Lengthy cases takes a toll on victims financially and mentally, Shekhar says. Also, the longer the case runs, the more chances of acquittal for the culprit and for the defendant to manipulate the witnesses and intimidate the victim.
Flavia Agnes, a women’s rights activist and founder of Majlis, a legal organization working on women’s issues, says rape victims face an uphill battle to prove their rapists’ guilt.
“All stakeholders – police, medical officers who examine the victim, public prosecutors who are meant to defend her, defense lawyers and the presiding judge who is supposed to be the neutral arbiter – constantly look for evidence of falsity on the part of the victim,” she says.
Agnes says that the country lacks the mechanism to protect victims and other witnesses against the pressure and influence of a powerful rapist from the time the complaint is filed until the time of deposition in a trial court, which may take about a year or two at best.
“There are many constraints that work against a girl from deposing in the court, which calls for a strong witness protection program in order to ensure convictions,” she says.
Protester Manju Mohan, founder of Mahila Dakshata Samiti, a New Delhi-based organization focused on women’s issues and education, has worked on women-related issues for the last 40 years and agrees the judicial system is flawed.
“There is an issue with the entire system, from corrupt politicians to careless police force,” she says. “We need to fix a lot.”
But Mohan says she sees a change in how rape victims are responding to their circumstances.
“Rapes were always happening, just that women didn’t have courage to report them,” she says. “Today, women are coming forward to report abuse.”
Shekhar says that after the gang rape of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student, young people are not only discussing rape, but also issues such as domestic violence, patriarchy and gender.
“We have huge numbers of rapes happening in the country, but those are just reported rapes,” Shekhar says. “The actual number has to be much larger, as many women don't have the courage to come forward and take the legal course. The present upsurge has definitely changed that. The generation has emotionally connected with the victim, and the women's safety has become an issue of absolute importance.”
Women’s rights advocate Naina Kapur, co-founder and director of Sakshi, a nongovernmental organization focused on education, health and community development, says that it’s time that Indian citizens make the most of the momentum sparked by young people.
“We have never seen students speak such a language and protest so vehemently,” Kapur says. “Young girls are openly talking about sex abuse and harassment. But this generation needs direction.”
She says that the country doesn’t need more laws.
“What is needed is a social change,” she says, “and better implementation of the existing laws.”
Nitesh says that the gang rape makes citizens rethink their responsibility in the society, especially toward women.
“They will no longer be mute spectators but will be swift enough to act,” he says. “Also, people are no longer ready to blame the victim for the act.”
Neha Bhasin, a 23-year-old graphic designer and protester in New Delhi, says the culture of blaming victims of sexual harassment is also shifting.
A few months ago, Bhasin says a few boys made lewd remarks to her on a public bus.
“The fellow passengers accused me of provoking the boys with the way I was dressed up,” she says. “I was wearing a sleeveless top with jeans.”
But Bhasin says that she feels more confident today because of the increased publicity and dialogue surrounding the issue.
“Trust me,” she says. “If I raise my voice today, I am sure that at least 10 people are going to stand with me.”
Neeraj Kumar, the commissioner of the Delhi Police, announced in a press conference on Jan. 18 several measures to ensure the safety of women. The Delhi Police plans to recruit more than 2,500 female officers. It also identified 1,600 dark stretches across the city for the local government to make safer.
Rajan Bhagat, public relations officer for the Delhi Police, says that the Delhi government is also posting guards in all 89 government buses as well as many private buses at night. Previously, many of the buses ran at night without guards.
“Every police station has been instructed to run a women's help desk 24/7 and put at least two women officers at the desk at night,” he says. “We have put this entire information on our website for even general public to access.”
Prosecutors say they will finish presenting their case within the month. Meanwhile, Kaur continues her hunger strike.