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Troubling questions for India after another gang-rape

Indian police have arrested two in connection with the rape of a Danish tourist in New Delhi. A string of high-profile rape cases has prompted demonstrations and calls for more government action.

The gang-rape of a Danish woman in one of New Delhi’s most popular tourist districts is prompting concern for the safety of foreign travelers and raising questions over how much progress has been made in India after a year in which considerable attention has been focused on the prevalence of rape.

Indian police said today that a 51-year-old Danish tourist was gang-raped Tuesday evening in the popular Paharganj district after asking a group of men for directions to her hotel. Police have arrested two people in connection with the rape, according to the BBC

The Danish ambassador confirmed to Bloomberg thata Danish citizen was involved in a rape case, but had no further comments. The woman was apparently traveling alone and was on the final day of her trip,BBC writes. She boarded a flight out of India today.

The incident comes a year after the rape and death of a 23-year-old student in a bus in New Delhi that sparked mass protests across the country and a national dialogue on the position of women in society and the pervasiveness of rape.

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Since that incident, a string of other high-profile rape cases kept the topic in the news both at home and internationally. At least two other foreign tourists have been gang-raped, including a Swiss tourist, an American woman camping with her husband, and a woman from the UK who jumped out of the window of her hotel to avoid an assault from hotel staff, according to the Indian Express.

The rape this August of a young photojournalist in Mumbai – long regarded as safer for women than New Delhi – and reports of rapes of young children were especially shocking in India and caused large protests.

The government has made some effort to crack down on the problem. Last March it passed a new law that strengthened the punishments for rape convictions by making the death penalty applicable in more cases. In September, a New Delhi court sentenced four men to death for the rape of the student on the bus.

Activists argue that far more, however, could be done. Of 23 other recent rape cases in that same New Delhi court, 20 resulted in acquittal, Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association told The Christian Science Monitor this fall:

Justice seems to have become rare in India, she argues: ‘it applies only to a case where there is public outrage.’

‘The process of prosecution needs to be improved so that every rapist knows he is not going to go scot-free,’ she says. 

The cases have taken a toll on tourism, with the number of female tourists traveling to India dropping by 35 percent in the first three months of last year, according to an April study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India.

But one hopeful result is that it appears women may be more willing to report assaults. The Associated Press reports that between January and October last year, 1,330 rapes were reported in Delhi and its suburbs, compared with 706 for all of 2012.

Shivam Vij, The Monitor’s New Delhi correspondent, explained last year that many expert blame the mistreatment on “deep-seated patriarchal norms, especially in the more agrarian northern parts of the country – a cultural explanation for why higher income and educated segments also practice sex selection and why some regions in this diverse country are worse for women.” 

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Yet those explanations are only one part of the picture, Mr. Vij reports. “India also has matrilineal traditions that were erased by colonialism, notes women’s activist Madhu Kishwar. Northeastern states and tribal populations with that legacy have better sex ratios.” 

Women face other gender inequality issues in India, as the Monitor noted in a feature on women’s status in India: 

The World Economic Forum ranked India 105 on the Gender Gap Index in 2012, up from the year before, but below its 2006 ranking, and far below countries like Ghana and Bangladesh. It scored highest on political empowerment and lowest in women’s health and survival. 

The challenges faced by Indian women reflect broader contradictions: Two decades of economic growth and globalization have brought improved opportunities but also greater inequality. That paradox was captured in a July survey that ranked India as the worst place to be a woman among the Group of 20 countries that make up the world’s biggest economies, based on parameters like health services, threat of violence, and property rights.