The gang rape of a Swiss tourist in central India has put the issue of sexual assault in India into the spotlight again, and the reaction of Indian officials won't help things.
The 39-year-old tourist was attacked on Friday night, midway through a three-month-long cycling vacation with her husband, who was also beaten and tied to a tree in the attack. She was released from hospital on Saturday.
Police reaction to the crime appears to have been relatively speedy: By Saturday 20 people had been detained in the Madhya Pradesh state, and six people arrested for the crime are due to appear in court Monday.
Comments from Indian officials, however, suggest that authorities believe the victims of the crime are to blame, which is sure to provoke controversy in a country where many feel rape accusations are not taken seriously.
“No one stops there,” Inspector Avnesh Kumar Budholiya, a spokesperson for Madhya Pradesh police said of the remote area where the couple were attacked. “Why did they choose that place? They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They would have passed a police station on the way to the area they camped. They should have stopped and asked about places to sleep.”
The state government's home minister echoed these comments in a televised interview.
"What happened is unfortunate for our nation. When foreign tourists come, they should inform the SP (Superintendent of Police) about their plans," Uma Shankar Gupta told NDTV. "This is the system but it is not being followed."
These comments seem to echo some of the worst reactions to the deadly rape of a 23-year-old medial student in Delhi last year — a crime that resulted in nationwide anti-rape protests.
In that case one lawyer argued that "respected" ladies weren't raped, while a well-known spiritual guru claimed that the "the victim is as guilty as her rapists." The police response was also criticized after the victim's friend told reporters that when the police arrived at the bloody scene, they did not give the victim clothes or even call an ambulance.
Neerja Ahlawat, sociologist and deputy director of the women’s studies centre at Maharshi Dayanand University in Haryana, says that police blaming the victims was a "typical' response in India.
"The police don’t want to take responsibility," Ahlawat told the Independent. "Indian women are not safe — in small towns, villages or the big cities, partly because the police are not assuming responsibility for keeping women safe. They blame the dark, the clothes a woman wears, everything but their shirking of their duties.”
According to the the National Crime Records Bureau of India, 24,206 cases of rape were reported in India in 2011, with a low conviction rate of 26.4 percent.
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