India saw a significant drop in the number of rape cases during the recent coronavirus lockdown, but women’s rights groups say it’s no cause for celebration.
Rape cases in New Delhi, regarded as the “rape capital of the world,” fell sharply in the first phase of the lockdown.
According to state police statistics, a total of 23 rape cases were reported between March 22 and April 12, down 83.4% from 139 during the same period in 2019.
The city alone reports over 2,000 cases a year.
Experts, however, say the drop is no reason to cheer, as this could mean that most women could not report such crimes as their perpetrators remained at home due to the lockdown.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Swati Maliwal, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women, pointed out that since most rape cases in India are committed by close family members, low numbers could mean that cases have actually increased.
“Just because there was less reporting does not mean that the mentality has changed overnight. As we are seeing now, as the curbs are easing, more and more cases are getting reported,” she said.
In a recently reported case of brutality, the rape and strangulation of a 13-year-old girl in her village in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state has sparked an outcry and rekindled anger against the deep-seated patriarchal system.
The teenager, a resident of Lakhimpur Kheri village in eastern Uttar Pradesh, had gone to some agricultural fields Friday but did not return home later that evening. Her body was found in the fields the next morning on India’s 74th Independence Day on Aug. 15.
In a publicly released statement, the local superintendent of police, Satyendra Kumar, confirmed that the girl was raped and murdered and two men had been arrested.
“We have filed charges for rape, murder and the POCSO Act [Protection of children from the offenses of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography] and also booked them under the National Security Act,” he added.
The rape and mutilation of the teenager drew strong reactions from activists and on social media.
The anger that has ensued has brought back the horrors of a 2012 bus rape case when a 23-year-old college student, who was given the pseudonym ‘Nirbhaya’ (fearless), was fatally gang-raped on a private bus in Delhi and people took to the streets to demand justice. Under Indian law, rape victims can’t be named.
Four accused from the Nirbhaya case were hanged at a prison in Delhi in March this year.
A UNICEF paper released in April said that COVID-19 would “heighten pre-existing risks of gender-based violence (GBV) against girls, stymie their social, economic and educational development and threaten their sexual reproductive health.