On 27th November, the nation reeled in shock and anger, after the horrific incident of rape and murder of a 27 year old veterinary doctor, Priyanka Reddy. The outrage over the incident is pouring out on to the streets. The national capital, Delhi, is seeing protests demanding stricter laws against rape. A la 2012.
What did we learn and achieve from the Delhi gangrape? Apart from framing stricter laws to appease the public sentiment, what did we achieve? Zilch!
Before 2012, the punishment for the crime of rape was a sentence of a maximum of upto 7 years in prison. The barbaric brutality of the gangrape of Jyothi Singh (Nirbhaya) brought in changes to the rape laws. Charges of an acid attack, stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment were added to the penal code. It was the only silver lining of the dastardly chapter.
We gave the moniker ‘Nirbhaya’ to the victim of the Delhi 2012 gangrape. Nirbhaya means fearless. I ask what was fearless about the entire sordid saga. Was it the fact she was still alive after enduring such brutality or is it the incident made it to the news. Is that what you call fearless?
If you ask me the name ‘Nirbhaya’ is a projection of the aspiration of the ordinary citizen. It is a term coined to assuage the guilt and mask our failures. Thousands of rapes occur every year. Yet, rage is expressed only when the conscience of the society is shaken. Once normalised it goes back to being another news report.
Before 2012, rape was just a crime covered in news. A statistic for records and a news report for media houses. Though I am ashamed to point it out, women were left alive after rape. After the 2012 Delhi gangrape, trends have emerged that are quite disturbing. A pattern of women being raped and murdered. The inclusion of the provision of the death penalty for rape cases has brought in this disturbing change.
The other repugnant pattern emerging is the increase in rapes committed against minors. Children as young as 3 months old have fallen prey to the paedophiles and perverts. The tragedy of the event was that it was the grandfather who committed the crime against his infant granddaughter.
Am I against the death penalty for rapists? No. There are certain crimes where the death penalty is not merely justice, it is just the logical conclusion. I am questioning why have the perpetrators committing these crimes become more emboldened and brazen after stricter laws were put in place. These changes in the law were supposed to be a deterrent.
Yet, the purpose of changing the law has been defeated. Today, we are again back at square one. Making the law tougher will not reduce crime. The lesson learnt from this episode is that the law, in itself, does not act as a deterrent. It is the implementation of the law that strikes fear in criminals.
Snorts might be going off thinking about the approach and attitude of police personnel towards rape. It is a general perception that is etched into public memory that a rape survivor has her character assassinated while filing the FIR.
If you thought that was the end of trauma for the victim, you are wrong. The location changes but the horrific ordeal continue. At the medical facility, to obtain forensic evidence, the victim is put through a series of tests. The intrusive two-finger test or the PV (Per Vaginal) Test is one among them. After suffering through the traumatic experience of rape, the victim undergoes this traumatic procedure.
A medical examiner pushes his fingers through the vagina to check if the hymen is still intact. The test is used to determine the sex life of an individual. I do not know whether the presence of semen is detected through this test but the test has been used to form an opinion on the subject of consent.
In other words, it was more of a tool to certify the character of women. A sexually active woman in an ironically conservative society of India is considered to be a woman of loose morals and questionable character. A virgin though gets a certificate of purity. This antiquated moral compass of the law and society stigmatises the victim.
Pop culture of the 1980s and the 1990s have solidified this mindset. Rani Mukherjee in her debut film Raja Ki Aayegi Baarat ( “The King’s Entourage Will Arrive” ) in 1997, plays a school teacher Mala who gets raped by an entitled brat for slapping him in front of an audience for misbehaving with her. In the movie, to the horror, a judge presiding over a court of law orders Mala to get married to her rapist as her honour has been ruined. The honour has been ruined. But whose? I seriously wonder.
But the fact remains that the changes in the law are only on paper. Until 2003, references to past sexual history were made by the defence lawyers to get the accused acquitted. Though well-placed media PR still does the work to do so, it is illegal within the limits of the Constitution. Even after the 2013 amendments, the two-finger test being a medical procedure would not constitute rape. It took a judgement from the Supreme Court to make the two-finger test unconstitutional.
The burden to gather proof and take a case to its logical conclusion lies with the police. They are expected to provide legally tenable evidence. Rape being a tool of power sees politics squirrel in into the investigations. The involvement of caste, vote bank, social status or people related to people of eminence ensures that the first responders derail the investigation. It is not an uncommon story.
How many times have we seen the story play out on news? The family of the victim alleging that the police have not registered the FIR or have turned the family from the station. News channels run this story throughout the day and a demand for a CBI probe grows in chorus. The case finally ends up in a long list of cases that have been transferred to the CBI without proper evidence.
Luck by chance, if the case makes it to court, it marks the beginning of a quest for justice that seldom ends. The technicalities of the court dragging the case to a gamut of hearings make life difficult for the victim. They spend their lives running from pillar to post to get justice, to get their day in court. On the other hand, people accused of rape are living comfortable lives.
The Tehelka rape case where an intern accused Tarun Tejpal of sexual assault in 2013 can be used as an example. The case was registered in 2013. The charges though were framed only in 2017. We are nearing the end of 2019 and still, there is no news about the trail. How long does a person have to wait for justice?
This is what a woman has to go through to get justice after the harrowing ordeal of rape or molestation. But if you are a man, your prospects are even dim as you have no legal recourse. A woman can at least approach the courts for justice. A man cannot even talk about it.
Feminism is touted as a ‘one size fits all’ medicine for all social evil. Especially, on issues dealing with gender justice. If you are a feminist and fighting for equality out there, I would like you people to raise the issue of gender neutral rape laws. You say you fight for equality, so here is your chance to prove it.
When the wheels of justice move at a snail’s pace, half the population does not have legal recourse and the other half is bogged down by the machinery fighting for their right to justice; do you think a change in the law is going to strike fear in the hearts of criminals? The criminals know it will be a decade before there is a conviction in the lower courts. And with recourse available, it will be a lifetime before the entire legal process concludes.
Looking at it, the only conclusion is that there is no deterrent to rape. Until a deterrent is built , we will see more horrors unfold. Like the case, we witnessed in Hyderabad.