As Sexual Violence Intensifies, India Considers Strengthening Its Penalties For Rape

Protester at Dec. 18 rally in New Dehli

A new law strengthening the penalty for rape passed the lower house of India’s Parliament recently, a bright point in India’s still troubled relationship with sexual assault and violence.

Should the legislation pass India’s upper house, it would provide an increase of the minimum prison sentence for gang-rape to twenty years, that can be extended to life in jail. It also adds the opportunity for prosecutors to seek the death penalty in cases of rape that result in death or leave the victim in a coma. Most promising of all, the revised law would make other sex-based crimes such voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women punishable under criminal law. “This is just a first step in a journey of 1,000 miles,” MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, a woman MP a regional party, said before the vote.

The revised law originally was developed in response to the brutal gang rape of a young Indian woman — identified as Jyoti Signh Pandi — in December, which sparked mass protests throughout the country. Pandi later died from the massive injuries obtained, leading to her alleged assailants being charged with murder, rape, and kidnapping.

Recent actions taken to strengthen the punishment of these crimes does not lessen the long way that India still has to go when it comes to combating sexual violence. According to a recent report from a United Nations panel, in India “every 60 minutes two women are raped, and every six hours a young married woman is found beaten to death, burnt or driven to suicide.” The stigma that surrounds these crimes, however, leads to a severe underreporting of rape, particularly in the case of women in lower castes.

Tourists are also becoming more frequent targets of attacks, as evidenced in the case of a British woman on the same day the new rape law moved forward in Parliament. The woman was forced to leap through an open window in her hotel room to escape the advances of the hotel owner, fracturing both of her legs:

Police arrested the hotel owner in connection with the incident in Agra, the site of the Taj Mahal, one of India’s most cherished tourist attractions, [police officer Sushaunt] Gaur said. No charges have been filed.

The woman told the police that the hotel owner kept knocking on her door persistently and even tried to unlock the door after she refused his offer of a free massage.

A Swiss tourist was the vicitim of gang-rape just weeks ago in the Indian state Madhya Pradur while cycling with her husband. In that instance, the state’s Home Minister suggested that the tourist herself was at fault for not alerting the police of her travel plans. Another incident of gang rape was reported in the same state on Tuesday, in which two minors were assaulted at gunpoint in their family’s home.