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New Delhi gang-rape emboldened victims, says family on ’versary Case led to reform of rape, sexual assault laws

NEW DELHI, Dec 16, (AFP): The fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi shattered India’s silence over sexual violence and emboldened victims to speak out, family members and campaigners said Monday on the anniversary of the attack.

The victim’s father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said the assault on his 23-year-old daughter on a moving bus on Dec 16 last year “shook not just us but the entire country and the world”. “We will only say that this date should be celebrated... so that people keep getting inspired and keep joining this movement, coming together to ensure the safety of women,” the father told India’s NDTV network. Her mother said her daughter’s bravery before her death should continue to motivate Indian women to “fight against such crimes and to raise their voices against such crimes”.

The physiotherapy student suffered a savage sexual assault at the hands of six men, including with an iron rod, after she boarded a private bus while going home from the cinema with a male friend. She died from her injuries 13 days later. The brutality of the attack, and her determination to survive so she could report her attackers to police, sparked large-scale and sometimes violent protests as well as soulsearching about India’s treatment of women. The case led to reform of rape and sexual assault laws and shone an international spotlight on what Indian women’s groups called a “rape epidemic” in the country.

Four of her attackers were convicted and given the death penalty in September after the case was fast-tracked, while a juvenile was sentenced to a detention centre. While police expect annual figures to show a rise in the number of reported rapes, campaigners say the increase is in fact a welcome indicator of changing attitudes. “Last year’s movement seems to have empowered more people to speak out against sexual violence,” Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, told the Indian Express newspaper.

Divya Iyer, a researcher for Amnesty International, agreed that more women were coming forward to report attacks — but said it was a trend largely confined to towns and cities. “Women have been empowered to speak out since the case and there are more crimes being reported. But you have to look at who are these women, where is this happening?” Iyer told AFP. “It is mainly middle-class women. It is not across the board.... in rural areas in particular, access to justice is a problem. “Not only is there social stigma, but there is no guarantee that their complaint of rape will be taken seriously by police, let alone result in a conviction,” she added.

The comments came as pressure mounted on a retired Supreme Court judge accused of sexually harassing a law intern in a case that has shaken the legal community. The woman has claimed the judge harassed her in a hotel room in December last year — around the time huge protests were taking place over the Delhi gang-rape. Her affidavit to a three-judge panel set up to look into the allegations was detailed in the Indian Express on Monday. Asok Kumar Ganguly has denied the allegations but is coming under growing pressure to resign as head of a state human rights body.

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