Tragedy of Delhi rape victim seeking better life

The narrow wet and muddy lane where the victims' family live in Delhi The victim's neighbourhood is one that Delhi's elite would never visit

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Neat stacks of medical text books, a sharply-designed carrier bag from a clothes store, an English novel and pairs of smart shoes in the draughty bedroom of the 23-year-old Delhi gang rape victim, tell the story of a woman determined to make the leap to a middle class lifestyle for her and her family.

After visiting the spartan house in a rundown Delhi neighbourhood where she lived with her parents and brothers, you could see how much they had put into helping her realise the dream, shared by so many hundreds of millions of Indians.

Many of the young and middle class Indians - men as well as women - who've joined protests in recent weeks said it was that sense of shared identity, as well as the shocking nature of the attack, that had propelled them onto the streets.

Yet the victim - who legally still can't be named in India - seems to have been much closer to the accused, in her background and means, than to the many wealthier Indians who've been confronting police lines for the first time.

That was the impression I took away after her family invited us in - having also seen the homes of most of the six arrested for this gruesome crime.

The woman's home in a narrow alley doesn't have a proper roof, so the place was damp and water-logged after recent rain storms.

Next-door neighbours were looking down at us through the gap from their tiny dwellings just feet away, as we climbed the stairs to her bedroom - a curtain serving as a door because the lower half was missing.

The walk there took us along muddy streets strewn with rubbish, in a far western suburb of Delhi its rich elite would never visit. Until last year, the area was still classified by city authorities as an illegal slum.

The lanes of Delhi's Ravi Das colony, the slum district where four of the accused had their homes, were if anything in better shape.

Like the student's family, at least two of the accused are from impoverished villages in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, and source for many of the thousands of migrants who come to Delhi every year hoping for a better life - the same journey her father made nearly 30 years ago.

Ravi Das colony which is home to four of the accused in the Delhi gang rape The homes of most of the accused are perhaps in better shape than the victim's

And the other men are from similar migrant backgrounds. Where they differ, though, was in what they did about it.

"We gave our all to our daughter," her mother told us, still devastated with grief.

She says she can barely leave her bed, complaining of frequent headaches and chest pains.

And their support was working: her daughter was studying at a college in Dehradun in northern India and was on course to qualify as a physiotherapist, while working overtime in a call centre.

"We never gave our sons better treatment," said the mother. In that respect they were also different from many among India's middle class.

Figures show they are just as likely as poorer groups to favour male children, even before they are born - and afterwards in care and medical treatment.

It means India is in a rare category - along with only China - of having higher rates of infant mortality among girls than boys.

The student's mother also lashed out at India's sexist attitudes, attacking the many politicians and other public figures who've suggested she brought the rape on herself.

One well-known spiritual guru even said she should have embraced her attackers as "brothers" to stop them assaulting her.

"Either they don't have daughters," her mother said, "or they are clearly backing these crimes."

Her stance is also a sign of how it's simplistic to see the outcry over this brutal crime as being a kind of "Arab spring" by the more educated middle class.

Her father, sitting on the bed where they laid her body after she was brought back from Singapore, is now left with the memories of his determined daughter.

Echoing his wife's criticisms, he said India had to change to make sure such crimes never happened again. "The character of our society is very poor," he said.

But his daughter's example, he said, was that "you should stand up for yourself. Don't lose, only win."

What makes this story even more tragic is that the young student was clearly so close to doing that.

