Is India Safe for Women?
In the late evening of December 16, 2012, a 23-year old medical student was brutally attacked and gang-raped in a private bus. The bus was roaming around the busy streets of Delhi. The girl was brutally raped and thrown out of the bus on the main road, naked to die. She died a few days later in Singapore due to the injuries caused by barbaric attacks.
On January 10, 2018, an 8-year old girl was abducted from a village near Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir, and was drugged, brutally raped by several men, and strangled to death inside a temple. An 86-year old lady was waiting outside of her house for the milkman when a 30-year-old male abducted her and brutally raped her. In November 2019, Telangana, a 29-year old veterinary doctor was abducted, gang-raped, and murdered. Her corpse was later dumped on the roadside.
These are of the many cases that came under light. India has been characterized as one of the countries with the highest per capita rates of rape. Many cases go unreported due to various reasons but the willingness to report such cases has been increased after several cases that received widespread media attention and triggered the public protest.
Usual reactions to gang rapes, murders are protests, public demonstrations, online petitions, candle march demanding for the accused to be hanged. But this doesn’t make up for the fact that another life has lost and such demonstrations cannot bring her back. Victim blaming and slut-shaming are common reasons to dismiss rape cases. But was the 86 year old woman showing skin and asking to get raped or the 8-year-old innocent girl engaging in activities that would result in rape and murder?
People always try to find the faults of the victim and overlook the sins committed by the accused. In the recent case of Telangana, the Home Minister of the state said that the victim should have called the police. In the Nirbhaya case, the victim was blamed for being out in late hours and to be dressed in western attire. In most of the cases, it is thus concluded that she was asking for it. India has always been a male dominant society and it is very common to impose a restriction on women.
Women are not allowed to travel alone at night, they should stay away from the male company, they should not wear and revealing outfits that could grab the attention of others, and they should not drink and indulge in recreational activities. Instead of taking initiative steps ensuring their safety, it has been easier to rein their independence. This way, whenever something goes wrong, we can easily blame her for breaking the social norms and jeopardizing her own safety.
After 2012, there have been amendments in the Law to provide death penalties in case of brutal rape and murder, repeat offenders, and repeat gang rapes. But the introduction of death penalties does not ensure that it will be granted. Death penalties are granted in extremely brutal cases as it violates the Constitutional rights of equality and right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under articles 14 and 21.
Death penalties also violate Section 235(2) of the CrPC, which guarantees a convict a right to be heard while deciding the question of a sentence; and Section 354(3) of CrPC, under which, the court is bound to provide special reasons for imposing a death sentence. In Nirbhaya's case, the death penalty was granted to the accused in September 2013 was they were hanged in February 2020, after 8 years of the death of the victim.
Despite several amendments and providing so-called harsher penalties, the rate of rapes has not been declined. Instead, this has only encouraged the rapists to take extreme measures in destroying evidence such as burning the body of the victim so no DNA could be found.
Changing the Law would not be the only solution but what we need is to change the mindset of the society and that begins from the early stages of life. Since we were kids we are always taught that men are supposed to earn money and women are supposed to take care of households. We are also taught that crying is only limited to women. Women are always shown as weaker than men.
Toys, cartoons, and games of children have always sexually objectified women. Violent video games have promoted violent nature in boys. The entertainment industry encouraged using slangs for describing women such as “phuljhadi”, “bomb”, “pataka”, etc. has also encouraged eve-teasing, stalking. Pornography presented women as saleable commodities. Women are reduced to mere bodies that can be violated and used to fulfill lust has set up an image in the minds of young men and women.
In schools, we are taught to not talk to the opposite sex. Boys and girls are made to sit separately. Due to the lack of interaction between the sexes, men don’t know how to behave in a female company. Suppressed sexuality has greater chances of erupting into violent behavior. The concept of ‘Consent’ is unclear to them.
Law provides for speedy investigations and fast track of trials in rape cases. What we need is better policing, making public spaces safer for women, ensuring steady surveillance of isolated areas, and deployment of police at all strategic points. It is not harsher punishments that will prevent rape. It is the fear of being caught and not being spared.