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On tenth anniversary of gang rape that shocked world, India still faces daily ‘barbaric’ sex crimes

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Ten years ago today, Jyoti Singh was on the way home from the cinema when she was dragged to the back of a bus in New Delhi and gang-raped by six men in a case that sent shockwaves through India.

Jyoti, bruised and bloodied, was dumped on the side of a street after an hour of horrific abuse, with the men at one point raping her with an iron pole. 

The 23-year-old medical student, who dreamed of helping the most vulnerable in India access healthcare, was rushed to hospital where medics were horrified to see the extent of her ‘horrific’ injuries and tried in vain to save her. 

Dr Mahesh Misra, one of the doctors who treated Jyoti, said in his 52 years as a medic, he had never witnessed such ‘gruesome and unbelievable injuries’. 

Ten years ago, Jyoti Singh (pictured) was on the way home from the cinema when she was dragged to the back of a bus in New Delhi and gang-raped by six men in a case that sent shockwaves through India

Jyoti's case horrified India and sparked nationwide protests (pictured on 23 December 2012 in New Delhi) - but despite this initial outrage and anger, ten years on, hundreds of women in India are still being raped and murdered every day

Jyoti’s case horrified India and sparked nationwide protests (pictured on 23 December 2012 in New Delhi) – but despite this initial outrage and anger, ten years on, hundreds of women in India are still being raped and murdered every day

Dr Mahesh Misra, one of the doctors who treated Jyoti, said in his 52 years as a medic, he had never witnessed such 'gruesome and unbelievable injuries'

Dr Mahesh Misra, one of the doctors who treated Jyoti, said in his 52 years as a medic, he had never witnessed such ‘gruesome and unbelievable injuries’

He told MailOnline: ‘The injuries that she sustained, I had never seen in my life before, nor have I seen since. Ten years on, I still vividly remember her face.

‘I have never witnessed such horrific brutality by men before. It’s difficult to describe in words how atrocious this was.’  

Days after she was gang-raped and beaten, Jyoti died while surrounded by her parents and two brothers. 

Jyoti’s case horrified India and sparked nationwide protests – but despite this initial outrage and anger, ten years on, hundreds of women in India are still being raped and murdered every day. 

‘We feel cheated ten years on because nothing has changed. We are asking the same questions a decade on,’ Yogita Bhayana, who attended those nationwide protests after Jyoti’s gang-rape and murder, told MailOnline.

‘Women and girls are still being brutalised. We are immune to it as a society.’

Last year, 31,677 women were raped in India – but that figure does not provide the full picture as many victims do not report to the police. 

Yogita and other charity workers believe just 10 per cent of rape cases are reported to police, meaning the real figure could be as high as around 285,000.

Yogita was so horrified by Jyoti’s gang-rape and murder that she set up a charity of her own, People Against Rape in India, to provide support and justice for rape survivors as well as to educate men and boys about violence against women. 

‘There are so many cases that I deal with. I have dealt with the same kind of brutal and toxic cases as we saw with Jyoti, including sexual violence against children,’ she said.

The youngest rape victim that Yogita has worked with is a six-month-old baby girl and the oldest is a 78-year-old woman.

She recalls holding the baby in her arms at the local hospital after she had been raped by a man who had entered her home. Her 12-year-old sister, who is disabled, was raped by the same man.

‘I think of that case every day,’ Yogita said. ‘It’s stuck with me. There are so many brutal cases. It’s so hard to see the children in hospital.’ 

Yogita was so horrified by Jyoti's gang-rape and murder that she set up a charity of her own, People Against Rape in India, to provide support and justice for rape survivors as well as to educate men and boys about violence against women. Pictured: Yogita (left) with Jyoti's mother, Asha Devi

Yogita was so horrified by Jyoti’s gang-rape and murder that she set up a charity of her own, People Against Rape in India, to provide support and justice for rape survivors as well as to educate men and boys about violence against women. Pictured: Yogita (left) with Jyoti’s mother, Asha Devi

Demonstration calling for better safety for women following the gang rape of Jyoti Singh in New Delhi, India, on 22 December 2012

Demonstration calling for better safety for women following the gang rape of Jyoti Singh in New Delhi, India, on 22 December 2012 

In another horrific case, six men were arrested in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh for allegedly raping and killing two teenage girls aged 15 and 17 in September. Their bodies were found hanging from a tree in a sugarcane field near their house.

