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Report Blasts India's Treatment Of Women


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

An attack on a young woman in India so stunned that nation that the government appointed a panel to broadly investigate the treatment of women. So intense was the interest in that panel that when it made recommendations, its press conference was carried on national TV. And so it was that Indians heard a brutal assessment of themselves. The report says India systemically discriminates against women and does little to respond to violence against them.

For more on this, NPR's Julie McCarthy joins us from New Delhi. Hi, Julie.


INSKEEP: So what is the significance of this report?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's a broad significance. It's also a huge report - it's 631 pages long. It's this treatise on the state of violence against women in India. And it looks at not just rape but trafficking and honor killings and suggests changes in the laws on marital rape, saying that consent can't be presumed and thereby it's expanding the definition of rape.

The commission did ignore popular demands for the death penalty for rapists, but recommended criminalizing other forms of harassment. It says acid attacks should be treated more harshly. Stalking should be an offense. It calls for punishing officials who tolerate bad implementation of the laws. It is a scathing, actually, indictment of hostility women face when they report a sex crime to police, who are often very hostile.

Basically it calls for the overhaul of, quote, a culture of masculinity, a cult of aggression.

INSKEEP: And it's interesting, you mentioned at the beginning, Julie, some changes in the law that are proposed. But you also said the police themselves are considered hostile, and other law enforcement authorities not very helpful, even in enforcing the laws that exist.

MCCARTHY: That's right. The panel really makes no bones about identifying a mentality and it calls it a patriarchal mentality in India, as a culprit in suppressing women, suppressing their claims, suppressing their attempts to report crimes. They examined and condemned the attitudes of the so-called khap panchayat. Now, these are groups of elders who set the social and moral tones in many ways of the various castes and communities.

And what strikes you in the findings as you read them, Steve, is the complexity of this country. You know, it's poised between this outward looking modernity and yet pulled back by these deeply conservative strains and male dominance. So these panchayats say no genes for girls, no cell phones, no love marriages. They blame the women for sex crimes, saying no upstanding woman would tolerate this.

INSKEEP: No love marriages, they said, meaning there should only be arranged marriages. That was their opinion. Now, the panelists who criticized all of this, who are they talking to?

MCCARTHY: Well, there's a broad range of people. You know, this case drew international attention, as you know. And they sought worldwide experts on this. Eighty thousand Indians responded to calls for recommendations that they put out. They wanted to hear from the public. And this panel pored over U.S. Supreme Court cases on the questions of the death penalty in cases of rape. They were interested in seeking lots of opinions on that, because this is about the mistreatment of women as a global problem in many ways.

This moment just telescopes India's mistreatment.

INSKEEP: Doesn't this report also take aim at officials who have a law enforcement record involving sex crimes?

MCCARTHY: Yes, and it's extremely controversial. And it raises the question of whether the political class is willing to act on this key recommendation, which is to disqualify from office elected officials charged with sexual offenses. The report says over 2,400 elected members are now facing charges, which they also say inhibits any laws to strengthen punishment for crimes against women.

INSKEEP: Julie McCarthy, as I'm sure you know very well, if we started stacking up the important reports of blue ribbon commissions in the United States, whose recommendations were never followed, we could probably reach the moon. Is there any likelihood that the recommendations of this panel will be followed in India?

MCCARTHY: Well, that's the $64 million question. The report now goes to parliament. It's under intense pressure to act and create these new offenses under the law, such as unsolicited sexual contact. What's far less clear, Steve, is how these sweeping changes in society's attitudes are going to actually evolve. We had a glimpse at how difficult this was.

Police say that in a two-week period, after this vicious rape of this young woman - whose alleged attackers appear again in court today - and created this huge national outpouring, after that, two weeks after that there were 40 more cases of rape registered in New Delhi. So it gives you a scale of the problem. And it gives you an indication of how long this struggle will be here in this country.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy is in New Delhi. Julie, thanks very much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Julie McCarthy
Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.