Credit: Heavenhated on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


(WOMENSENEWS)– On Jan. 3, five of the six suspects in the fatal rape assault in India that has stirred national and international outrage are to be formally charged. The sixth suspect is under 18 and as a juvenile cannot be charged for murder.

The suspects face the death penalty if convicted, CBS reported. CBS News’ Sanjay Jha says the charges will fill an estimated 1,000 pages, and name about 30 witnesses to the attack.

The ashes of the rape victim who died were scattered in the Ganges river on the first of the new year, after her body was returned to India from Singapore, Reuters reported.

Social media has been buzzing with outraged reaction. On Twitter, the hashtag #2013EndRape offers a wide ranging discussion of rape culture and an outcry to make 2013 the year to focus on ways to curb a crime that is worsening in India.

Official data show that rape cases have jumped enormously over the past 40 years; from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011. New Delhi alone reported 572 rapes last year and more than 600 in 2012, CNN reported.

A string of new attacks in the new year reported Jan. 1–including a woman set on fire, allegedly by a stalker, in Uttar Pradesh and another woman stabbed to death in a busy market district of eastern New Delhi — have put even more pressure on officials to make India safer for women, Reuters reported.

Activists are calling for a law to target sexual violence in India. They suggest the law be named after the anonymous woman whom many, without a name to call her, have dubbed Damini, meaning lightning in Hindi. Damini is also the name of a 1993 Bollywood film whose lead female character fights for a housemaid, a victim of sexual assault, CNN reported.

The victim’s family told Indian media they would be honored if a package of new legislation was named after her.

However, as rape in India is severely stigmatized, controversy has sparked over whether her name should be used,The Guardian reported.

On Dec. 16 the victim, a 23-year-old medical student, was admitted to a hospital in Delhi after being gang raped and tortured by six men on a bus. She passed away in a hospital in Singapore, after being transferred for emergency treatment Dec. 28 after reportedly being in “extremely critical condition” for about a week, CNN reported.

Public outrage and frenzied protests, including mass demonstrations, candle-lit vigils and roadblocks, have been shaking India’s capital and prompting Parliamentary reaction. See photos here.

On Dec. 21 officials who initially responded to the horrific crime promised a broad campaign to protect women on buses, Fox News reported. Home Secretary R.K. Singh said bus drivers would be required to display their identification prominently, buses would be forced to remove tinting from their windows and plainclothes police would be placed on buses to protect female passengers.

According to police reports of the incident, the assailants had been drinking, having a party and decided to go on a joy ride in a private bus for a charter company where one of the men worked, The New York Times reported. They began circling the capital in the bus empty of other passengers when they spotted a couple looking for a ride home. One of the men, posing as a conductor, tricked the man and women into thinking the bus was part of the city’s public fleet, waving them onboard and charging them each 36 cents.

After making advances and heckling the woman, the men beat the couple with an iron rod and repeatedly raped the woman as the bus circled the city. Eventually, the two were stripped of their clothing and thrown out of the bus onto a national highway. News reports say that the men also tried to run her over after throwing her onto the street.

The woman faced severe organ failure and brain injuries and eventually developed gangrene in her intestines and had to have most of them removed, The Daily Mail reported. After initially regaining consciousness, she suffered trauma too severe to overcome. 

Maggie Freleng is an editorial assistant for Women’s eNews; she lives in Brooklyn.