seen a pool of blood on the floor.
“I can see tears in her eyes,” said Janaki Sharmila, a deputy commissioner of police. “She didn’t want to reveal it to anybody. She was concerned her parents would commit suicide or take her back to the village.”
Eventually, however, Sharmila persuaded the woman to file a complaint against the men, who were detained and paraded before the media in black hoods. They are expected to be charged with rape soon.
The road ahead
In the days since the attack, police have launched a women’s safety program, including 40 additional public buses, along with closed-circuit security cameras and awareness campaigns for both sexes at local universities.
“Sensitizing and stringent punishment” are the only roads to real change, Sharmila said. It could take years.
The victim’s firm quietly transferred her to another city, where she lives with her boyfriend, who recently got a visa to the United States. She is hoping to follow him there soon, to begin a new life.
Suhasini Raj contributed to this report.