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Delhi rape protests have potential to bring social change


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The death of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey, who died after being gang raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi, India, has sparked protests around the country by thousands demanding better protection for women against the sexual violence.

Jyoti's case is not by any means a rarity. Cases of rape in India rose by 9.2% in 2011 over the previous year and in 94% of cases, victims knew the offenders.

According to Geeta Pandey, reporter for BBC News Delhi, "every 21 minutes a rape is carried out in India, according to government figures, and campaigners say many more go unreported."

Yet why has Jyoti’s death been so notable and has created such an international outrage?

The protestors, lining the streets of Delhi in their thousands, are not of any political connection, but are ordinary citizens who are protesting not only justice for the victim and her family, but are also attempting to challenge social attitudes to women. Her death ensures that Indians confront the reality of sexual violence within their society. Although sexual violence is in no way a problem that is only endemic to India, it is protestors there that have collaborated together to encourage their rulers to make faster and more effective decisions over rapists and to reform an arguably broken criminal justice system.

Western writers in some quarters have seemingly leant towards the belief that this is a problem specific to India, viewing it is a scandal that is afflicted by an Eastern, backward nation. However, despite writers demonising the East, women in the West in both the UK and USA suffer from sexual innuendos and harassment on streets and in workplaces. Rape and brutality against women have been around for a long time. Britain has shocking scandals in a country that promotes itself as democratic, and supposedly prides itself on gender equality. Britain has been responsible for cover-up cases of child abuse scandals ranging from Jimmy Savile to the abuse scandals in Rotherham and Rochdale.

These protests embody the hopes and aims of ordinary Indians in changing the endemic sexual violence that deeply penetrates not just India, but also the rest of the world. Hopefully their voices will bring a change in social attitudes, not just in legislation. 

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