Women's Rights

Article excerpt

NEW DELHI, India (Reuters) - When Preeti Joshi heard of the gang rape of a fellow student, she joined a movement of thousands of outraged young Indians who have taken to the streets of New Delhi almost every day protesting for justice and security for women.

Beaten and raped by five men and a teenager on a moving bus in the capital on December 16, the 23-year-old student died from her injuries on Saturday, her plight shaking the conscience of many urban middle class Indians who consider gender rights as important as poverty alleviation.

India's politicians, seen as out of touch with the aspirations of the urban middle class, have been caught off guard by the protests. For the first time, they head into national elections due by May, 2014, with women's rights as an issue.

Even so, the issue is unlikely to be the defining one.

Massive rural vote banks have been untouched by demands for gender equality and the fury across India's cities may fade, just as unprecedented protests in New Delhi over corruption did 16 months ago.

"Rural populations in this country are more concerned about basics such as development," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based gender rights think-tank.

This jars with what urban protesters like Joshi want.

"I thought we lived in the world's biggest democracy where our voices counted and meant something. Politicians need to see that we need more than bijli, sadak, paani (power, roads, water)," said Joshi, 21, a student of social sciences at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Sexual violence against women in largely patriarchal India is widespread, say gender rights activists, and crimes such as rape, dowry murders, acid attacks, honor killings, child marriages and human trafficking are common.

But the savagery of this crime - where the victim was raped for an hour and tortured with an iron rod which did serious damage to her internal organs - has stirred national debate and put gender issues on the political agenda.

The victim's name has not been released. Her alleged attackers have been detained in connection with the crime and police are likely to press murder charges this week. Prosecutors are expected to seek a death sentence for the adults. …