Vowing to fight corruption, this Delhi engineer may change politics in India forever

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Audio Transcript:

Carol Hills: I'm Carol Hills, in for Marco Werman, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston.
As we kick off 2014, we want to check in on a country undergoing massive transformations. India. It has one of the world's most dynamic economies and is grappling with a slew of issues, from rapid urbanization to changing views on women in society. At this time last year, demonstrators filled the streets there after the fatal gang rape of a 23-year old student on a Delhi bus.
The World's Rhitu Chatterjee says that event was a turning point for India.

Rhitu Chatterjee: Well, right now, it's another time of change. A couple weeks ago it was the one year anniversary of that deadly gang rape and, you know, women and men together were out on the street commemorating that event, and demanding changes to make India safer. And right now, the big news is the fight against corruption. A relatively unknown person a few years ago, Arvind Kejriwal, was sworn in as Delhi's new chief minister just a couple days ago. He is an anti-corruption activist, and so all eyes are on Kejriwal and his party to see what changes they're gonna bring about.

Hills: Now I wanna talk more about that, but I also wanna go back to what you just said, about citizens of India really marking the one year anniversary of that brutal rape. You said they're demanding more to be done to reduce crimes against women. What has the government done since that horrible crime?

Chatterjee: So the big change that the government has made, in the last year, was to reform existing rape laws. To broaden the definition of rape, and actually define other acts of sexual assault which weren't included before. For example, acid attacks, which are pretty common in India and other parts of south Asia. To define and include stalking and molestation and other forms of sexual harassment. To make the punishment for sexual assaults sort of stronger. And also the government passed a new law to address sexual harassment at workplace. So those were the big changes towards making India safer for women.

Hills: And do you feel, I mean, is it apparent that those laws are in place? Have there been more charges brought, more cases in the public eye since these laws have passed?

Chatterjee: Yes. So the number of rapes reported in the last year have shot up. Now part of that is obviously because women have become more emboldened and feel silly for not reporting the cases. And so you do that change reflected in the numbers.

Hills: I want to get back to what you mentioned about this whole development with this new candidate, this new politician around anti-corruption.

Chatterjee: Mmhmm.

Hills: Why is that so significant for India?

Chatterjee: The Delhi elections, what they really showed, is that people are fed up. The ordinary citizen, especially in urban India, is just fed up with the widespread corruption and, sort of, the lack of care in most politicians in power today, and they're making their opinions heard. In fact, Arvind Kejriwal, no one quite expected him to get this many votes. And interestingly enough, Carol, he's won the elections in Delhi, but his financial support really came from all over the country. So this is not a Delhi phenomenon. People all over the country, and also Indians living abroad, are keeping an eye on what's going on because they want change.

Hills: I understand there's also a new anti-corruption bill that was passed just a few days ago. What will that do?

Chatterjee: So the anti-corruption bill aims to setup and independent committee that will go through complaints of corruption filed by ordinary citizens. So say I go to some government office to get some work done and somebody asks me for a bribe. I can go to this committee and file a complaint, saying that this is what happened, and the committee is supposed to look into it.

Hills: So as you look ahead to this year, 2014, do you see more activity around women's issues and corruption?

Chatterjee: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think in some ways these two movements are connected. You know, I've spoken to several people earlier in 2013, about the women's rights movement, and they said, "Well, you know, remember all these protests are coming at the back of all the public protests that already happened about corruption." So I'm optimistic about 2014 bringing about more cultural and legal changes. Yeah, I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It's still the beginning of the year so I'm going to be optimistic.

Hills: Alright, the World's Rhitu Chatterjee, speaking to us from Delhi. Thanks so much, Rhitu, and happy New Year.

Chatterjee: Happy New Year, Carol.