Indeed, it is often the victim who is forced to live with the stigma and in some recent cases, the victims killed themselves due to unending humiliation at the hands of the police, the courts and even the rapists themselves. In a very few instances, victims have taken revenge themselves, having given up on the system completely.
The best known case is that of Phoolan Devi in the 1980s. From the poor, Dalit caste, she had married at 11 only to be abused by her husband and then rejected. She was then raped by several men. To seek revenge, she joined a criminal gang and later killed one of her attackers. Phoolan Devi was ultimately jailed for 11 years without ever having been convicted, a fate escaped by the upper caste men who raped her. Upon her release she was elected a member of parliament and her life story was made into a film. But in 2001, she was shot dead in a hail of bullets on the streets of Delhi, murdered by a family member of one of her rapists.
Before women are forced into similar retaliatory violence for self protection, it is essential that the Indian government fast tracks the much needed reforms and laws which will secure and enhance the status of women, legally as well as socially.
One of the main problems is India's caste system, which has been revived over and over again by various governments to create voting blocks. Men are usually the beneficiaries; in each caste, the lowest social rung continues to be occupied by women, even in urban India, no matter how educated or well placed she might be.
This has meant that anti-women practices, like gendercide -- in which an estimated 30 million girls have been killed so far, through sex-selective abortions and infanticide -- bride burning or domestic violence (often for lack of dowry) continue to be practiced. Honor killings are also on the rise in both rural and urban areas. A skewed gender ratio, currently there are just 940 women for every 1,000 men, has meant that Indian women, despite recent corrective measures, are an endangered minority. And they are often at the mercy of predatory men, both at home and on the streets.
Delhi, which is governed by a woman, shamefully has one of the worst gender ratios in the country and a very high rate of sexual offences. More than 80 percent of Delhi's women have faced some form of sexual harassment and are actively discouraged from going out alone at night, or even during the day.
This is a harsh reality often denied by the Indian state, which prefers to call attention to favorable examples of successful women's groups and individuals rather than to address the larger issue of a willful neglect of millions of women who are being left out of the development story. These women have little or no security or help from the state -- nor indeed from their immediate social surroundings, a situation which often reinforces their fragile existences.
While most rural women have remained unrepresented in the recent protests, their status is no less vulnerable. Furthermore, they face greater hurdles to organizing themselves; most of them remain semi-literate, are dependent on their families.
It is a paradox: On one hand, women are increasingly educated and encouraged to join the work force -- and female deities are worshipped in the Hindu religion. On the other hand, the atmosphere in which women live and work remains unreformed and prejudiced. Patriarchy is a cruel beast that continues to prowl the streets of big cities just as it haunts the dusty lanes of villages.
At present, however, the fear is that the current government is far too patriarchal and out-of-touch with women's problems to make the required changes speedily enough -- even though it has finally set up one fast-track court to hear the high profile gang rape case. It has also asked for suggestions from the public for changes in the rape law.
Despite this, women have continued to be raped in various parts of the country, including in one case by a Congress Party leader in the state of Assam. With general elections approaching in 2014, it might just be the prospect of losing the votes of middle-class urban women that will ensure that the government listens to them and their needs.
By Guylain Gustave Moke