Sunday December 23, 2012
Outrage and shock over rape in capital
INDIA DIARY BY COOMI KAPOOR
City shamed: Girl gang-raped in bus in South Delhi. Woman battles for life in hospital. Twenty-three-year-old gang-raped inside bus, thrown out.
These newspaper headlines on Tuesday screamed aloud that the capital city of India was also its rape capital. At least that is how outraged members of Parliament in unison dubbed Delhi, and called for the sternest possible action against the culprits.
The next day’s headlines duly captured the sense of national shock and anger.
Horrendous rape triggers outrage; enough talk, let’s make women safe. India against rape: Parliament, public unite over Delhi horror; Sushma (Opposition leader) seeks death penalty.
At the time of writing, the 23-year-old physiotherapy student was on life-support in a city hospital after a four-hour surgery, having been brutally assaulted by the culprits. Her 28-year-old male friend, a software engineer with whom she had gone to see a movie at a city mall, too, was recovering from serious injuries received while seeking to protect her from the sex fiends.
Returning home after an evening show, they boarded a near-empty city bus with tinted glasses and white window curtains. When the culprits started taunting the woman, her friend objected and was brutally assaulted. Then they set upon the woman, assaulting her when she resisted rape. After five of them had raped her in the moving bus, the bus stopped to dump the semi-naked couple on the roadside. A passer-by informed the police.
Thanks to a chance capture of the rear of the bus by a CCTV camera of a petrol station, the police were able to trace its driver within hours of the incident. Five others were identified, all menial workers, like messengers, vegetable vendors, etc. They lived in a slum colony and had consumed cheap liquor before going for a joy ride on a bus driven by one of their friends. The bus was seized by the police.
MPs cutting across party lines sought a fast-track court to try the case and demanded that the law should be amended to prescribe capital punishment to the accused. The law currently provides for seven years’ jail to life imprisonment for rape. However, the onus to prove the charge of rape is on the victim and so far, prosecution cases have failed in more than half the rape cases brought to trial.
The MPs lamented that in a vast majority of cases of sexual harassment, women feared approaching the police for fear of further humiliation and trouble.
The ingrained male chauvinist attitude of the Indian male was particularly dominant in the mindset of the predominantly male police force. They often refuse to register cases of harassment against women, embarrass the victims by asking sexist questions and, in a number of cases, themselves prey on the victims.
Even as the MPs vented spleen against the rapists and excoriated the government for lax policing, ordinary people took out candle marches, held protest sit-ins outside the police station, the residence of the Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit, and gathered at the landmark India Gate to demand exemplary punishment for the perpetrators of the heinous crime.
In a city which records nearly two rapes daily (the actual number might be higher since victims often do not report them for fear of harassment and social stigma), the latest was no doubt the most gruesome.
Dubbed the rape capital some years ago, Delhi had recorded 635 cases of rape till mid-December. Last year, the total number was 572. Despite augmenting the number of police control room vans for patrolling, posting women cops in police stations, a media campaign against sexual harassment, the cases of eve-teasing, molestation of women, sexual assault and stalking are on the rise.
Admittedly, the media concentration in the capital ensures that the police, the prosecution and the courts show dispatch in handling cases against the perpetrators of such horrendous crimes. But in the hinterland, crimes against women attract little public notice. Given the feudal mindset, women protesting abuse are socially stigmatised, while the police tend to be unsympathetic to the victims of male lust.
Sushma Swaraj, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha (House of the People), lamented that even if the victim survived, she would be a “walking corpse” since society would treat her as a pariah. Truly, the victim in such cases comes to be treated as if she was complicit in her own misery.
Feminists criticised Swaraj for referring to the victim as a walking corpse, arguing that the fault did not lie with her but with the society which stigmatised her.
Her passionate plea for enhancing the punishment to death sentence as a deterrent against sexual predators also had its critics. It was pointed out that the fear of death sentence might goad rapists to kill their victims and thus destroy evidence. Both murder and rape attracting death sentence, therefore, was not a good idea.
Some argued that chemical castration was a better way to deter potential rapists. Legal reforms, modern police training, better post-trauma facilities for victims, were some of the other suggestions.
However, the fear was that the public outrage over the heinous crime would soon die down and things would once again be back to normal. That will be a great tragedy indeed.