Andrew North Article written by Andrew North Andrew North South Asia correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The whole issue around women's rights in India is a disturbing one. The fact that is it continually neglected by politicians as being relevant and of high priority is quite sickening -

    India really does need the equivalent of an "Arab Spring" as you suggest - to get things done in here however you need to have the mass protests sustained for much, much longer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Excellent matter of fact reporting. I am glad someone considered the background of the woman and her attackers. Soutik Biswas needs to learn from Andrew North: more facts, less opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    These challenges seem endemic in many developing countries where women's rights are all but ignored by the political establishment - - One can only hope that the public uproar created by this high profile rape case can force some much-needed new legislation through in India.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Tragic and enraging. I remember my brother in law saying that he would never 'allow' his newly born daughter (my niece) to learn to swim because he did not wish to let her be in 'skimpy clothes'. A woman in India has a battleground set against her with sexist, dogmatic, patriarchal, society and an assortment of of religions, who all treat her like a possession.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Really good reporting. It was a tragedy, I hope and trust that India, and other places will respond and move in the right direction. It needs effective political leadership which encompasses all levels of Indian society. I hope Andrew persists with this issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    This is just tip of the iceberg. The correspondent should pay a visit to Indian occupied Kashmir and report on rape, torture, extra judicial killings and arson committed by the Indian Army. It’s surprising that there was no public outrage against these excesses. Perhaps deep down there is a realization that Kashmir is not part of India.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Thank you to the correspondent for a touching and informative article which does not seek to sensationalise or oversimplify. I look forward to seeing more such journalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    This tragedy is not an isolated incident. It became the culture of India. It makes me wonder where India is heading. It is a clear indication of failure of law and order to protect the citizen of India. The ministry in charge of law and order should be held responsible for the failure of law and order to protect the citizen and should step down as an acknowledgement of this failure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    It's sad that a horrific event had to take place to raise the profile of issues that women face in India. Not that I think, as some of the rather myopic comments below seem to imply, that the rest of the world is any better when it comes to addressing gender equality. - The problem in India is that it's rarely acknowledged as an issue by politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The society that imbalances its ratio of male/female children through infantacide, & then wonders why gang rapists wander its streets is feudal. India may believe its a new superpower & superior to the West, but the truth is there for all to see.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I saw a documentary the other day which pointed out the enormous amount of female fetus that are being aborted due to advances in scientific equiptment. It is more widely available to all and because of the obvious cultural beliefs it is being used to identify the sex, if female they were aborted. The program went on to say that men are frustrated by the lack of women and this leads to rape.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Everyone, Everyfamily want that money....
    This immoral families are both who had daughter and son.

    This culture is not going end even in soon.
    Until people, specially youth not change their mind towards these attitudes, until that foetus killing never ended.
    Society make them to behave like this.
    Of course "Bad" is everywhere but good families are also here.
    We should look there....Not only Bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Mr. North's article exhibits level of probity and analysis that is commendable. I lived in Delhi for three years, and observed the casual brutality of "life" there, for both women and men. Indian attitudes must change, but I fear they never will until Indians abandon their smug attitudes, and actually admit that they have serious problems. This might be effected if UN sanctions were imposed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Were there others on this bus? Was it easy to sit by and do nothing? What about the driver?

    Why did no one help this woman, and why the Hell are people condemning her for it? The rape was barbaric. The response has been as well.

    When there are people who benefit from the status quo, progress is the enemy. Socially as well as economically, it seems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The most tragic thing to me is this so-called Indian families are taking abortion operations if their child is female by knowing through medical operations. This not only in illiterate, poor, rich, educated families but everywhere.........
    They know that when their daughter has to age to marry.........the first hurdle they face dowry problem.....

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Rest in peace true daughter of India!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    This tragedy brings tears in my eyes. This has been on of the reported case. Rape, violence against women, and child abuses take place every single day in India and goes unreported. Few reported cases are not fairly investigated and brought justice to the victims. I strongly believe proper education system will prevent this kind of crimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Nice article Andrew. Having spend my youth and childhood in Delhi, I can related to the article. Delhi over the past few decades, have become a immigration hub, attracting people from all over the country. Many of them come for the better living/dream of improving. This also means that bad characters have also entered , which is causing these incidences. Honestly,Delhi was far better a decade ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Sister we are ashamed that we were unable to protect you.
    Nothing will change in this country.
    There can't be any large-scale revolution until there's a personal revolution, on an individual level. It's got to happen inside first


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