Representative image Photograph:( Others )
A heinous crime like rape is not only devastating to the victim but most damaging to the survivor as well as the community
When questioned about crimes against women by wayward youth, the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mulayam Singh Yadav once said, rather than condemning, that kids can commit mistakes.
On the other hand, our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi once said that we don’t ask our sons, when returning home at night, as to why they are late or where they have been, but daughters are grilled. These are two contrasting statements worth thinking about if we have to change the situation.
The brutality of the rape of our daughters Nirbhaya, Kathua and Hathras refuses to fade away from our minds. The pain is only deepening further with the number of cases increasing at an alarming rate and their brutality getting severe.
A heinous crime like rape is not only devastating to the victim but most damaging to the survivor as well as the community.
National Crimes Records Bureau 2019 data indicates India faces about 88 rapes every single day. The number is worrisome also because sexual abuse reported on minors and even infants is on the rise.
Even animals are not aggressive so the depraved human perpetrators need to be called devils and not insult animals. Rajasthan is in the top spot per lakh population with one of the highest reported numbers of rapes and sexual abuse.
The state administration cites ease of reporting to be one of the factors for the increased number of cases reported in comparison to states like Uttar Pradesh that recorded less reporting than previous years.
Number of reported crimes is not true portrayal of the problem as the conviction rate remains very low. Only 27 percent of cases got a conviction decree in the year 2018. Nearly three quarter of the total number of devils got away.
An important fact here is that the number of reported cases is just the tip of the iceberg, if we go by the findings of a study commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in the year 2007, one of the major findings is that 50 per cent of the abusers are persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility.
Moreover, politicisation of cases, threatening victims, blaming and shaming them and insensitive media coverage discourages rape survivors and victims' family to report the case.
Even with stringent laws, legal processes remain tedious and insensitive with advocates dealing with the abuse survivors as they interrogate criminals.
Delay in justice and low conviction are dampeners for under-reporting or withdrawal from seeking justice.
Low social status of women and the caste dynamics clearly seems to favour the abusers and rape as a tool to re-establish their status by targetting vindictive actions on women.
Who can forget Bhanwari Devi’s case in Rajasthan about 25 years ago that lead to formulation of prevention against sexual harassment at workplace law.
Bhanwari Devi was 'taught a lesson' for preventing child marriage by the angry Gujjar community. Thus the crime of child marriage in the region also continued unabated.
The case stormed the nation but the caste dynamics strongly prevails and the unfortunate Harthras case not only reflects that we as a society have not changed a bit but the process also remains as complex as it was.
The discrimination faced by the victim's family is further fuelled by statements made by people in leadership and political positions. These statements often defend such acts by men and boys by blaming and shaming women for their quest for equality.
Kathua rape and murder of a minor led to nationwide protest and agitations eventually leading to formulation of stringent legislation. But even death penalty fails to curb the massive number of rapes in the country.
Harsh punishments like the death penalty also pose a risk of under-reporting if the abuser is from an influential family. The social construct and power dynamics are often in favour of supporting male members and influences the decisions hugely.
We really need to introspect deeply on where we as individuals and as a society are failing.
It is important to realise that the problem of abuse and rape is deep-rooted and relates closely to the status of women in society. Deteriorating child sex ratio, high percentage of girls dropping out of education, child marriage, teen pregnancies and more statistics that otherwise look comparatively benign tell a much greater story.
Evidently, all of these issues reflect a more serious situation among under-privileged scheduled tribes and castes, the communities that face high number of rapes and abuse.
Stringent legislation and its enforcement are no doubt the most important factors but it is equally important to assess how these laws are impacting the community. If so then legislations need to be re-visited in favour of safeguarding the survivors.
Hitting the issue early and at the right time is crucial, devising a robust sex education component in school education and sensitising our communities and particularly leaders to behave responsibly could have a long-lasting positive impact.
And not to forget that there are good examples from other countries that look at rape as the most heinous crime causing lifelong damage to a person. These countries have then worked effectively on penalties and solutions.
(The opinions expressed in this article are writers' own)