Rape - A Mistake or Crime
In the Oxford Dictionary, the rape is defined as an act of violent assault or plunder, defile or deflower in the context of an act forcing especially woman or girl to have sexual intercourse unwillingly. By this simple definition itself the act appears to be of the nature of a heinous crime particularly against woman or girl. But what if this heinous act of crime is justified simply a mistake?
During the last two years, two rape cases agitated and rocked minds of every sensible Indian and even many abroad. The first one involved a gang rape and fatal assault on a twenty-three years old physiotherapy intern in a private bus on 16th December 2012 at late evening in South Delhi while she was accompanied with a male friend. A total of six offenders including the bus driver and a juvenile raped the woman and inflicted fatal injuries when the latter resisted their onslaught. She (nick-named Nirbhaya) succumbed to fatal injuries after thirteen days while undergoing treatment at a hospital in Singapore.
The other case involved a photo-journalist intern with an English magazine in Mumbai. She had gone to the deserted Shakti Mills compound in South Mumbai with a male colleague on 22nd August 2013 in connection with her assignment where she was gang-raped by five persons including a juvenile. The culprits tied up her colleague, raped her, took pictures during the sexual assault and threatened her to release it on social networking sites in the event of her reporting the incident. Subsequently, another victim came forward to report similar assault on her in which three offenders were involved in both crimes.
Consequent to widespread protests and outrage among public across the country following the Delhi gang rape regarding the strengthening and enforcing legislation on rape, a judicial committee was set up to study and make recommendations to amend laws to provide prompt investigation and prosecution of such offenders. This followed the promulgation of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance in 2013, several new laws were passed subsequently making punishment for sexual offences more stringent including death penalty in certain events and many new fast-track courts were created for prompt and efficient handling of the rape cases.
In both the cases, consequent to mass public outrage police acted with reasonable promptitude and accuracy in so far as all the accused were arrested and charged commensurate with the severity of the crime. In the Delhi Rape case, trials were held in a fast-track court and four culprits were sentenced to death in September 2013 by the lower court, and after hearing appeals of the convicts, the Delhi High Court upheld conviction and death sentences. The case is now to be heard and disposed by the Supreme Court. Of the remaining two accused, one hanged himself (status disputed by family and defence lawyer) in prison during the trial and the juvenile was convicted of the rape and murder by the Juvenile Court and given the maximum sentence of three years imprisonment in a reform homeas per the current Indian Law. In the Mumbai Rape case, the sessions court has awarded the death penalty to three repeat offenders and life imprisonment to two other convicts only recently in April 2014.
Notwithstanding above cases, there is no declining trend in crime and sexual offences against woman and infact such statistic nationally suggests an upward trend which, of course, is attributed to the fact that more women are now opting to report the crime rather than quietly bearing the curse on their body and soul lifelong. Many critics maintain that the enforcement machinery and legal system continue to remain less woman friendly and slow to hear and prosecute rape cases and there is absolutely no improvement in the rape culture and related brutality.
As per the data of National Crime Records Bureau, the number of rape cases that registered in India were 24206 in 2011 which went up to about 25000 in 2012. The actual number of rapes is likely to be higher, as there is still a social stigma attached to rape, preventing many women and their families in conservative environment to register fearing social embarrassment, infamy and family honour issues. Among metropolitan cities, Delhi continues to top the list of such crimes in consecutive years.On an average, a new rape case is reported every 22 minutes and conviction rate in such cases is only a little over 24%.
Incidentally, the above referred cases occurred in two Metropolitan cities namely Delhi and Mumbai where citizen happen to be more aware and right conscious and women too feel more liberated compared to smaller cities and villages. I still remember a small news item without a headline on the same date in the National daily reporting Nirbhaya case about the plight of a young girl from a poor family in a village of the western Uttar Pradesh. The girl was earlier raped by the village goons and family threatened not to report to police. The local police discouraged the family to file FIR and when the family persisted with their demand, the same goons openly humiliated and murdered the girl.
