India's rape victims break their silence

A participant lights a candle next to a sign during a vigil for the Indian rape victim Photo: Reuters

“Everyone was on his side, there was no-one on mine.” So began the testimony of one rape victim I spoke to in Delhi this week. No rape is ever not dreadful, but Pria’s story started bad, and got worse.

Her attacker was her doctor, she told me. When he first assaulted her, he recorded video of her semi-naked body on his phone, and then used it to force her into sex regularly, over a period of three years.

If she didn’t comply, he told her, he would put the video on the internet, so that all of her friends and family could see it. She was from a very conservative background, she explained, so her fear of shame compelled her to do the rapist’s bidding.

Eventually, Pria could stand it no longer, so she went to the police, only to find that the doctor had got there first. “He had bribed the police”, she said. “The police were his friends”. Detectives have still not acted on her complaint. Her attacker has never been arrested

Candle lit vigil is held in India for the 23-year-old student who died after she was attacked in Delhi Credit: Ahmad Masood / Reuters

It is the hideous detail of another rape, carried out by a gang of men behind the closed curtains of an unlicensed bus, that has appalled this country. The 23 year old victim died of her wounds.

Her male companion that night was beaten, but survived to tell another tale of police ineptitude when dealing with the victims of sexual violence. When the police found them by the side of the road, where they’d been dumped by the gang, it took them two hours to get the woman to hospital.

India’s government is now trying frantically to improve the way the police deal with victims of sex crimes. There are to be female police officers on duty in every station, and their male colleagues are to receive training in ‘gender sensitisation’.

The problem, one campaigner told me, is that too often when presented with a victim of sexual harassment the police want to find out what the woman has done to provoke it, rather than who the perpetrator is.

Anti-rape protesters at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, India Credit: IANS/ABACAUSA.COM

That the gang rape has exposed deep fissures in Indian society is borne out by the fierce protests that have swept across the country, and are only now beginning to quieten down. Outraged at the attack, huge numbers of young people are demanding changes not just to the police, but to the way the country is governed.

I spoke to a woman who works as a marketing director at the Delhi office of a multi-national company, who explained to me that sexual harassment is so prevalent in India because her country is still developing.

From an ‘old’ India - rural, poor and badly educated - a place where women are treated like second-class citizens, to the ‘new’ India - much better educated, and economically dynamic - where women are treated as equals.

I carried this insight around with me most of this week, until the first court hearing where charges were brought against five members of the gang who raped the woman on the bus. I repeated it to the Indian journalist who was sitting next to me, and she raised an eyebrow as she reminded me of an obvious truth, rape happens in rich countries as well as poor.

In the middle of one protest I went to, amongst the ripped denim and angry chanting of Delhi’s twenty-somethings, there was a group of older women, quietly holding candles which lit up the gold in their immaculately-folded saris.

“We have been fighting for better rights all our lives”, they told me. “Our daughters will have to carry that on that fight”. India might be becoming a more modern society, even a more equal one, but it will still have to guard against that dreadful crime.