Almost one year on from the brutal rape of a young female student in Delhi, there are signs that more Indian women are finding the courage to report sexual violence. But many still live in fear, either of strangers – or of the man closest to them.
Reshma has five daughters and is pregnant for the sixth time – against her wishes. Her voice trembles constantly as she tells her harrowing story.
“I kept quiet for many years,” she says.
“My husband treated me very badly because I had only given him daughters. Getting beaten up mercilessly became a routine for me. He wanted a son.
“When I got pregnant for the sixth time, he insisted I should get an abortion if it’s another girl child. I refused and we had a big row.
“He threw acid on me, aiming at my vagina and abdomen.”
Reshma breaks down as she recalls the attack. She has recently undergone an operation to try to repair some of the damage. Her baby is still alive, but she is extremely frail.
• Rape within marriage is not considered a crime in India if the wife is over 15
• Up to eight million female foetuses are thought have been aborted in India in the decade to 2011
• In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007
Sources: 2011 Census, National Crime Records Bureau, Amnesty International
• More than one-third of all murders of women around the world are committed by a current or former partner
• As many as 1 in 4 women experience physical and/or sexual violence during pregnancy
• Violence by an intimate partner is the most common type of abuse, affecting 30% of women
Sources: World Health Organization, Women’s Aid
• WHO: Female Genital Mutilation
• BBC: India’s missing girls
• Amnesty: Violence against women
• UN Women
It took her four days to get medical help after the attack and that was only after her father arrived. She now lives with her poor parents in Kanpur, 500km (300 miles) outside Delhi.
They were aware of the terrible life that their daughter had with her husband, but were initially too afraid to think of police action against their own son-in-law.
Eventually, Reshma says, they stood by her.
The acid attack was the culmination of 15 years of violence at the hands of her husband. As she recovered, 35-year-old Reshma decided she did not want to be another female footnote in the death columns of the newspapers.
She registered a police case against her husband on five different grounds of cruelty. Now he is in prison awaiting trial. He denies all the charges.
The vicious assault on a young medical student on a Delhi bus last December sparked outrage across India and provoked national soul-searching about the extent of gender-based violence.
It also appears to have paved the way for more women to go to the police.
According to government statistics, 1,036 rapes were reported in Delhi in the year so far up to 15 August. That compares with 433 reports during the same period in 2012.
The same seems to hold true for areas outside the capital: in the small state of Jharkand, in eastern India, the number of reported rape cases rose from 460 in the first half of 2012 to 818 in the first half of 2013.
Despite this, as in many other countries, the conviction rate for rape remains low. According to the National Crime Record Bureau it stood at 24.1% in 2012, lower than the previous year.
Police say they are trying to improve the situation, including putting 400 more police vans on the streets of the capital. There has also been a push to recruit female police officers.
Avatar Sing Rawat, a Delhi police officer, says the force is also being trained in dealing with female victims. “The police are better sensitised now,” he argues.
Ranjana Kumari, a well-known women’s rights activist, says India has seen “structural changes” since the Delhi rape, but that streets can still be dangerous for women.
People across India called for the death sentence for the men convicted in the Delhi rape case
“Women are continuing to live their lives, coming out, working despite all the dangers.
But the most frustrating thing is that the state has still not been able to fix the accountability clearly when a crime is committed against women,” she says.
“Political parties have made women’s safety part of their political manifesto. When I travel to smaller cities I realise more conversations are happening around women’s safety, but we need to make the system more accountable.”
Walking around Delhi as night falls, it is clear that the streets are still empty of women.
Surabhi, a 25-year-old professional woman who travels to work by bus, says she does not think anything has changed since the outcry over the rape case.
“I don’t want to change my lifestyle because of sexual attacks but, yes, I am scared – and I always carry a pepper spray in my bag.
“Men are very aggressive and they find excuses to touch you or feel you.”
In Kanpur, Reshma is determined to see through her difficult decision to speak out.
“I don’t want him to get out of prison. He made my life hell. I am very happy I took this stand,” she says.
“I know speaking up will save many young girls in future. We are women and we also have a right to live life with dignity. I will take care of my daughters and myself.”
She uses her scarf to wipe away tears. “Death comes only once. So why should we die every day at someone else’s hands?”
During October 2013 the BBC’s 100 Women season will seek to shine a light on life for women in the 21st Century – the risks, challenges and opportunities they face every day, in every country. Have your say on Twitter using the hashtag #100women.
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