Rape: A Matter Of Collective Shame
Nirbhaya’s gang rape in New Delhi and her death in December 2012, shook the conscience of entire nation. Seeing the common citizen seething with anger, one thought that the nation may finally get rid of this horrendous crime against the women. As we got busy with our everyday life, the hopes of living in a rape-free India proved to be a mirage. In August 2013, a young photo-journalist fell prey to a pack of wolves, when she along with her male colleague had ventured into dilapidated premises of a closed factory in Central Mumbai on an assignment.
It is not that no other incident of rape took place between December 2012 and August 2013 in the country. In fact, in the interregnum, a sharp rise in rapes was recorded. Some incidents were reported; some went unreported; some were taken up by media and most remained on the margins.
Women in India, who constitute 49 per cent of population, are under real threat of being subjected to criminal violation in homes, schools, workplaces, public places, public transport and every other conceivable location.
Rape has acquired a dimension of being a collective shame for us Indians. Infants, girls, boys, women of all age group have been victim of this crime. Between 2008 and 2012, a 13.8 per cent increase in incidents of rape was recorded. (See Table 1). Of the 24,923 victims reported in 2012, 3125 (12.5 per cent) were girls below the age of 14 years; 5957 (23.9 per cent) were teenage girls and 12,511 victims (50 per cent) were women in 18-30 years age group.
National Crime Records Bureau records incidents of child rape under the separate Head ‘Crime against Children’. In 2012, 8541 incidents of child rape were recorded. Between 2008 and 2012 child rape has
also increased by 36.2 per cent. (See Table 2).
Despite the support from family, public and media a large number of rape cases still go unreported. For instance, incest rape is the most prevalent form of sexual crime, but out of 24,923 rape cases reported in 2012, only 392 cases were of incest rape, which is just 1.5 per cent of total cases.
Similarly, rape is invariably associated with crimes like abduction, human trafficking and immoral trafficking. About 90,000 children go missing in India every year and 50 per cent remain untraced. It is reasonable to assume that about 45,000 children of whom half would be girls suffer this horrendous crime silently. Crimes against girls and women that happen in the country’s red light areas do not get reported at all.
India’s image in the world due to the incidents of rapes and other crimes against women has taken a beating. In 2013, some foreign tourists were molested or raped at various tourist destinations in the country. During March and May, Australia, New Zealand, UK, US and Switzerland issued travel advisory warning their citizens against visiting India. As per a survey carried out amongst tour operators by Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India, arrival of foreign tourists fell by 25 per cent and 35 per cent female tourists shied away from visiting India during January to March 2013 due to Delhi gang rape and sporadic incidents of sexual violence against foreign tourists.
Which place in India is safer for women – the conservative societies of North and South India or the permissive tribal societies of North-east? It is rather difficult to answer. While Nagaland and Sikkim were found to be safest for women, another north-eastern state Manipur was declared most unsafe for women and children.
Why is rape so prevalent in our society? Being a complex societal and psychological problem, its prognosis is difficult. That is why the statements from political and spiritual leaders on rape have often landed them into a controversy because they see this problem from their restricted perspective.
Rape is an extreme manifestation of our prejudices against women. Its commission may be premeditated or spontaneous but the impulse to outrage the modesty of a hapless woman comes from the dark alleys of a depraved mind where prejudice against fair sex have been encrypted and stored. One may be a perpetrator or a mute witness. It is rather surprising to find that most of the rape accused are juveniles and ‘first timers’ in crimes. Since 2003, there has 143 per cent increase in the involvement of juveniles in crimes like rape and abduction in the country.
Unlike the West, in India, unsettled and unemployed youth remain dependent on their families for sustenance. Transformation of juveniles into sex offenders only indicate that our family values and social moorings are crumbling. Indian society is passing through a critical transitory period where the youth have the option of choosing between being conservative and promiscuous, obliviously our value system holds less appeal to them.
Menace of rape has a psychological, societal and criminological dimension. It has to be dealt with at the level of family, society, government and judiciary. A vibrant society cannot afford to segregate its men & women and boys & girls in order to prevent sexual crimes. Confining women to homes would be like reverting back to medieval periods.
India is the only country where social support in crime prevention is not harnessed. In fact, crimes against women that take place in the rural and tribal areas carry a tacit sanction of the society. Situation in the cities is even worse. Habitats that have mushroomed due to migration to cities are unorganised. These are dominated by petty politicians and criminals. This conglomeration lacks a social structure, which would have been otherwise helpful in curbing the transformation of our youth into criminals. Involvement of social workers, corporate sector and government is needed to open such habitats to wean away youth from crimes.
We often come across instances of prolonged sexual exploitation of girls and women at the hands of their relatives, tutors, teachers, domestic helps and employers. We should have child and adolescent counsellors and gender safety auditors who would pay surprise visit to homes, schools, colleges and workplaces to interact with girls and women to find out about their fears and concerns regarding safety. Many cases of sexual exploitation in schools, juvenile homes, jails and orphanages could have been averted if the system had cared to reach out to the hapless inmates.
Rape is a traumatic experience and recovery from its trauma is an uphill task. It largely depends up on survivor’s resilience and her will to survive. No amount of support can help if the survivor has given up. We need professional counsellors and psychologists to render help to survivors and rekindle zest for life in them.
In India the plight of rape victims is deplorable. Once the furore and indignation subsides, real fight for a victim starts. A woman has to brace herself for a protracted legal battle. Fighting with her trauma and picking up the threads of life is not easy. Disruption in education, loss of a job, uncertainty about the prospects of employment and marriage and maintaining a low profile to hide identity are just a few hurdles that a rape victim has to face regularly. Rape victims fight silently against all odds as there is no institutional support to help them to get over the trauma. Situation gets even worse for victims hailing from lower strata of society.
There is a ray of hope. Mumbai survivor has said that “Rape is not the end of life. I want strictest punishment for all the accused and want to join duty as early as possible.” She is a brave heart.
Crimes cannot be fought with weak laws and lax justice delivery system. With overall conviction rate in rape cases stagnating at 26 per cent for years, the system instead of providing succour to rape victims is emboldening the culprits.
All cases of rape and sexual offences should be scientifically probed and expeditiously decided by the court of law. Nowadays, forensic and technical evidences, such as DNA profiling, call records, cell phone tower locations, GPS records and CCTV footage can help in nailing the culprits. Is our crime investigation system adequately trained and equipped to exploit this advantage? It is needless to say that the judicial system has to shake off its lethargy and decide rape cases with alacrity these deserve. There should be a fast track court in each district for dealing with sexual offences.
What punishment would be adequate for a rapist? It is very emotive issue. Opinions vary from public lynching to public hanging. Unfortunately, this issue comes up for debate in the backdrop of some recent crime. Capital punishment or imprisonment for entire life may meet the ends of justice in extreme cases but it cannot be a thumb rule. Strict laws and their unbiased implementation are required to curb this menace.
While Mumbai Police has been on its toes to nab the five rapists, the Rajasthan Police is still mustering courage to summon Asaram Bapu, a God man, against whom a minor girl has filed a FIR in New Delhi that he violated her at his Jodhpur ashram on August 15. Why such double standards in dealing with people accused of similar crime?
By Colonel U S Rathore