In the ten years since Jyoti was gang-raped and murdered, lawmakers have created fast-track courts dedicated to rape cases and stiffened penalties for those convicted of the crime.

Nevertheless, such crimes persist and women in India face the same challenges as they did ten years ago as there is still poor enforcement of these laws and policies. 

Jayshree Bajoria, a senior researcher for South Asia at Human Rights Watch, said: ‘In India, there is a justice system that often fails those who come forward to report crimes, patriarchal mindsets that blame the victim and public spaces where girls and women feel unsafe.’ 

It is for these reasons that many women in India never report being raped to police.

‘Rape happens in the four walls of a home. The women and girls are usually pressured by their family to not talk about it,’ Yogita said. 

‘The girls don’t report to police because they know they are unlikely to be believed.’ 

For those who do report being raped to police, it is incredibly hard to gain justice in India. 

‘If you do go to the police, you have to go to the courts and that’s horrific for victims because you’re often treated like an animal,’ said Yogita.

For Jyoti’s family, it took them nearly eight years to get justice. 

Jyoti had been to watch the film ‘Life of Pi’ at the cinema with her male friend when they boarded a bus to take them home to the outskirts of New Delhi on December 16, 2012. 

Within minutes of boarding, Jyoti was dragged to the back of the bus and gang-raped by the five male passengers while a male driver drove around the city. Her male friend was also beaten within inches of his life. 

The five male passengers, including the driver, took it in turns to rape Jyoti – and at one point they raped her with an iron rod. 

For Jyoti's family, it took them nearly eight years to get justice. Pictured: Jyoti's mother Asha Devi in 2017

For Jyoti’s family, it took them nearly eight years to get justice. Pictured: Jyoti’s mother Asha Devi in 2017 

After an hour of horrific abuse, the men dumped Jyoti and her male friend on the side of the road. They were rushed to Safdarjung Hospital in a police van where medics were horrified by Jyoti’s injuries. 

‘In 52 years in the medical profession, and 48 years in the surgical field, I have never seen such gruesome and unbelievable injuries,’ Dr Mahesh Mistra, one of the eight doctors who treated Jyoti at the hospital, told MailOnline. 

‘I have never witnessed such horrific brutality by men before. It’s difficult to describe in words how atrocious this was.’ 

He added: ‘Ten years on, I still remember that day clearly when I saw her. I vividly remember her face and her injuries. I will always remember her.’

The abusers had raped Jyoti with a metal rod, which had punctured and damaged her intestines. ‘There was barely anything left of her intestine,’ Dr Misra said, adding that the surgical team removed the rest of her intestines.

Despite being in horrific pain, Jyoti – who became known as ‘Nirbhaya’ – of fearless one -, was able to help lead investigators to the white bus and to the bus driver, Ram Singh. He eventually led police to the other five men who had attacked Jyoti.

Dr Misra recalled being ‘inspired’ by Jyoti’s courage and her defiance to live long enough to help the police find her rapists.

He said: ‘Despite how horrific her injuries were, for the two days post-operation, she was smiling and could communicate. This is something that I found astonishing. 

‘We admired her. It was inspiring to see someone who had gone through such horrific abuse to somehow be in such a positive frame of mind. 

‘She had the willpower to live for those few days whilst she helped police find the culprits. She wanted them to get justice.’

As news of the horrific attack on Jyoti spread, tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on the streets to protest against the government’s failure to provide security for women. Yogita was one of those protesters.  

‘I joined the protest when I heard that she had been gang-raped. I remember each and every thing about that day,’ Yogita said. ‘That memory will never wash from my mind.’

She recalls how men and boys had shown up at the protest, and they were ‘ashamed’.

‘I remember a group of men came to the protest in masks,’ Yogita said. ‘When I asked them why, they said they were ashamed of being men.’

But as the protests were continuing in India, Jyoti’s health was deteriorating. Her intestines were so badly damaged in the attack that medics had to remove them.

