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Amaanat

Over the past fortnight, the nation has been embroiled in a gripping sequence of events centered around the horrific gang rape and physical assault of a young woman in Delhi. The girl was brought to the hospital in a very bad physical condition and after multiple surgeries, removal of her intestines and treatment from one of the best medical transplant facilities in the world she finally succumbed to her grievous injuries in Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital last night. This post is sure to ruffle a few feathers so I would like to set out a few points before I go any further.

  1. I DO NOT condone the terrible crime perpetrated by the rapists. They should not be shown any mercy on any grounds for their acts and this includes the alleged juvenile. In fact, I believe that this should be treated as a rarest of rare case and he should be tried as an adult in a court of law. Since the charges against them have now been changed from rape and assault to also include murder, they need to be tried as such and punished to the maximum extent possible under extant laws. If they are sentenced to be hanged till death (and God knows it would be deserved), the law will take its due course and a clemency plea would be sent to the President of India. The President of India would be well within his right to grant clemency but I believe he shouldn’t.
  2. The poor girl was not a martyr and this was not a sacrifice. The media must desist from using these terms or any other terms that imply the same. A martyr makes a sacrifice willingly while the girl unwillingly fell prey to a barbaric side of human nature that would send the strongest of us running for cover. The media can make or break this situation and it is imperative that they do not unnecessarily sensationalise this news lest it take the focus away from the important things.

Over the past couple of weeks many people have given their suggestions for the punishment to be meted out to rapists. While some have asked for more aggressive penalties including chemical castration and the death rap, more radical elements have even gone to the extent of suggesting drastic punishments like public stoning, public castration, bobbitising and many more. About the radical punishments, let us realise that we do not live in a militant state. Law is supposed to provide justice not public vengeance. Barbarians perpetrate sexual crimes on other human beings. Nothing is to be gained from pushing the rest of the populace into barbarianism by allowing public stoning/castration, etc. just to whet the appetite for vengeance.

For those of you interested, a bill for an amendment to the extant laws is to be tabled in the Lok Sabha, the text of which may be accessed here. As is evident, the law clearly outlines in specific terms what constitutes a sexual assault or rape. The definition is rigorous and pretty much all encompassing. The only grouse I have to pick with the definition is where it qualifies that sexual acts performed by a man with his wife provided she is over 16 years old will not be deemed a sexual assault. Given that the legal age for marriage in India for girls is 18 years, I believe that sexual intercourse with a 16 year old girl must fall into the purview of sexual act performed on a minor thus automatically making it statutory rape irrespective of whether it is consensual or not. Additionally, women across the country every day fall victim to marital rape where they must have non-consensual sexual intercourse with their husbands. Contrary to popular belief, this problem is not restricted to rural India. It is estimated that more than 50% of women in urban and semi-urban areas between the age of 30 and 50 have been subjected to marital rape at least once.  The law needs to be redefined to include non-consensual sex with legally married wife above the age of 18 years to constitute marital rape punishable by a monetary penalty and/or simple imprisonment for a couple of years and also be admissible as grounds for filing for a divorce in a court of law. I agree that the law would allow an unscrupulous woman to extort her husband by threatening charges on grounds of marital rape but in my opinion the law stands to protect the weak and if it fails to do that, then it has failed in its entirety.

Looking at the punishment, the maximum punishment possible is life imprisonment. This must be increased to include the death penalty that may be awarded in rarest of rare cases where the victim is brutally assaulted (as in this case) or where the victim is a child or mentally challenged individual. Please understand that I am not suggesting that any rape is more or less traumatic for the victim than another but the law must be severe yet practical at the same time. Chemical castration can be explored as an option as well. Most importantly, this offense must be made a non-bailable offense.