Nicholas Groth, an American author and mental health care specialist, in his book ‘Men Who Rape…’ have attempted to explain the psychology, clinical aspects, assault pattern and sexual behavior of rapists/offenders. He has broadly categorized rapes as power rape, anger rape and sadistic rape. Under the power rape category, the rapist usually suffers with underlying feelings of inadequacy and rely upon verbal threats, intimidation with a weapon, and only uses the amount of force necessary to subdue the victim. In the anger rape category, the offender uses sex as a weapon to defile and degrade the victim often through physical violence and profane language. This type of offender(s) may attack their victim by grabbing, striking and knocking the victim to the ground, beating them, tearing their clothes, and raping them.
The sadistic rape category is perhaps worst form where the rapists tend to combine anger and power for the sexual gratification. For this rapist, sexual excitement is associated with the inflicting of pain upon their victim and they find pleasure in the victim's torment, pain, anguish, distress, helplessness, and suffering. For these rapists, the sexual areas of the victim's body become a specific focus of injury or abuse. Gang rape is most probably an aberration of this form predominantly committed mostly by the young men.
The modesty of women is violated by men with criminal orientation under various sexual offences through harassment, assault and rape. Sexual harassment would ordinarily include stalking, vulgar remarks, gestures, indecent jokes, touching, grabbing, pinching or brushing body parts in a sexual manner. Sexual assault would mean intentional touching or fondling of private parts, voyeurism, exposure of undesired pornographic material, exhibitionism and unlawful display of private images in public domain. Rape is an extreme of sexual assault involving intercourse or penetration, which is done by one or more people against the victim without latter’s consent. The term rape is often used interchangeably with the term sexual assault. Of all these violations, the rape is the most violent and abhorable crime committed against women.
According to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, the rape means an unlawful intercourse done by a man with a woman without her valid consent. The rape outrages a woman's modesty, who after the incident lives a pathetic life under constant fear, depression, guilt complex, suicidal thoughts and such other social stigma.
On April 10, 2014, a top leader of national fame nick-named ‘Netaji’, of a political party with socialistic leanings, in response to the death sentences handed down to culprits of the gang rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai at an election event, made a statement, “Boys are boys. They make mistakes. Why hang them?” Reportedly, he is added subsequently that boy and girl fall in love and later part ways due to differences, and when the friendship ends, the girl complains she has been raped. The leader, a self-proclaimed prime ministerial candidate, is also stated to be have assured electorate to change rape laws abolishing capital punishment in the event of coming to power at centre.
Yet another able deputy of the respectable ‘Netaji’ is stated to have gone one step ahead in his public utterances the following day, “Nothing happens to women. Only man is punished. Even the woman is guilty. If any woman, whether married or unmarried, goes along with a man, with or without her consent, she should be hanged. Both should be hanged. It should not be allowed even if a woman goes by consent.”
I wonder if ‘Netaji’ is really so innocent or ignorant as to understand the difference between a ‘mistake’ and ‘heinous crime’ or he purportedly took this stand. It is an established fact that of the three given capital punishment, two repeat offenders in Mumbai Gang Cape case are from the minority community and Netaji is well known for years taking all steps to woo voters of this community in the name of secularism. But then it is a glaring case of irresponsible act in either way. I only wish some good sense would prevail among such politicians so that they at least spare such sensitive social issues from encashing for their petty political ambitions or short term gains. It is proved beyond doubt that both the Delhi and Mumbai gang rape cases were not a circumstantial 'mistakes' but meticulously planned and executed acts of barbarism and heinous 'crimes'.Such utterances would come only from people who are not prepared to accept gender equality with due respect and consideration and instead treat woman like any other worldly possession or consumer object.
To my opinion, the only eventuality one can call it a 'mistake' would be where the offender has no criminal background or intent, the act is committed in a spur of moment followed by the guilt and shameful realization of what he has done to the victim and seeks unconditional apology and reprieve voluntarily submitting self to any punishment, and the victim willingly grants him pardon with no stigma attached. However, different persons may have different views and perceptions on this.
Incidentally, while awarding death penalty to the three convicts, the judge inter alia said, "Mumbai gang-rape accused have least respect for law. They don't have potential for reformation as per facts of case. The suffering that gang-rape survivor and her family has undergone is unparalleled." "Exemplary and rarest of rare punishment is required in the case," the judge further said, adding, crime violates all rights of survivor.
