Is India taking sexual assault seriously? Year after Delhi horror, tribal council gang-rapes woman, 20

A WOMAN, aged just 20 years, was accused of having a relationship with a Muslim from another Indian community.

Her punishment? She was gang-raped by 13 men on the orders of a village council in West Bengal state.

Police which was meted out after the woman's parents said they could not pay the fine of 25,000 rupees (400 dollars) imposed by the council for having the affair.

The horrific case of "village justice" again highlights India's record on sexual violence.

Has anything changed? Is India taking the crisis seriously?

Back in December 2012, the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student while riding a bus in the nation's capital, New Delhi, horrified people in India and around the world.

The woman, later given the name 'Nirbhya' (Hindi for "fearless") in the Indian media, was on her way home with a male friend after watching the film Life of Pi at a shopping mall.

The bus deviated from its normal route and the doors were sealed. Her friend was beaten and knocked unconscious.

According to her before she died of complications, the perpetrators (which included a juvenile) dragged her to the back of the bus, repeatedly raped her, struck and penetrated her with an iron rod and one even used his hands to tear at her internal organs.

That attack triggered unprecedented protests across the nation where citizens declared enough was enough.

The attacks continue

There have been several gruesome attacks on women over the past year and the number of reported sex crimes in the nation continues to rise.

In Kolkata, a 16-year-old was gang-raped last year in two separate attacks. The second rape occurred after she was returning home from reporting the first attack. She died on New Year's Eve after she was set alight on December 23.

Earlier this month, a Danish woman was allegedly gang-raped and robbed in the capital New Delhi after she became lost on her way back to her hotel. Six men were arrested over that attack.

India remains a deeply patriarchal society. "Men have traditionally exerted power over women," said Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, a senior fellow at the Australian National University, who wrote a blog post about her own experiences in India after the 2012 gang-rape.

"Riding a bus in New Delhi was always intimidating," she wrote. "I still remember how, in the early 1990s, a largish, unknown man just flopped on my lap in the aisle seat."

When she objected to what was happening, she said, "his demeanour switched between menacing and casual, forcing me to shut up and leave him the seat."

That was far from an isolated incident, she said.

"It occurred in a country where there are 150 million missing women ( and where a girl was killed by her parents for falling in love with a lower-class man, to single out two incidents of many.

"Add these examples to the innumerable unrecorded incidents of violence that occur every day, and it is clear that modern, independent India is failing."

Widespread anger

Political change has been in the air over the past year. As CNN's Delhi correspondent Sumnima Udas put it: "No one expected it to become so big ... The government was shaken to its core".

"The most heartening thing about this sordid episode (the rape of Nirbhya in Delhi) was the presence of men in protests against rape," Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt wrote. "The word 'feminist' was no longer a derogatory term, and men were able to 'come out' in support of women."

In March 2013, the Indian Parliament passed a slate of legislation to combat the sexual assault crisis. Major changes were made to the country's criminal code.

Stalking, lower level sexual harassment, acid attacks and voyeurism became criminal offences.

Prison terms for rape were doubled and the death penalty was authorised as punishment for repeat offenders, or for criminals who left their victims dead or in a persistent vegetative state.

"This is now at the centre of the political debate," said Danielle Rajandram, research associate at the Lowy Institute, adding there is a significant way to go for laws to protect women against sexual violence and rape.

But while the focus has been on protecting women, Lahiri-Dutt said the real change that needs to happen is of attitudes at the family level.

"We have been talking a long time about Indian women," she said. "We really need to stop that. We really need to go into the families and see where this violence are being generated."

"That's where families come in. That's where (men) are socialised into gender (roles)."

Yet, another family is still suffering after the tribal council gang rape. The victim's mother said the attackers originally warned the family against going to police, and initially stopped them from taking her to hospital.

"The crime was committed by our own people," she told reporters, as her daughter recovers in hospital. "They tortured my daughter and dumped her home."