A year after Delhi's gang rape, it's no longer OK to blame the victim

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". [Clip plays] Werman: Prayer services, rallies, and candlelight vigils were held today in India all in remembrance of a young woman whose brutal gang rape and beating a year ago today shocked the nation and the world. The young woman you'll remember died a couple of weeks later. The attack sparked protests and an unprecedented debate on what many in India called the country's "epidemic of violence against women". Since then new laws have been passed, but activists say a lot of work remains to be done to ensure the safety of women in the country. I asked journalist Rhitu Chatterjee in New Delhi about today's commemorations. Rhitu Chatterjee: Do you know most groups held a minute or two of silence for the victim, but in general the energy was, "Let's not forget what happened to her and is happening everyday to women and girls all over the country. Let's not lose the momentum and just keep on fighting for our rights and keep fighting to end sexual violence." Werman: Is this an issue that is being remembered by a certain class of people? Middle class? Chatterjee: No, actually the second event which I went to had a lot of working class women in it. So it's definitely not just the concern of the middle and upper-middle class. Yes, they are perhaps more vocal because they are politically more motivated perhaps, but it's definitely an issue that concerns everyone and it's being talking about sort of across the society. Werman: What are the main themes, Rhitu, you keep hearing from people at these rallies? Chatterjee: Most people that I talked to and at these rallies acknowledge and accept how much has happened in the past year in terms of positive changes. So I spoke to a lawyer here in one of the vigils and she's very, very well-known for her work on human rights and especially on issues on violence against women, and she sums up the whole issue really well. Her name is Vrinda Grover. Vrinda Grover: We have seen a new confidence, we have seen a new discourse, we have seen the breaking of denial around sexual violence in India. We have seen the rupturing of silence and we have seen women step out of the circle of shame and stigma. And women today, with the support very often of their husbands and families, are reporting confidently against sexual violence and sexual harassment. Werman: So that lawyer's point of view is that women now have the confidence to talk about sexual harassment and violence more openly? I mean you've just returned to India after a decade away with a fresh set of eyes. Does it feel like she's right? Chatterjee: Absolutely, Marco. There's no doubt about that. And everyone I spoke with said exactly the same thing. I was in India earlier this year in January and the women in their early 20s were very cynical. But today, when I spoke to women in their 20s, they were optimistic and they acknowledged that, "Yes, today it's all right for us to talk about it," and the one thing that they all pointed out was that one big change in India is that it's no longer OK to blame the victim. There will be regional variations, there will be a difference between urban and rural areas, but by and large that change has happened and continues to happen. Werman: What I find really striking, Rhitu, is that this lethal gang rape happened a year ago and it seemed like every month or at least two months after that there was another rape, another harassment story that was really high-profile in the news. Does it feel like a solution to all of this is near or still a long way off? Chatterjee: It's nowhere near, Marco. In fact, as everyone I talked to said, this is a huge problem. Part of it is sociocultural. You have to change people's attitudes, people's mindsets, which is going to take a long time. The process has started, yes, but this is going to take a long time to change completely. Werman: Rhitu, you jetted today between several different commemorations and demonstrations on the anniversary of this terrible gang rape. What really struck you? Chatterjee: For me what stood out most were the slogans, for freedom, and, again, like a lot of young people were telling me, this has sort of become part of the vocabulary of at least young college/university-going people. The demands for "azadi", for freedom, that we want to have freedom to have a job, we want to have the freedom to watch movies whenever we want to, we want to have the freedom to move around freely, to be able to say no, and we want protection from violence, we want safety. And those cried of azadi, of freedom, really stayed with me. Werman: Rhitu Chatterjee in New Delhi. Thank you for speaking with us, Rhitu. Chatterjee: Thank you, Marco.