In the background of the news of several rapes taking place in Uttar Pradesh, recently, a lady friend of mine shared a picture on Whatsapp, which showed that crimes like rape are handled with alarming deftness and shocking brutality is some Middle Eastern countries, where a rape accused is variously beheaded, stoned to death, shot by firing squad or finished off using other such methods, within a time-frame varying from a day to a week. My friend was asking the question that every woman is asking today – what needs to be done in India to ensure that women feel safe in this country? Why not take a leaf out of these Middle Eastern examples was something that was begging to be asked too.
Considering the fact that current DNA Mapping methods impose a typical two-week window before they can be used as evidence, the summary executions apparently practiced by our Middle Eastern friends will thus be based only on circumstantial evidence, something I believe that the Indian legal system would normally not permit. Further, I'm also not sure if the research on that Whatsapp picture was really credible, and even if it is credible, should we as one of the finest model democracies; make the mistake of benchmarking ourselves against medieval autocracies like the countries mentioned?
However, I do agree that the situation in India is alarming, with a daily update on news of rapes, rape & stripping and parading the victims, rape & acid attack to deface the victims and the most gruesome of all, rape & hanging in public of the victims. Watching the news has become simply depressing. What kind of male psyche is it that not only sexually violates random women and young girls, but also makes them want to mutilate and kill their victims? The killings are not even hidden or masked in any manner, but are instead, displayed in full public glare like as though they were trophies on a hunter’s wall? That is a level of mental illness and depravity that I have never seen before.
It is quite sad to say that one gets an impression that some of these rapists have no doubt, been emboldened by the unknowing support some politicians seem to be giving them, by questioning the victims’ antecedents, dressing and intent (what was she doing walking on the street at 8pm?). Now that the perpetrators know that retribution is weak, and that a whole gaggle of paternalistic politicians would be happy to wink at their crimes with a 'boys will be boys' homily. The politics of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar should not define our approach to this problem, and India needs a very harsh and fresh look at the Law that should aim to prevent such crimes by changing the mindset of the male population. Of course, in this context, genuine social change will take generations to come about, hence the only viable near-term alternative is to instill fear. We have to make this crime inconceivable to each and every male. Period.
Name-Shame-Defang. There is little doubt that we need to speed up the legal process by quick and conclusive investigation using scientifically proven methods. The Perpetrators have to be named and tried in public, while the victims must be kept totally anonymous and under protection of the state. The current practice of calling the victims to the witness stand, where then an attempt is made to tear her credibility to shreds and also call to question her personal life must be done away with. Rape investigation that is proven by scientific methods should require no cross examination by a sleazy lawer, and any woman, regardless of the fact that she may even be a prostitute, possesses an inalienable right to safety and security and not be raped! Social ostracization of the perpetrator needs to be ensured, not of the victim.
Finally, as the act of rape is considered as measure of one’s manhood in some society’s in India, all such men must be made to understand that it is just not acceptable behavior, and if they do indulge in such a criminal act, the State, in addition to the normal imprisonment and fines, will ensure that they can never do it again, with the introduction of new punishments like medical castration for proven rapists. Deterrent harsh punishment - Democratic process. That is the key. Especially, if the so-called masculinity of the rapist, something greatly treasured and protected in feudal India, is taken away from him and he is neutered and shamed in front of his society, I dare say that younger wannabe rapists wouldn't ever dare try it.
The Death Penalty, of course has already been provided by the new law for rape-murder cases (post the Delhi gang rape & murder case), but it should not apply to the ‘rarest of rare’ cases, but should be applied to each and every case of rape-murder. The choice of punishment and sentencing should not be left to the social construct of a Judge, but predetermined by law. Case proved? – Apply this punishment:
- Molestation or Eve Teasing if proven in a first offense – Imprisonment for the maximum term and maximum fine. Repeat offenders will need to be prosecuted for rape, or the next more serious offense.
- When rape is proven in a first offense – Castration, Life imprisonment and maximum fine. Repeat offenders will need to be prosecuted for rape-murder, or the next more serious offense.
- When rape-murder is proven, on the very first offense – Castration, and Death Penalty. We need to ensure that there is no chance of Repeat offenders.
A new department tasked with the Protection of Women’s Rights and Safety similar to the National Human Rights Commission, with suo-moto powers to initiate investigation and manage the prosecution needs to be set up and they need to automatically take up the investigation and prosecution of all women's protection cases. The investigation needs to be predetermined in terms of the steps to be followed and the precautions to be exercised, so that the evidence can be collected flawlessly and scientifically. The local police will then not be able to demonstrate incompetence (willfully or otherwise) or gloss over the case and protect the perpetrators. I would love to see Ms. Kiran Bedi head such a department.
Here are some of the distressing stories that made the news recently (story courtesy NDTV):
The tiny village of Karta in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, woke up on Wednesday morning to the chilling sight of two teen girls hanging from a tree in an orchard. The girls, cousins aged 14 and 15, had gone missing from home the night before.
The horrific crimes against women just refuse to cease. On Tuesday, a tribal woman was allegedly gang-raped by 10 men, including her husband, in Madhya Pradesh's Bhilai Borkhedi village. She was also allegedly made to drink urine and paraded semi-naked in the village.
32-Year-Old Woman Allegedly Gang-Raped in Badaun
And so on the story goes. Even as I write this, there is another story about a women raped and hung in Uttar Pradesh. Do we have the will and weapons to end it?