By Indranil Dey
India has long been known as the land of virtues. Whether in religions, scriptures, or depictions in old cave-paintings, women’s empowerment has been a central theme down the ages. Well almost! Despite how we would like to view ourselves, the fact remains that India is a safe haven for rapists and sexual predators. I am not even going to quote the statistics for they hardly capture the emotional and affective dimensions of each of these cases. It diminishes what each victim feels and how time and again the system makes the perpetrator feel vindicated.
Take, for instance, the night of 16 Dec, 2012. A twenty-one year old, Jyoti Pandey, goes out to watch a movie with a friend. She boards a bus plying on a busy road in the heart of the capital city, Delhi, that evening; five men, along with a ‘juvenile’, gang-rape her in the moving bus. Then to complete the brutal act, they impale her private parts with rods. The juvenile shouts: ‘Mar saali mar!’ (‘die bi*** die’) repeatedly.
The brave-heart that she is, she fights the infection set from gangrene in her intestines from the assault. She narrates how brutal the juvenile was, how she pleaded with the men time and again to just let her…live. She is full of hope that, despite the horrendous night, she will live. All this she narrates from a hospital bed. She helps the police in every way possible. After all, she wants justice for herself and wants to live on. She dies after fifteen days of the assault in a foreign land – in a top Singapore hospital.
And what happened to the five men and the juvenile? The juvenile is sentenced to three years in prison and he will shortly be released a ‘changed man’, as hoped by the juvenile justice board. One of the accused men commits suicide in the jail. The other four are sentenced to death by the ‘fast’ track court, which was created after the ruckus caused by the people in the aftermath of the incident. They have appealed to the high court against it. And going by the past records and statistics, this case may well drag on for a number of years now. Of course, they might even get exonerated if the government drags it for more than a decade.
The other aspect of this case was the unity of the Indian public and an outrage by the intellectual community, which lasted for exactly the time it requires a news channel to garner high TRPs or, might we say, as long as it takes to cook a 2-minute noodle. The Times Group even gave a symbolic name to the girl: Nirbhaya (fearless). Then people returned to their normal lives and four months later, guess what, an 8-yr old girl was raped.
If we were to look at the problem in a purely objective way, we could quickly conclude that despite the tall claims, the Indian government, Indian laws, and the esteemed Indian judiciary have been largely ineffective to the point of being incompetent, when it comes to providing a safe environment for women’s unfettered mobility. In the words of an economist, there are too few disadvantages or lack of deterrence to NOT do something to a woman in India.
And ‘deterrence’ is the keyword here. The victimization of the victim, who knocks the doors of justice, begins from the time she reports the crime. And despite several ‘incidents’, sessions on sensitizing the police, and promises made by the judiciary, the whole process remains a joke.
Why else would we have a barbaric two-finger test (TFT) until the other day to test the victim of assault? It is only this week that the Indian health ministry has outlawed TFT, eight months after the Supreme Court of India declared TFT a violation of the rape victim’s privacy.
The main concern is that the laws, which are made to protect the victims, are never used in the spirit of the law.
Why would the character of a girl, clothes she wears or the company she keeps be relevant to the investigation of a rape? Logically, it doesn’t. Lawfully, it doesn’t. But, somehow, morality, religion, and the dreaded word, ‘culture’, are mobilized to torment the victims.
The cases which belong to the other end of the spectrum do not help either. When an actress accuses, ‘The director has raped me for 6 months’, didn’t she realize what was happening? Was it happening in slow-mo that it took six months for her to realize? The fact remains that she compromised something as a deal and when things didn’t work out in her favor, she retrospectively misused the law for revenge. The fact is that sexual tension and sexual favors are a part in the office-spaces.
The case also extends to jilted lovers, partners practicing premarital/extramarital sex, and so on. It is largely unfair to the actual rape victims if these cases also fall under the same umbrella for they diminish the gravity of the actual crimes.
The same logic applies to the molestation cases. This goes without saying that the punishment for the molesters and acid-attackers should be swift and ruthless. But these cases should be treated differently. How could Tarun Tejpal ‘rape’ a woman in an elevator in 2 minutes? Here we can start a debate on how this incident could be used to widen the scope of rape laws. However, that is a different debate altogether.
What is needed is social support for the victim, a definitive framework to apprehend the criminal, his total banishment from society, sensitizing the police, and, above all, swift and ruthless punishment for all crimes against women.
India is not safe for women.
Revisit the list the grandma used to tell when you were young, learn them by rote, and follow them without question. Better be safe than sorry.
P.S. If you are a reader who thinks, ‘Here we go again…another India-basher. Don’t rapes happen in other countries?’ To you, I would say, ‘Well, I don’t care what happens in other countries. I want our mothers, sisters, wives, and women to be safe and not become merely an object for debate’.
Indranil Dey writes software for a living. He is passionate about reading books in almost every genre under the sun. He writes for pleasure. He loves rubiks cube solving and chess.
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