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India rape case: Will protests finally spark change?

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The mistreatment starts early — with sex-selective abortions and even female infanticides that have wildly skewed India's gender ratio. India's 2011 census showed that the country had 914 girls under age 6 for every 1,000 boys.

Indian movies and television shows routinely trivialize women. In the often suggestive songs and dances of Bollywood films, it's not unusual for the leading man and a gang of his buddies to chase a coyly reluctant actress, touching, pulling and throwing themselves on top of her.

On television, the most popular soap operas show the ideal Indian woman as meek, submissive and accepting of her traditional role inside the home.

Any discussion of sexual violence has so far been taboo. In the past, politicians have said that women should dress modestly and not stay out late to avoid rape and molestations.

But following the New Delhi gang rape, a usually lethargic government machinery has responded more quickly, and with more empathy than before. Perhaps sensing the intensity of public anger — some activists and protesters have demanded that all rapists be chemically castrated, given the death penalty or even lynched in public — the government has vowed to enlist more women police officers and toughen sexual assault laws.

The public outpouring of anger and support has made many women across India feel like their fears and concerns are finally being heard.

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research and a longtime women's rights activist, said the fact that boys and men had joined the protests "gives us hope."

"Then it becomes everyone's issue, and not just a women's issue," she said.

But no one imagines that change will be quick.

"The process is gradual," Kumari said. "Extremely patriarchal societies don't change in short bursts. But this movement will certainly not go to waste."

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Associated Press writers Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, Aijaz Rahi in Bangalore, Indrajit Singh in Patna, Wasbir Hussain in Gauhati and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Allahabad contributed to this report.

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