As expected, such utterances have created an outrage equally among the sensible minds as also those who look for every opportunity to derive political mileage over opponents. There was a widespread condemnation among leaders of the other political parties, woman right activists, apolitical leaders and conscientious individuals among various sections of the society. It is not difficult to analyze or understand the purpose and implications of such insensitive and shameful remarks once you look into the timing, place and composition of audience. Besides, the social background and upbringing as also religious leanings of such leaders and individuals also have bearings on the thoughts and belief of such persons. Otherwise why a leader, public figure or even common man should be bigamous or be justifying profess polygamy in the modern age.
Netaji might have said this on the election eve to woo a particular section of electorate to derive maximum political mileage out of it. But then this bias against women appears to be a widespread practice in the male-dominated society in India. It is not uncommon to find people who often treat men as prey of circumstances who indulge in such assault or rape only when provoked by the other sex. Some time back, Maharashtra home minister made an utterly irresponsible statement that female journalists should not go to secluded places without police escorts. Instead of creating necessary social security and public order, people in high offices try to justify separate rules for women with do’s and don’ts.
There is also the usual bashing of ‘western culture’ that has contributed to women’s lib in a great way in terms of dressing sense and going out to work. In some parts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states, the village councils have forbidden girls and women to wear jeans or carry mobile phones, a retrograde step to encourage the primitive hierarchy of the sexes.Then the rape is seen by the cops and many civilians as fault of the woman with vicious grilling making outrageous queries: Why was she wearing provocative or revealing clothes? Why did she venture out of the house so late at evening or night? She has been too much mixing with boys, so this was bound to happen, and so and so forth.
As for the causes for rape, several factors such as individual, peer, family and social factors seems to be responsible for the crime. Alcohol and drug consumption is considered to be one of the major factors leading to sexual abuse and violence. Violent men are usually known to have coercive sexual fantasies and are more hostile towards woman. Childhood environments that are physically violent, emotionally unsupportive and characterized by competition for scarce resources have been associated with sexual violence. While laws and national policies on gender equality may have its bearing, poverty, physical and social environment too plays important role. To some extent, appropriate dressing sense is required but this applies to both genders. For illustration, for going to an evening party, one may require certain set of clothes which may not always be appropriate at a work place. Of the various crimes against the feminine gender, the rape is the most violent and heinous crime which is committed against women.
Instead of dismissing such heinous crimes as ‘mistake, for petty political gains or being biased and defensive against the victims of rape, there is a need to engage various sections of society including political leadership, law of the land, security agencies, intelligentsia, community leaders, NGOs and aware citizens to create right mindset and meaningful consideration of the causes and remedies to minimize occurrences of this serious social evil.
First and the foremost cause of the large number of rape cases is the lack of adequate public safety and order. Majority of women don’t feel safe outside their homes at work place and roads, and ifor many such sense of security is lacking even within the boundaries of homes. While there are instances of disproportionate deployment on individual security, enough police is not available for protecting interests of ordinary citizens. Further, many security personnel are often found lacking requisite tools and training for investigative skills and evidence-gathering. Another issue is the critical shortage of women police officers and constables. Rape victims have better comfort level if they have to deal with and narrate their ordeal to female officers. This issue needs addressal right up to smaller cities and village level.
An important step taken after Nirbhaya case is the strengthening of laws dealing with sexual assault and rape. The death penalty is justified in case of repeat offenders and criminality attached with certain crime, and needs to be retained as a deterrent too. Another important issue is a very slow legal system in India. Cases drag on for years leading to a small percentage of convictions due to various constraints. Hence offenders have little regard for the law and enforcement agencies. A few fast track courts created consequent to much publicized cases in Delhi and Mumbai is a welcome step but there is a dire need to constitute more such courts across the country.
In rural areas, the victim and their family particularly from the poor and weaker sections are in many cases pressurized by the influential people and police as well to drop charges against the offender. Victims are often asked by village elders and clan councils to compromise with the family of accused and drop charges and at times even to marry the rapist. Such undue pressures and compromises need to be avoided through education, awareness, better enforcement of law, security and order.
Also education and awareness should be such as to change mindset and outlook of the society and victim towards the rape so that it is considered like any other serious crime against humanity without any social taboo or stigma attached. This will enable them to come forward to fight against the crime seeking natural justice in all cases. Toll free number(s) should be created and efficiently managed for the assistance of victims across the land.
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Dr. Jaipal Singh
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