Can a Pakistani marry an Indian girl?

India, Pakistan and the issue of rape

The 22-year-old woman is driving home from a wedding with her husband and brother-in-law. During a break, the group is ambushed by four men. One of them pulls the woman out of the car and rapes her, while the other three hold their companions at bay with weapons. Husband and brother-in-law watch what is done to her. After the fact, the men flee. Contrary to the warning to go to the police, the husband reports the crime to the authorities. A little later, all four attackers can be arrested. It is the latest known case of rape in the northern Indian state of Haryana.

But by no means the first. Since the beginning of the year, reports like this have made headlines in the newspapers several times. Last week, the Times of India newspaper published a veritable list of the horrors - and reported on six rape cases that became public within six days. That is a terrifying number even for Haryana.

Again protests: After the terrible rape cases in Haryana, activists took to the streets in the capital Delhi last week

One of the victims is only three years old. The little girl is raped by a 15 year old boy. An eleven-year-old Dalit girl is abused and killed by two neighbors from the village. After that, the men are said to have abused their bodies for hours. A 50-year-old man is arrested for having inserted a piece of wood into a ten-year-old and mutilating her genitals. Two young women are raped by several men each. The brutally mutilated corpse of a 15-year-old girl is found in a canal; some organs have burst.

Old problem, shocking record

These cases are representative of many others. Rape is still the order of the day in India, complains Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center of Social Research in Delhi and a well-known women's rights activist. The situation has worsened lately, she told DW. "We are calling for the head of government to resign from Haryana. Cases have taken place here that were even worse than the gang rape of 2012."

Commemoration in India on the 1st anniversary of the death of student Jyoti Singh Pandey, who died after a gang rape

Back in December 2012, the case of Jyoti Singh Pandey went around the world. The medical student was brutally raped by six men on a bus in New Delhi. Less than two weeks later, she succumbed to her injuries. Her death sparked a wave of protests in India, and angry people took to the streets en masse. As a result, the sex criminal law was tightened. However, the number of rapes has not decreased since then. On the contrary. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, almost 35,000 cases were reported to the police in 2015, almost 40 percent more than in 2012 - the year in which the 23-year-old student died. "There are better laws today. And yet the number is increasing," complains Kumari.

Women, second class people?

"There is a real rape culture, especially in northern India," said the activist. In the state of Haryana, bordering the Indian capital Delhi, alone, there were around 115 group rapes in 2017. And that has to do with Indian society itself. In India, sexual violence against women is deeply rooted in society and part of an extensive process of discrimination and oppression. This also includes the police and the judiciary.

People second class? To this day, many women in India are systematically discriminated against

Kumari has also made allegations against the security forces. "A police officer described rape as part of society. As something that has always existed. When police officers or ministers talk like that, it means that they are not taking the whole thing seriously." Kumari demands that the officer be removed from his post. A pious wish that will fizzle out, nothing more.

Outcry for Zainab

A harrowing case also made headlines in neighboring Pakistan at the beginning of January. A little girl is kidnapped by a stranger on her way to the Koran school. Two days later, his body is discovered on a heap of rubbish. The child was raped several times and then strangled. The parents accuse the police of doing nothing after their daughter went missing.

Break the taboo, talk about sexual abuse - these protesters demand after Zainab's death

The death of little Zainab triggers outrage and horror in the country. It's been the dominant topic on social media for days. Violent protests against the Pakistani government broke out in the city of Kasur near the Indian border, killing two demonstrators.

Rethinking possible?

The anger is great - and so is the call for change. But as in India, the roots of the problem are buried deep in society, says Beena Sarwar. The journalist and filmmaker focuses in her work primarily on gender and human rights issues. She also founded the Aman ki Asha ("Hope for Peace") initiative, which works to improve relations between India and Pakistan.

"In our society there is too much shame. Often a child is not believed when he tells what was done to him by an adult. Or he is even made to feel himself to be responsible for the crime."

After the death of the little girl in Pakistan, demonstrations broke out in her hometown of Kasur - which also got out of hand

To make matters worse, most of the perpetrators can be found within the family or in the immediate vicinity. The problem cannot be completely eradicated, says Sarwar, no society has managed it. "But we can at least do more prevention and thus reduce the number of crimes." She does not see a direct connection between sexual violence against women and Islam. "It has nothing to do with it. There is child abuse in every society."

Government has a duty

Saman Jaffery sees it similarly. She is a parliamentarian and advocates women's and minority rights in Pakistani politics. She complains that there is a lack of social debate on the subject of rape. "This conscious looking the other way is particularly pronounced in the case of sexual offenses. Especially when the perpetrator is a relative or a friend of the family."

Last way for Zainab: The murdered girl will be buried on January 10th

Another important factor, in their opinion, is the fact that the subject is taboo as a whole. "Certain things are just not talked about." She sees both the government and the Pakistani people as having an obligation here. "First and foremost, the government should be held accountable. But society should also be held accountable because it does not support the victims and does not encourage them to go public and talk about what has been done to them." The MP says that nobody in Pakistan feels responsible. "In addition, there is a lack of education and the fact that there is often too much shame and a wrong understanding of honor among the victims."

Fundamental changes necessary

Protests in March 2015 in Allahabad: At that time, the group rape of a 71-year-old nun made headlines

Ranjana Kumari is convinced that fundamental rethinking is needed in India too. "It would be important to recognize across the board that men and women are equal. They have the same rights as citizens." It is precisely this message that needs to be conveyed within families and schools. Only then can society slowly change. "Before that happens, men will keep trying to exercise power over women."

After all, the pressure on the police is growing. And that now has consequences. To help the victims, dozens of help centers for women are to be built in India, the AFP news agency reports today. The "Justice for her" initiative was created in collaboration with a British university. The authorities of Madhya Pradesh, the state with the highest number of rape cases, want to open more than 50 such contact points for women alone. The capital Delhi and the state of Punjab are also participating in the project. Haryana is also there. For the women who were murdered there after being raped in the past few days, however, that comes too late.

Collaboration: Kishwar Mustafa / Isha Bhatia