India (MNN) — Earlier this week, Judge Yogesh Khanna convicted four men of murder, rape, and kidnapping in a brutal December 2012 case that grabbed national and international attention. Today, Judge Khanna announced their fate: death.
Under past Indian Supreme Court rulings, the death penalty is warranted for crimes committed in such "an extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical, revolting, or dastardly manner so as to arouse intense and extreme indignation of the community."
A new law, resulting from national anger generated by this case, passed in March and allows judges to issue the death penalty to rape attacks that lead to the victim's death.
MNN discussed the case with Sarah Sparks from India Partners.
"It's very close to my heart because I've worked with abused women for 10 years," she explains.
"Rape has been called the national issue of India. Most women would think of abuse…as norm; that's how prevalent it is."
Statistics agree: though rapes are said to occur every 20 minutes in India, only 572 rapes were reported in 2011, according to India's National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB).
However, The Times of India reports 1,121 rape cases were registered in New Delhi during the first eight months of 2013. That's more than twice the amount of last year's figures over the same time period.
Why is the crime so common?
"I think part of it goes back to the fundamental worldviews," says Sparks. "It goes back to the very fundamental, core belief system within India."
Sparks grew up in India but describes her experience as "mixed."
"I have been given the privileges in life, unlike most women in India. But at the same time, I also heard a lot of this, 'Oh, [how] unfortunate for your father that you are a daughter' versus a son," explains Sparks.
"Daughters are usually treated as a liability, which is how I have been treated as well."
She's also experienced the degrading practices so common in the world's largest democracy. Sparks tells of harsh teasing, as well as being poked and prodded by men on public buses.
"It's a very awkward situation to be [in], where you are fighting for your own safety," she says.
Sparks' experiences are echoed in the words of her past patients: India's trafficked, raped, and domestically abused women and children.
"It's always viewed as the girl's fault," she explains.
The stigma and discrimination that come with sexual assault make it hard for victims to believe Christ's hope and love are real.
"Words such as love, liberation, acceptance are hard to believe for some of these women because they've never heard this vocabulary in their life," Sparks explains.
"There's a very exciting transformation I have seen in some women. But there are others that have completely shut off and said, 'No, it's not me. It cannot happen to someone like me.'"
There are glimmers of hope, though. Sparks brightens when she speaks about a girl named Na-Nee. She became one of the few to escape a dark and dismal reality facing most of India's young girls.
"She was abused, and also they were trying to take her into the sex trade," Sparks explains. "They were trying to traffic her, but that's when she ran away from home, and she came to the shelter."
That's when Sparks shared the life-changing Truth of Scripture with Na-Nee.
"It was a beautiful discussion that Na-Nee and I had; she gave her life to the Lord," Sparks recounts.
Today, Na-Nee's life opposes a strongly-held view in Indian culture.
"No matter what happens to you, you don't leave your family," explains Sparks. "Women who are abused and who leave the family setting and come out to escape abuse: they're always seen as marginalized."
As a result, it's hard for women who escape abuse to find a husband.
"But in Na-Nee's case, God just has great plans for her life, and He just redeemed this girl."
"She completed her college; she's currently a mother, a wife," says Sparks proudly.
The 23-year-old Delhi rape case victim was studying physiotherapy, seemingly holding a future as bright as Na-Nee's. Many citizens and prosecutors have called for the death of perpetrators Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh Singh, who squelched the victim's bright future last December. Most feel a harsh ruling in the case would "set an example" and help stem the tide of sexual assault crimes.
Sparks isn't sure.
"I would like to be positive and think it will change," she states. "But the core, fundamental belief that a 'woman is less' doesn't make it too hopeful. Because as long as that mindset, that worldview exists…it would be hard to see a change."
Regardless, your prayers are needed.
"For women to be able to stand up, education is necessary. Women need to be empowered; we need people that work with them, that encourage them," says Sparks.
"It's a very hopeless situation, so they need people that encourage and give hope, bring that message of hope to them."
Click here to help more of India's people learn to read and write through India Partners.
"Education…is significant because it transforms the thinking of women, where they have the ability to stand up for themselves," Sparks states. "That's another big area that I would ask [people] to pray for."
Above all else, pray for God's protection over the women of India. Pray that the Gospel will spread.
"That transformational message is necessary for the people of India," says Sparks. "As the message of God spreads in this nation, we could eventually see some of this abuse against women, the rate of it or the ratio of it, coming down."