Heinous Bus Gang-Rape Outrages India

The alleged attack, which left a 23-year-old woman battling for her life, has lawmakers calling for tougher punishments for sexual violence.

Sajjad Hussain/AFP, via Getty

A heinous case of gang-rape on a bus in Delhi—which left the alleged victim battling for life—has outraged India, stalled the country’s Parliament, affected the courts, and resulted in widespread calls for punishing rapists with the death penalty. The anger runs so deep that one of the accused, who allegedly confessed to the crime, reportedly said he should be hanged.

According to media reports and the local police, on the night of Dec. 18, bus driver Ram Singh and five friends took Singh’s vehicle out for a joy-ride across the elite South Delhi district. With tinted window panes and curtains, the bus was used to ferry schoolchildren and office-goers. Presuming it to be a private passenger bus, the 23-year-old woman reportedly boarded the bus with a male friend at 9:15 p.m.

Three of the six men then allegedly confronted the couple, asking them what they were doing out together at night. When the couple rebuffed the questions, the men reportedly started beating the male passenger. When the woman tried to intervene, she was allegedly taken at the back of the bus, brutally gang-raped, sodomized and assaulted with an iron rod, even as Singh reportedly kept driving the bus. The two were apparently thrown out of the bus 40 minutes later.

Doctors at the Safdarjung hospital, where the alleged victim was taken for treatment and where she remains on a ventilator, said the incident was “more than rape.” The girl’s intestines apparently had to be removed and doctors are waiting to make sure gangrene doesn’t spread. When she briefly gained consciousness, she wrote to her mother that she wanted to live.

According to the latest reports, four suspects have been charged with rape and attempted murder, while two other men are being sought by law enforcement.

The incident in the nation’s capital took place while Parliament was in session. Expressing outrage, the lawmakers called for stringent punishment. Bollywood actor-turned-lawmaker Jaya Bachchan broken down while saying women didn’t feel safe in the country; leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj said such heinous acts needed capital punishment. Quiz-master-turned-politician Derek O’Brien said, “It is not a woman's issue. It is a male issue. Men have stopped behaving like human beings and started behaving like animals ... worse than animals.”

Taking suo moto notice of the case, the Delhi High Court has asked the Delhi police commissioner to explain how the bus evaded surveillance for 40 minutes, and the Delhi government has issued orders prohibiting buses from using tinted window panes and curtains. It was CCTV footage of the bus that eventually helped the police nab the accused.

Protests took place in various parts of Delhi on Wednesday, as well as in other Indian cities. Many of these protesters echoed the demands on social media for capital punishment and castration as punishment for rape. However, these demands disturb Kamla Bhasin, a well-known activist who runs the South Asian network Sangat. “Knee-jerk reactions are not what we need,” she said, “Instead we need to ask why young men are so dehumanized as to commit crimes like these. It is because the media produces and idealizes images of sexualized violence, turns women into objects of sex and men into masculinized, dominating beings. It begins in society when a girl child is given a sexualized Barbie doll and a male child is given a toy gun.”

She rejected that the idea it was lackadaisical policing that is responsible for such crimes. “How many buses will the police walk into and how many homes will it check to see if fathers are raping their daughters as does happen in this country?” she asked.

Echoing her views, Manak Matiyani, a young activist who runs the “Must Bol” campaign that works on gender-based violence with “boys and men,” said that India needed a countrywide gender and sexuality education drive that sensitizes people from an early age. “You can see the problem in comments by protesters who say ‘It could have been your sister or mother.’ But what if it wasn’t your sister or mother? This is the same mindset that thinks it is OK to rape a sex worker. That is what needs to change,” he said.