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(Article) CSM - February 2013: India is Ashamed

INDIA IS ASHAMED

The Indian Moving Bus Gang Rape Case in Delhi is much talked about and is being followed issue in Indian society these days. What had happened on the night of 16th of December had shaken the whole nation’s soul and has also raised the question on the level of inhumanity and brutality one can ever think of. The incident was a slap – slap on the face of the nation, the police forces, the government, the judiciary, but above all it was a tight slap on the face of the humanity. India is ashamed…………………

After they were thrown out of the bus – they were there lying naked on the road. Shouting and screaming for help. There were many people surrounding them; looking at them; auto rickshaws and car drivers came and went. None of them thought of taking them to the hospital, or even to cover their nude bodies. The whole Delhi (India) turned out to be a rapist – the rapists of humanity, as no one helped them. In case they had had been helped on time the reality today with have been different. Three PCR Vans passed by, but none helped them (claimed by misfortunate girl’s friend in interview). Then after one of the passerbies called the police and at last when they came after two and a half hours not even a single police personal had a thought of covering the naked bodies of the two victims in such a shivering cold.

The gang rape in the capital of a paramedical student, who died in hospital, should more than just outrage us. Rape is not simply about law and order, or about deranged individuals. Nor is the problem going to be solved by more laws, more police on our streets, more CCTV cameras on our buses or stiffer sentences for rapists. The gang rapes that are occurring with alarming regularity must compel us to reflect upon who we are as a society. Just like the killing of young innocents is forcing Americans to address the societal reasons for such violence and not just blame one individual, Indians need to understand that gang rape is not just an aberration committed by inhuman men. We need to address how we as a society are implicated in producing such appalling levels of violence against women, which is increasingly being tolerated and even normalised. As women enter the work place and the public arena, their boldness and confidence seem to trigger a sense of insecurity in a society where men are used to being in charge. While it is impossible to reduce the issue of violence to one sole cause, that is men, the fact remains that young men are the ones committing these crimes. These include the 2003 gang rape of a 17-year-old Delhi University student in Buddha Jayanti Park; the Dhaula Kuan gang rape in 2005 in a moving car of a student from Mizoram; and the 2010 gang rape of a young BPO employee from the north-east.

Caught as they were between the stony silence of an impassive government and the cynically simplistic demands of Opposition politicians for instant justice, it is hardly surprising that the leaderless crowds which spontaneously gathered at India Gate on Saturday and Sunday to protest the recent incident of rape in the Capital should have ended up in a violent skirmish with the police. Yes, lumpens looking for a scrap jumped in to take advantage and yes, the police did respond with mindless brutality against everyone present. But the primary responsibility for the turmoil surely lies with our national political leaders who simply lack the ability to understand and engage with a democratic upsurge from below, especially one that is not stratified by language, religion or caste. Confronted with the possibility of mass protest, the government on Saturday should have acted politically to assure the women of India that a serious national review of all legal issues surrounding rape, sexual assault and gender rights would be undertaken on a war-footing. Instead, its first and only instinct was to shut down the public transport system in Central Delhi and prepare for battle. When thousands of young women and men arrived at India Gate on Sunday having successfully evaded official attempts to restrict their movement, they found themselves face to face with a state apparatus that was not interested in a conversation.

Although arrests have been made after the gang rape incident and the government has promised a speedy trial, women in New Delhi and the rest of India do not feel any safer when stepping out of their homes. This is because they know that the official mindset has not changed. Instead of pushing the national debate in the direction of serious systemic reform, especially of law enforcement and justice delivery, a number of Opposition politicians have started an irresponsible debate on the need for the death penalty, or castration of rapists. These demands, which have had a populist echo amongst the protesters at India Gate, ignore the fact that shoddy investigation, poor forensics and misogynist attitudes among the police and even lower judiciary are the main reasons why rape victims in India do not get justice. The editorial page article by Anup Surendranath today explains why castration is not a solution. As for the death penalty, making it mandatory for rape will make it more likely that a rapist kills his victim. A committee headed by Justice J.S. Verma has now been tasked with reviewing the legal position on aggravated sexual assault. What the government must do is to commit itself to implementing all its recommendations, including any on police and judicial reform, and not simply cherry pick those that are politically the most convenient.