Yogita (pictured centre) was so horrified by Jyoti's gang-rape and murder that she set up a charity of her own, People Against Rape in India, to provide support and justice for rape survivors as well as to educate men and boys about violence against women

Yogita (pictured centre) was so horrified by Jyoti’s gang-rape and murder that she set up a charity of her own, People Against Rape in India, to provide support and justice for rape survivors as well as to educate men and boys about violence against women 

Jyoti was transferred to a hospital in Singapore. Her grief-stricken parents and two brothers travelled with her to the country, where they struggled to understand what the medics were saying due to the language barrier. 

On December 29, 2012, Jyoti died surrounded by her family after contracting sepsis.

Her family spent years fighting for justice, and on March 2020 four of the convicted rapists were executed by hanging. The fifth rapist had died in police custody whilst the sixth was a juvenile at the time and was sentenced to three years in a reform facility.

Yogita still remembers being told that Jyoti had died. 

‘I broke down, we all did. I could not eat for a couple of days afterwards,’ Yogita says. ‘And still, ten years on, there is the same barbarism against women today.’ 

The solution to India’s epidemic of sexual violence is not simple, Jayshree admits, but there are practical ways for this to be addressed. 

‘Authorities in India need to better enforce current laws that address violence against women, invest in making public spaces safer and more inclusive, as well as change patriarchal mindsets through education and meaningful sensitization training,’ Jayshree explains.

She adds: ‘There also needs to be accountability for crimes against women even when the perpetrators are powerful or well-connected. Girls and women should be able to live freely without fear.’

Case studies: Violence against women and girls in India 

Instances of brutal rape and violence against the women who report it have given India the dismal reputation of being one of the worst places in the world to be female. Here are some cases:

Nov. 1973: Aruna Shanbaug, a 26-year-old nurse, is attacked by a ward attendant at a Mumbai hospital during her night shift. Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, who was later convicted and jailed, sodomized and strangled her with a dog chain – cutting off the oxygen supply to her brain and leaving her in a coma.

Left in a vegetative state for more than 40 years, Shanbaug died in 2015.

1990: Hetal Parekh, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, is raped and murdered by Dhananjoy Chatterjee in Kolkata. Chatterjee is sentenced to death and hung in 2004, the first hanging in India in 13 years.

1995: A Jaipur court acquits five men accused of gang-raping Bhanwari Devi, a lower-caste woman who worked with the Women’s Development Project in Rajasthan, in 1992.

Later, a petition is filed in the Supreme Court, which leads to the Vishaka Guidelines being put into place, to protect women against sexual harassment at the workplace.

1996: Law student Priyadarshini Mattoo is found raped and strangled in her Delhi flat. Santosh Kumar Singh, a fellow law student and son of a former senior police officer, is sentenced to death, after being initially acquitted due to a lack of evidence and then retried following a public outcry.

Dec. 2012: A 23-year-old student is beaten and gang-raped on a moving bus in the capital New Delhi and later dies of her injuries. Five men and a juvenile are arrested – four of the men have been sentenced to death and one hanged himself during the trial. The juvenile was freed after completing three years in a reform home.

The crime sparked large-scale protests and led thousands of women across India to break their silence over sexual violence that often goes unreported. Authorities stiffened penalties against sex crimes, introduced fast-track trials in rape cases and made stalking a crime.

Jan. 2018: An 8-year-old Muslim girl is drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in Kathua town in northern India.

Six men, including a Hindu priest and three police officers, were convicted of the crime. Three were given life sentences.

Jul. 2018: Eighteen men are charged in Chennai with repeatedly raping a 12-year-old girl over a seven-month period, sedating her with drugs and then taking her to vacant apartments in the block to assault her.

Oct. 2018: Catholic bishop Franco Mulakkal is arrested in Kerala after a nun accuses him of raping her repeatedly over two years. He has denied the charges.

July 2019: A young woman who accused Uttar Pradesh state lawmaker Kuldeep Singh Sengar of raping her in 2017 and her lawyer are critically injured in a highway collision, when a truck hit the car in which they were traveling. The woman’s two aunts, who were also in the car, were killed.

Sengar denies the rape and any involvement in the car crash.

Nov. 28, 2019: The charred remains of the veterinarian are found under a flyover near Hyderabad. Four men are arrested on suspicion of gang-rape and murder.

Dec 5, 2019: A 23-year-old rape victim is set ablaze by a gang of men, including the alleged rapist, as she made her way to court to attend a hearing in the case, in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh, police said.

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