The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Gang Rape and “Peaceful Death”

December 29, 2012

The world has payed attention to the gang-rape of a young woman (her name has not been made widely public) in Delhi and her struggle to survive over the last few weeks. The reports of the brutal incident on December 16th broke through the national news of India and set waves of reports through the rest of the world. The sheer violence, randomness, and horror of it seemed to fixate the globe.

Now, as we learn that this woman’s struggle to survive after multiple surgeries, cardiac arrest, and evidence of brain damage has ended, there seems to be an attempt to shift this story back into familiar categories of domestic sexual violence and out of the political sphere. Reports on the death of this woman consistently re-report the hospital’s claim that she ‘died peacefully.’ This may seem like a side note to the entire story, yet these words hold significant political value and raises some important questions, including:

Does the focus on her ‘peaceful’ death detract from the violent nature of her attack and her exhausting struggle for life over the last 2 weeks?

How does the reporting of a ‘peaceful death’ make readers feel? Does it ease our own pain and conscience?

How is the ‘peaceful death’ a juxtaposition against political violence and wartime rape? Is this distinction helpful in understanding the political nature of all sexual violence?

Of course I understand that technically the death was described as peaceful likely because the woman was given sufficient pain medication. Yet, I think it is still worth pondering why this description has become the center of so many of the reports on this woman’s death. Clearly, I don’t have the answers, yet as Indian protests continue to be waged, and activists cry out for this act to be recognized as symbolic of the extensive use of rape ACROSS THE GLOBE- within war and outside of war, in white, non-white, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, communities alike,  in ‘developed’ countries as well as ‘developing’- it seems a shame to try to end this story in a way that eases rather than invigorates our political commitment to this issue.

While I hope her final moments were indeed painless and peaceful, this woman did not die peacefully. She died after being gang raped for over an hour by a group of men, some of whom used an iron rod. Her intestines and internal organs were damaged beyond repair and she suffered severe brain damage.  During her weeks in the hospital she survived and international transfer to a hospital in Singapore, multiple surgeries, and cardiac arrest. Her death is a political signal for us to take sexual violence seriously, it is a call to let the discomfort- the non-peacefully -ness- of this incident and all forms of sexual violence inspire us into action and reflection.


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Megan MacKenzie is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney in Australia. Her main research interests include feminist international relations, gender and the military, the combat exclusion for women, the aftermaths of war and post-conflict resolution, and transitional justice. Her book Beyond the Band of Brothers: the US Military and the Myth that Women Can't Fight comes out with Cambridge University Press in July 2015.