What’s happening in world’s biggest democratic Nation. After this incidence Government and all other authorities are taking some actions for the security of women but as per other laws, rules and regulations in India these laws will also be on papers. If we talk about Government or any other authorities they will not make it happen or may be these laws will be implemented for 1-2 years or till General Elections in India. The worst thing about this gang rape incidence is that in all culprits there is an accused who is juvenile.

Like the gang rape in Delhi, these stories lead many to believe that rape is a psychopathology; the work of a handful of evil men. It isn’t: data from across the world shows rape is extraordinarily commonplace. Every year in the U.S., the highly-regarded Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates, over 200,000 women suffer sexual assault — one approximately every two minutes. In 2000, the United Kingdom survey concluded that 4.9 per cent of all women had experienced at least one rape or sexual assault; a more recent survey put the figure at above 10 per cent. Ireland, Sweden and Germany have survey estimates that range from 25 per cent to 34 per cent. Likelier than not, the 24,206 cases reported to police in 2011 are almost certainly the tip of the iceberg. Fifty-three per cent of 12,000 children polled in a 2007 government survey said they had encountered “one or more forms of sexual abuse.” More than a fifth, over half of them boys, reported severe sexual abuse. It is almost certain that even more encountered sexual violence.

The hideous gang-rape in Delhi is part of the continuum of violence millions of Indian women face every single day; a continuum that stretches from sexual harassment in public spaces and the workplace to physical abuse that plays itself out in the privacy of our homes far more often than on the street. Nor is it true, secondly, that Delhi is India’s “rape capital.” There are plenty of other places in India with a higher incidence of reported rape, in population adjusted terms — and Delhi’s record on convicting perpetrators is far higher than the national average. Third, this is not a problem of policing alone. Finally, India’s society rails against rape, in the main,
not out of concern for victims but because of the despicable notion that a woman’s body is the repository of family honour. It is this honour our society seeks to protect, not individual women. It is time for us as a people to feel the searing shame our society has until now only imposed on its female victims.

Castration is not the right legal response

Much before the current demand for chemical castration as a legal response to rape, Additional Sessions Judge Kamini Lau, while sentencing Dinesh Yadav in May 2011 for raping his 15-year old step-daughter for four years, called for a debate on castration as an alternative to incarceration in rape cases. Sentencing Dinesh Yadav to the minimum possible punishment of 10 years for such a crime under Section 375(2) of the Indian Penal Code, Judge Lau indicated that castration, surgical or chemical, would perhaps be a far more effective method to prevent rape. While contemplating the legal and ethical aspects of such a measure, it is important that we
understand the precise terms of the suggestion, its potential to reduce the incidence of rape and its potential for abuse.

Clarity on the meaning of some of the terms might be useful at this juncture. Surgical castration does not mean removal of the penis, but is instead the irreversible surgical removal of the testosterone producing testes. Chemical castration involves injecting antiandrogen drugs that suppress the production of testosterone as long as the drugs are administered.

Once we get past the historical baggage of the term ‘castration,’ the strongest argument in favour of chemical castration is that it is a non-invasive, reversible method of nullifying the production of testosterone and thereby controlling extreme sexual urge. The use of Depo-Provera in many American States subsequent to chemical castration legislation does indicate that it reduces the risk of recidivism. However, such an approach limits the understanding of rape to the framework of sex. Irrespective of the differences in their positions on rape, influential feminists like Susan Brownmiller, Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Ann Cahill, etc., agree that rape is not about the manifestation of extreme sexual urge. Violence, power, aggression and humiliation are central to understanding rape, and sex is only a mechanism used to achieve those aims. Addressing the sexual element of rape does not address the violence and humiliation that rape is intended to inflict. Responding to a question on whether chemical castration for child molesters works, Catharine MacKinnon in an interview with Diane Rosenfeld (March 2000) captured the issue at hand by saying that “they just use bottles”. Castration as a response to rape furthers the myth that rape is about the uncontrollable sexual urge of men.

