In contrast to the Philippines where the case of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre seems to be in limbo, India is fast-tracking its trial of the New Delhi gang rape. Like the massacre allegedly perpetrated by members of the powerful Ampatuan clan and their minions, the gang rape has drawn publicity and condemnation worldwide, especially since it exposed the long-entrenched patriarchal practice in India of viewing female members of society as second-class citizens. Females in the country known as the world’s largest democracy have traditionally been subjected to sexual abuse, with the perpetrators usually going scot-free.
Last Dec. 16, a 23-year-old woman boarded a New Delhi bus with her male friend after an evening out which included watching “The Life of Pi” at a mall. The woman’s fate was sealed the minute she stepped into the bus, which turned out to be like Manila’s “colorum” vehicles. Five slum-dwelling men had gone for a joy ride with their bus-owning friend and embarked on an atrocity that reverberated around the world. After viciously attacking the woman’s companion, the six took turns in raping their victim for close to two hours as the bus moved through the city streets. After using an iron bar to further torture her, they threw her naked off the bus with her friend, then tried to run over her.
The world knows the details of this horrific story which has elicited utter outrage. Women’s groups in India itself and in major cities abroad held protest actions, with many men joining. Recently the Indian government turned down an appeal by the perpetrators’ lawyers to have the case tried outside New Delhi, and the trial is now underway. (India’s president has since approved harsher punishments for rapists, including the death penalty. But women’s groups say the new rape law lacks teeth and was passed without proper consultation.—ED.)
Many have been transfixed by this brutal gang rape although the savaging and killing of women often occur in many other parts of the planet. Statistics on the numbers of women being raped per day in many countries make chilling reading. Not only women but also female children are subjected to sexual atrocities in places like the Congo and South Africa, as well as in developed countries like the United States and Austria. In the latter country, a man was arrested in 2011 for keeping his daughter captive for 24 years, continuously raping her and making her bear his offspring.
Hatred of women has a long history which, psychologists say, is not always about sexual perversities. They posit that power and vengeance are mainly involved in this type of violence. Indeed, not too long ago two Annas were murdered by men in Europe—Anna Lindh, the Swedish foreign minister, and Anna Politsovskaya, a Russian investigative journalist. They were not raped: One was stabbed in Stockholm and the other shot in Moscow.
In the Philippines, women and children have been rape victims over the years, with the perpetrators often powerful men—something that has highlighted the long-entrenched culture of impunity. Thankfully, not too long ago Filipino women’s groups were able to get rape classified in the statute books as a crime against humanity.
Somewhat reminiscent of the New Delhi atrocity is the gang rape that occurred in New York City in 1989. The victim, 28-year-old Trisha Meili, was bludgeoned after the gang rape and left for dead. Meili was jogging in Central Park one spring evening when she was attacked by a gang of juveniles. Taken to hospital a few hours later, she managed to survive after doctors worked feverishly to restore her.
It didn’t take long for the New York police to arrest four African-Americans and one Latino, some of whom confessed to the crime. It was the custom at the time for packs of young males from the ghettos to go to Central Park and engage in “wilding,” a term covering a range of crimes and misdemeanors. One of those gangs was believed to have been the woman’s attackers, and five suspects were tried and sentenced to long jail terms. A huge outcry rose from the general public about the rampant crime in the city, as well as from the suspects’ families who claimed that the boys were innocent and accused the authorities of racial discrimination. The police were charged with the knee-jerk reaction of targeting blacks whenever white victims were involved.
It was not until 2002 when a Latino serving a life sentence for various crimes confessed to being the Central Park attacker. DNA tests confirmed his confession. The five jailed young men had their convictions overturned, but the city refused to settle the case, believing that the crime could not have been committed by a lone man and that his accomplices were those originally charged and convicted.
Thanks to the best medical care in the world, Meili, who had worked as an investment banker, recovered enough to pick up the pieces of her life. Today her life has involved, among other things, writing a memoir and giving motivational talks. Mercifully she has no memory of the horrific attack and only suffers some problems involving her sight and balance. But unlike her, the still unnamed Indian woman died despite expert health care in Singapore to where she was taken.
As more countries try to limit their patriarchies’ power, misogynistic mindsets that condone the constant savagery inflicted by males on females may gradually end. But we know it will be a slow and tedious process.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, one can only hope that the festering Maguindanao massacre case will finally see the perpetrators get their just deserts.
Isabel Escoda is a freelance journalist based in Hong Kong.