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Women activists of the Left Front stage a demonstration against incidents of rape in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, and Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir, in Kolkata April 17. In Delhi, a mentally challenged 12-year-old girl was raped by a neighbor, while his friends filmed the incident. (Kuntal Chakrabarty/IANS photo)

An 8-year-old Muslim girl locked in a Hindu shrine, drugged, gang-raped for several days and bludgeoned to death with a stone. This case must provoke nationwide outrage and shame on humanity not seen since the 2012 Nirbhaya case, when a 23-year-old physiotherapist was gang-raped and killed on a bus in New Delhi. That crime prompted calls for tougher laws to address the nearly 39,000 sexual assaults that occur in this country every year. But more than five years later, the number of rapes reported to police is rising.

According to some news estimates just in Delhi, violence against women is still on the rise with a rape reported every four hours and a 300% increase in reports since the 2012 Nirbhaya horror. The 2012 Delhi rape shocked the world and brought into focus crimes against women. In 2012 police had registered 706 FIR (complaints) of rapes but it has increased. In 2013 that number rose to 1,636 rapes, and again three-folds higher in 2014, 2015 and 2016 with police registering 2,166, 2,199 and 2,155 FIRs respectively.

There has to be a come-to-Jesus-moment, a national soul-searching that has anything changed since 2012? India introduced measures to speed up prosecutions of rape cases and expanded the definition of sex crimes to include stalking and voyeurism. There was a 12% rise in rape related cases in 2016, in part because women felt more emboldened to report crimes. But the national statistics remain shocking. In 40% of the rape cases, the victims were under 18.

The government said recently that it was considering tougher penalties for rape cases, including the death penalty in crimes in which the victim is younger than 12. Is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party to blame? Modi, who took office in 2014 and is seeking reelection next year, is a savvy communicator who skillfully uses social media. Modi condemned the rapes only after they had generated international headlines. When he did so, his words were vague and tinged with the patriarchal attitude that infects most Indian thinking about women: “Our daughters will get justice.” The question is, who will make sure justice is served.

Modi is calling for a mass movement to protect the girl child in India with his flagship campaign, "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao." India still has a long way to go on race and caste issues, women's gender equality, female infanticide, empowerment, dowry, respect, sexual harassment and domestic violence, rape and more.

Sunil Tolani

Yorba Linda, Calif.

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