Need to Overhaul the Mindset

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Vageshwari Deswal


Gang rape, brutal murder, another life lost. The usual knee jerk reactions- protests and demonstrations, online petitions, candle marches-all demanding that the accused be hanged. Yes, they deserve death. But, what about the victim? Can she be brought back, can the crime be undone. Will the death penalty stop rapes? No…the rot runs deeper.

Victim blaming and slut-shaming are common in cases of sexual assault. In the recent case of veterinarian from Telangana, the State’s home minister said that the victim should have called the police. We always try to find faults with the victim, where she erred and what she could’ve done to avert the tragedy. Nirbhaya was blamed for being out at late hours, in a male company and dressed in western attire. Thus, the inference drawn was that ‘she asked for it.’ It is common to impose restrictions on women in the garb of protection. Women should not venture alone at night, they should stay away from the male company, desist from wearing body-hugging or revealing clothes or anything that may attract unwanted attention, abstain from drinking, etc., and the list is endless. Instead of ensuring their safety by taking pro-active steps, it’s easier for us to curb their independence. This way, whenever something goes wrong, we can easily blame her for transgressing the social norms and jeopardizing her own safety.

We believe that by punishing the accused, the victim has been avenged. We also believe that providing harsher penalties will act as a deterrent and stop rapes. After 2012 there have been multiple instances where the State has given in to public’s demand (Nirbhaya, Kathua and Unnao Cases) and law has been amended twice (in 2013 and 2018) to provide death penalty in cases of brutal rapes, repeat offenders and rape or gang rape of minor girls below 12 years of age. But a provision for the death penalty in the law does not ensure that the death penalty will be granted.

Awarding death penalty is subject to the ‘rarest of rare cases’ doctrine according to which a death sentence is to be pronounced only in those cases where the crime has been committed in an extremely cruel, barbaric or gruesome manner so as to be covered in the category of rarest of rare cases. The compulsory death penalty is against Constitutional rights of equality and right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under articles 14 and 21. Further, it would also go against Section 235(2) of the CrPC, which guarantees a convict a right to be heard while deciding the question of a sentence; and Section 354(3) of CrPC, under which, the court is bound to provide special reasons for imposing a death sentence. In cases where the death penalty is granted, the execution takes ages. Nirbhaya’s rapists were sentenced to the death penalty by a Fast Track Court in Delhi in Sept 2013. More than six years have elapsed and we are still awaiting their execution.

Despite several amendments, incidences of rapes continue unabated. In fact, now we hear cases of extreme brutality. The general perception is that since the laws have been made more stringent, so the rapists resort to extreme measures in a bid to destroy the evidence. But, the question remains- Is provision for death punishment a deterrence? If so then why haven’t murders stopped? Why are women still being gang raped, minor girls, being sexually assaulted?

Incidents of such extreme depravity compel one to ponder over the reasons behind the growing incidences of such beastly acts. How many more Nirbhayas before this savagery stops. Have our men dehumanized? Where have we as a society gone wrong?

Humans by nature are not violent. They are social animals. It is the society that shapes their attitudes and beliefs that give rise to their aspirations. Centuries of patriarchy have conditioned men to believe in their superiority and to look down upon women as inferior beings. The cosmetic industry, media, entertainment even sports thrive on the objectification of women. We have songs comparing women to ‘Tandoori Murgi’, ‘coca-cola’ or ‘gud ki dali’ beckoning men to consume them. The caste system is another slur on our culture and needs to be abolished. Lower caste women are raped with impunity by men belonging to higher castes. Pornography is the leading industry. Presenting women as saleable commodities, consumer culture is encouraged. Since women are reduced to mere bodies so they can be violated and ravished sans any guilt.

Young children are also not spared. We have toy shops with shelves full of sexually objectified dolls and gun-toting monsters. These leave an indelible impression upon young minds. We have video games promoting violence. The society has to be put on Red Alert. Our men need to be saved from dehumanization. They have been transformed into soulless monsters. If we have to save our men, we need to stop the objectification and commodification of women.

We also need to seriously consider legalization of prostitution. Countries that have legalized prostitution (Netherlands, Austria, Brazil, etc.) have shown a remarkable decrease in cases of sexual violence. The society also needs to loosen up. Out morally stiff society shuns all sorts of interactions between unmarried men and women. Sex is taboo and entails a social stigma. A skewed sex ratio is one of the contributing factors. Due to the lack of interaction between the sexes, men don’t know how to behave in a female company. Suppressed sexuality has greater chances of erupting into violent behavior. We don’t teach our boys to respect the agency of women. The concept of ‘Consent’ is incomprehensible to them.

Laws alone cannot provide a solution for this problem. In the last decade, reporting has increased, FIR registration has been made mandatory in rape cases. We have gender-sensitive protocols for medical examination and recording of statement of the victim. Law provides for speedy investigations and fast track of trials in rape cases. What we need is better policing, making public spaces safer for women, ensuring round the clock surveillance of isolated areas and deployment of police at all strategic points. It is not harsher punishments that will deter. It is the fear of being caught and not being spared. A system that ensures that no accused can manipulate or manage to wriggle out of the clutches of law. A system that deals with rape cases expeditiously from arrest till the execution of sentence and no one is spared. The message should go out loud and clear that ‘no one is above the law’.  We need to prevent rapes from happening. Prevention and not punishment is the solution and that requires concerted efforts on part of all the stakeholders.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

via TOI Blog

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