More than five years after a horrific rape sparked promises to empower women in India and reform the handling of sexual assault cases, victims say they still face harassment when they turn to police for help.
The sickening assault on Delhi student Jyoti Singh in 2012 provoked national soul-searching about widespread failure to tackle sex crimes, and bolstered laws to punish offenders and police accused of turning a blind eye or victim shaming.
But rights groups say police still refuse to file cases against suspected rapists and pressure victims to settle with their tormentors, despite such misconduct carrying a two-year jail term under the tough new measures.
“Police came to our house and threatened us, saying ‘sign a settlement or we will beat you up’,” said one woman, who was bound and assaulted by her brother-in-law last year in rural Rajasthan.
“They also asked for a bribe, intimidated us. Whenever I would go to the police station, they would try to shoo me away, saying things like ‘you’re just pretending, you’re lying, nothing has happened’,” said the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
More than 100 sexual assaults are still recorded every day in India, including five in the capital alone.
Human Rights Watch said in a November report that promises to improve the handling of sex crimes in the aftermath of the Delhi attack “have not been fully realised”.
Victims are still referred by police to local hospitals for degrading virginity tests, says Jan Sahas, a charity assisting women with legal services.
“Victims are often treated like animals,” said the charity’s Harish Chandra Dipankar.
Swati Maliwal, head of the Delhi government’s Commission for Women, said reporting a rape was now easier thanks to the reforms — “but that is it”.
She said glaring gaps in law enforcement remained, pointing to a case in January that horrified even a city used to gruesome sex crimes.
“It is sad that even an eight-month-old baby’s rape doesn’t shake up the system,” Maliwal said of the high-profile case.
But Delhi police’s spokesman Madhur Verma said he was confident women “feel safer than they used to feel five years ago”.
He credited increased patrols, helplines and self-defence classes for women — all measures rolled out after 2012 — for cleaning up the city but said more needed to be done.
“We are still working towards it,” he told AFP.