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India rape case: Will protests finally spark change?

A gang-rape in Delhi, India, that resulted in the death of a university student has prompted nationwide protests that activists hope will change a culture in which harassment and violence is said to be common.

By Muneeza NaqviAssociated Press / January 7, 2013

In this photo taken last Wednesday, Indian women carry placards as they march to mourn the death of a gang rape victim in New Delhi, India.

Dar Yasin/AP/File

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New Delhi

Preeti Singh worries each time her 20-year-old daughter has a late night at the hospital where she's a medical student. If her daughter has to stay late, Singh tells her to wait for daylight to come home.

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"I was brought up with the fear that once it's dark you should be at home," says Singh, a 43-year-old kindergarten teacher in BangaloreIndia's technology hub. "I can't shake that fear."

Across India, women tell similar stories. Now there is hope for change.

For decades, women have had little choice but to walk away when groped in a crowded bus or train, or to simply cringe as someone tosses an obscene comment their way. Even if they haven't experienced explicit sexual abuse themselves, they live with the fear that it could happen to them or a loved one.

The gang rape and beating of a 23-year-old university student on a moving bus in India's capital has taken sexual violence — a subject long hidden in the shadows of Indian society — and thrust it into the light.

Following the Dec. 16 attack in New Delhi, which resulted in the woman's death, hundreds of thousands of Indians — both men and women — poured onto the streets of cities across the country, holding candlelight vigils and rallies demanding that authorities take tougher action to create a safe environment for women.

"At least now people are talking," says Rashmi Gogia, a 35-year-old receptionist in a New Delhi law office.

Associated Press journalists interviewed women across India, from the northern cities of Lucknow and Allahabad, to Bangalore in the south, and from the eastern cities of Patna and Gauhati to Ahmadabad in the west.

The outrage sparked by the heinous attack has given women at least a measure of hope that the country of 1.2 billion people will see meaningful improvement in how women are treated, though most realize any change is likely to come slowly.

"These protests have at least given women the confidence to talk about sexual violence," says Singh, the kindergarten teacher in Bangalore. "For too long, women have been made to feel guilty for these things."

Like every woman in India, Singh has her own rules for her daughter's safety. "We make sure she messages us when she reaches (the hospital) and when she leaves for home," she says.

Women who were willing to talk about an unwelcome touch or a crude remark they'd experienced said they had learned to ignore it. Most said they convinced themselves to shrug off these routine assaults and humiliations to avoid angering their attackers, or for fear of bringing shame upon themselves and their families.

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