Lee Thomas Photographer
Member of The Royal Photographic Society
On the night of the 16th December 2012, a young Indian medical student was gang-raped, severely beaten and then thrown out of a moving bus onto the streets of Delhi. The sheer brutality of the incident provoked anger, demonstrations and blanket media coverage across the sub-continent with particular large-scale protests in and around the capital.
The woman and a male companion, both of whom remain anonymous, boarded what they thought was a bus on public service after watching a movie together, when they were attacked by six men with iron bars, including the driver. Following the assault, the 23 year old woman suffered severe organ failure and it was controversially decided to fly her out of India to the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. Despite round-the-clock efforts by a team of eight specialists, the victim died at 4:45 a.m. on the 29th December 2012. "Damini" (meaning "lightning" in Hindi), as the young physiotherapy student became known by the protesters, was surrounded by her family and members of the India High Commission at the time of her death.
Since the student's murder, women's rights activists have been vociferous in claiming many sexual crimes in India go unreported with offenders rarely brought to justice, and have demanded from the government better protection for women. 2014 is general election year for India and in an almost surreal twist of events since Damini's death, it has been reported by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a respected thinktank, that hundreds of men accused of sexual violence have been allowed to run in Indian political campaigns over the last five years.
Could the recent events surrounding Damini's death be the lightning to spark the beginnings of India's Arab Spring? I doubt it. The sub-continent's patriarchal system of governance, from the nucleus of family right up to the corridors of national power, are still firmly entrenched in tradition. But with a relentless rural migration flow into the megacities and the dramatic increase in a young, educated middle-class becoming ever more politically aware, it is apparent a dynamic cultural shift is presenting itself in India today. Let us hope that these future generations of leadership in a democratic country of so much potential do not succumb to the frailties of some of the current crop of polititians and people in power.