By AMY REDING
It has taken one young Indian woman’s brutal gang-rape aboard a bus in New Delhi to spur the masses to demand action and reform in India, regarding gender equality and sexual assault.
Respecting her anonymity, the public dubbed the victim “Damini”, which means “lightning” in Hindi.
On December 29, Damini died, after suffering severe organ failure following injuries to her body and brain inflicted by six men and an iron bar, setting into motion worldwide outrage.
Almost three months have passed, and the ultimate question remains: has anything come out of the passionate protesting that quickly followed Damini’s death?
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh immediately offered condolences in a statement on December 29, and pledged to ensure that her death would not be in vain.
“We have already seen the emotions and energies this incident has generated,” said Singh. “It would be a true homage to her memory if we are able to channelize these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action.”
Has the ‘constructive course of action’ begun?
The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, issued a statement saying, “Violence against women must never be accepted, never excused, never tolerated.”
The American embassy released a statement recommitting themselves to changing attitudes and ending gender- based violence.
Activists in Paris marched to the Indian embassy and handed over a petition demanding action and safety for women in India.
Most inspiring, possibly, is the opinion of author and activist Eve Ensler, who organized “One Billion Rising,” a global campaign to protest violence against women.
Ensler was quoted on “Democracy Now” saying, “India is really leading the way for the world.”
She has spent the last 15 years working against sexual violence, and travelled to India immediately after the well-publicized rape.
“I have never seen anything like that, where sexual violence broke through the consciousness and was on the front page, nine articles in every paper every day, in the center of every discourse, in the center of the college students’ discussions, in the center of any restaurant you went in,” said Ensler.
India is reacting to and addressing the issues that have manifested so publicly through a variety of means.
The Karnataka state government launched a 24/7 helpline operated by state police responding to sexual abuse claims from women, and is looking to fast track court cases regarding crime against women. The Tamil Nadu government announced a 13- point action plan to improve safety for women, and Jammu and Kashmir government also plan to change state laws regarding sexual offenses and gender crimes.
“They are actually fast-tracking laws. They are looking at sexual education. They are looking at the bases of patriarchy and masculinity and how all that leads to sexual violence,” said Ensler.
A judicial committee, headed by J.S. Verma, former chief justice of India, submitted a report to suggest amendments to criminal law regarding sexual assault.
The report indicated that the root cause behind crimes against women is failures on the part of the government and the police.
Action is being taken, yet the daunting question remains: will a change in the court systems result in a change in the culture?