It wasn’t bad enough that a 23-year-old woman was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi last December and later died of her injuries. That alone, besides setting off worldwide protests, seemed to open a box of secrets about how women are too-often treated in India.
But now, the news out of India is even more horrifying: 5-year-olds are being raped. Or at least the world is starting to hear about it.
In mid-April, a 5-year-old in New Delhi was found in an apartment after having been kidnapped, raped and tortured by a neighbor over the course of several days. She had to have surgery to remove objects that he had inserted into her body. The Times of India reported that police initially refused to file a crime report and later attempted to buy the family’s silence by offering them about $37.
About a day after this girl was discovered, a 5-year-old in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the daughter of poor construction workers, was lured to a nearby farm by one man and then raped by another—a friend of her parents. To still her cries, the men smothered her, leaving her in a coma with a brain injury. She died on April 29.
And if you think these child rapes are just coincidental, consider this recent report [pdf], entitled India’s Hell Holes, which points out that of the 48,338 cases of child rape reported in the country between 2001 and 2011 (the tip of an iceberg, certainly), the great majority took place in juvenile justice homes—where children are supposed to be cared for and protected. The report, from the Asian Centre for Human Rights, doesn’t hesitate to characterize child sexual abuse in the country as having reached “epidemic” proportions.
Spurred by local protests and international uproar after the December gang rape, India quickly passed a series of measures increasing penalties for rape and outlawing sexual assault and stalking. But marital rape is still legal, and members of the army can’t be prosecuted for rape (because military members deserve impunity, right?)
At least Indian society has been roused in great numbers to protest the dehumanization and brutalization of women and children, and the government can’t help but begin to act. The international community has to insist on and support that action as well. “India hates women,” wrote Ms. Blogger Pubali Ray Chaudhuri boldly after the gang rape in December. But then she added, “Admitting we have a problem is the first step towards change, towards healing, towards hope.”
Photo of spontaneous march in Delhi against rape, joined by as many men as women, from Wikimedia Commons