Let’s ask how we contribute to rape

Lawyers and judges too have joined the protests — and this is all to the good for the more diverse the protests, the more impact they will have. But it’s lawyers who use every ruse in the book to allow rapists to get away, judges who make concessions because the rapists are ‘young men who have their whole lives in front of them’ and so on. Do women’s lives not have a value then?

Hatred for women

It is important to raise our collective voice against rape. But rape is not something that occurs by itself. It is part of the continuing and embedded violence in society that targets women on a daily basis. Let’s raise our voices against such violence and let’s ask ourselves how we, in our daily actions, in our thoughts, contribute to this, rather than assume that the solution lies with someone else. Let’s ask ourselves how we, our society, we as people, create and sustain the mindset that leads to rape, how we make our men so violent, how we insult our women so regularly, let’s ask ourselves how privilege creates violence.

It is important we raise our collective voice for women, but let’s raise it for all women, let’s raise it so that no woman, no matter that she be poor, rich, urban, rural, Dalit, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever, ever, in the future, has to face sexual violence, and no man assumes that because of the system and people’s mindsets, he can simply get away with it. And let’s raise it also for men, for transgenders, for the poor — all those who become targets of violence. Let’s not forget that the young rape survivor in Delhi was accompanied by a friend who too was subjected to violence and nearly killed. Let’s talk about him too.

None of this ought to surprise us: though we might condemn rape, our culture shares the rapist’s values. India’s mass culture is replete with misogyny. Few films even seek to escape romantic memes which involve men pursuing, and eventually conquering, women who say no; it is no coincidence that pop singer Honey Singh, whose lyrics valorise the taming of liberated women, has become a youth icon.

Conviction rate

The point here isn’t that India’s less-than-luminous conviction rates — 26.5 per cent nationally, similar to the U.S. average; 41 per cent in Delhi — are less grim than they seem. Rather, it is that policing isn’t a panacea. The utter failure of highly-resourced U.S. campaigns to stamp out narcotics use is a case in point. None of this is to say improved policing can’t mitigate the problem. More officers, particularly women officers, on the streets, will deter street sexual harassment and stalking. Capacity building for investigation and prosecution will lead to a more effective punishment of perpetrators. Even better lighting in public spaces has been shown to yield results. Harsher police action on street crime, elsewhere in the world, has often correlated with declines in rape rates.

Yet, we ought not to delude ourselves about what can be achieved. There is no reason, for example, to believe more police checkpoints will deter rapists, when they have done next to nothing to apprehend terrorists or robbers. Forensics will also help — but, outside of crime-fiction shows, DNA isn’t a magic anticriminal bullet. Leaving aside the fact that forensic evidence can be matched to perpetrators only in a tiny percentage of cases, criminals have become increasingly adroit at covering their trail. Even a Mumbai suspect recently forced his victim to bathe after raping her, demonstrating a robust grasp of evidence destruction. Lapsing into pseudoscience fantasies that the screening of possible perpetrators will help detect rapists, as judges of the Delhi High Court recently did, helps not at all. Let us begin the process of destigmatisation and demystification of rape by pledging not to use associative words such as “honour,” “violation,” “defilement” and “disgrace.”

Perhaps the real tragedy we must contemplate, as we consider the story of the young woman who died in Singapore hospital after being brutally beaten and gangraped, is this: in six months or less, she will have been forgotten. There will, by then, have been the next victim, and the one after — and absolutely nothing will have changed. Ever since Sunday’s savage crime, India’s political leadership has been loudly engaged in what it appears to believe is advocacy of women’s rights — in the main, dramatic but meaningless calls for summary trials, castration and mandatory death penalties. The same leaders will, if past record proves a guide, do absolutely nothing to actually address the problem. For all the noise that each gang-rape has provoked, Parliament has made no worthwhile progress towards desperatelyneeded legal reforms. Even nutsand- bolts measures, like enhanced funding for forensic investigations, upgrading training of police to deal with sexual crimes, and making expert post-trauma support available to victims, are conspicuous by their absence.

Pankaj Kumar

 

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