India (MNN) — Last month, a young woman in India was violently gang raped by six men on a bus. She later died.
The crime brought global attention to India, and if her attackers are convicted, they could face the death penalty.
International eyes are fixed on India today as five of the six suspected rapists appear before a judge for the first of many court hearings. The sixth man, a minor, will be tried separately in a juvenile court.
This case not only triggered mass riots and indignation in the streets of New Delhi, but it's moving at warp speed through India's tortoise-like justice system.
"When nobody outside of India is paying attention, the justice system really doesn't have a reason to hurry," explains Lindsay Ackerman with Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India.
But now that they're in the global spotlight, "India's leaders are really concerned about how their response appears to the outside world."
Will it be a step toward true change or simply a political play? At first it seems the prior, as Delhi police announced Friday the rape was a watershed case.
"This incident was the turning point in the history of the [Delhi] police force. This case has given a new direction to the criminal justice system of India," said Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar at the annual Delhi Police press conference.
He added, "This was the most horrifying case in the history of Delhi Police. This year [our focus] will be entirely on the safety of women."
One of the "extra security measures" initiated by police to protect women in the capital city of Delhi was an extension of the police helpline. The line previously only operated until 8 p.m. but now will function 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Police also plan to increase patrolling.
For Ackerman, the security of women in India is a wait-and-see scenario.
"Even if one woman is helped, they're going a step in the right direction," she admits. "The trouble is that India's government is pretty good at passing laws and adopting action steps, but whether it will be followed through day-by-day…that's a whole other story.
"It just remains to be seen whether this is actually going to be a cultural shift, or if it's just something that changes right now while it's in the headlines."
The Delhi police report a nearly 24% increase in rape cases between 2011 and 2012. Over 700 cases were reported in the capital, while only 542 were filed in 2011. Ackerman says most rape cases don't even make it this far.
"Typically women are blamed for the attack; their own families might even ostracize them," she says. "They're not going to go to the police and report it because it's such a shameful thing to have happened to them."
But through Misson India's Literacy Program, eyes are being opened to the Light of Christ.
"Women in India, they're used to being treated like second-class citizens, so it's kind of a mind-blowing concept that God loves them and values them," says Ackerman.
For 52 weeks, dozens of Mission India literacy students students meet for 2 hours a night to obtain a fifth-grade level of education, awareness of basic rights and fair wages, and entrepreneurial skills to increase family income. Bible-based curriculum introduces students to the Gospel.
"Alongside of the reading and writing and math, [teachers are] also just talking with them about God, and how God cherishes them and created them in His image," Ackerman states.
"As our students discover that they are actually valued–cherished by their Creator, it gives them confidence to stand up to abuse because they know they don't deserve to be treated poorly."
Click here to learn more about the program. Pray that women would find salvation through Jesus Christ. Pray also that God would help women see their eternal value through Him.