However, more important than changing extant laws is to make sure that they are implemented quickly and effectively. Most criminal in our country today take comfort in the fact that the heavy judicial machinery of the state trudges along at a lethargic pace with such cases taking years and multiple court hearings for the sentence to be announced. All round changes need to be made in this area beginning with the police. The police of a state are responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the people and maintaining a state of law and order. However, the stark reality is that today the ratio of policemen to citizens across the country is highly skewed. A city like Mumbai has close to 450 people per policeman. Add to this the requirements for bandobast and VIP security and the number can easily climb to 1000 people per policeman. This in itself is a law and order hazard. Also, importantly, the incentives of a police job especially the constabulary are very meagre. I had the chance to work with Mumbai police a couple of years ago as part of a professional engagement and over a period of two months I was able to see the conditions in which these men work. The beat police is typically patrolling neighbourhoods day and night. This is irrespective of season, which can take a significant toll on a policeman on foot. Add to that the noise and pollution associated with a busy city and the policeman is already at half his efficiency. The salaries are paltry to say the least and most policemen even upto the ranks of PSI or PI live in Government quarters that are hovels to put it mildly. Overcrowded chawl type localities with no proper drainage or sanitation combine with earlier mentioned factors to make the overall job of a policeman thankless. How many times have we stopped to consider the human being behind that uniform? That he has a family to feed. How many times have we ever stopped and thanked them for the wonderful job they are trying to do in spite of all the challenges? Most perks in a police job are reserved for officers joining via IPS or the states’ Police service. However, these officers are more administrative figure head. They are not the people on ground actively controlling and fighting crime. That job belongs to the lowly police constable who is more often than not armed with only a cane. Police inspectors do slightly better being armed with semi-automatic pistols. However, these weapons are no match for the automatic weapon owned by the organised crime syndicates. We often see policemen demanding bribes but most of them are pushed into this because that is the only way they can ensure a certain standard of living for their families. As corrective measures, the nation’s police forces need to be upgraded in term of equipment and pay. Currently a career with the police is a last ditch option exercised by youth who have failed to obtain a job via other means/profession. This needs to change so that a police job is incentivised enough to be a first choice one. Additionally, it is very important to educate and sensitise the policemen on handling such sensitive crimes as molestation or rape where the victim must summon a lot of courage to ignore the possible social stigma and come forth to report a crime. It may also be prudent to set up a special action force exclusively for bandobast duty and for providing security to visiting dignitaries. This force may be shared by multiple states thus bringing down the financial burden on one state’s exchequer. This way the regular police would be free to perform their primary duty of protecting the public.

The judiciary in our country is notorious for its lethargy allowing trial to drag on for extremely long periods sometimes ending with the natural death of the litigant or the undertrial. In my opinion, there is need to setup fast track benches that would handle only crimes against senior citizens, women and children and sexual crimes of all nature. The mandate to this bench must be to provide swift justice. Counterparts of this bench must be set up at all levels in the judiciary including the Supreme Court thus allowing these specific cases to move swiftly in the judicial system instead of being filed in higher courts and then languishing for years and thus defeating the purpose of the preceding fast track bench(es).

Now coming to the matter at hand, a more permanent solution. Even as the events unraveled over the past couple of weeks, constant reports of fresh rape cases flowed in from all parts of the country, including Delhi which was the epicenter of this turmoil. And it is not that there has been a sudden spate of these cases. It is only that the media is currently highlighting these cases to gain mileage over competitors. Even as long ago as the 90s when I had just begun reading the newspaper, hardly a day went by when there wasn’t a tiny 10-line news item mentioning a rape crime committed in some part of the country. The news was usually well concealed between a large classified ad and and obituary or two. Over the years many things changed in the newspaper but this “feature” still remains. Even today you will find such news snippets hidden away between classified ads albeit coloured ones now. The young woman from Delhi has become the face of this public movement but this issue is not a recent one. It has been there for a while but has been brushed under the carpet for many years. The chief reason for this is societal bias in our country. In my opinion, rape victims are like victims of any other accident. But while road accident victims are encouraged to go to hospitals for proper treatment both physical and for trauma, rape victims are shrouded behind heavy curtains. Over the last few days countless women have gone public on Twitter and Facebook recounting incidents where they were molested even as children or young girl but were advised/forced, often by parents, to “let it go”. This needs to stop. The first change we require in society is for rape victims to be treated like victims as opposed to being made to feel like perpetrators or in some way responsible for the heinous crime perpetrated against them. They need to know that their family will stand with them through thick and thin.

In my opinion, this is where we can channel our angry outbursts to make significant progress in societal term. In 2011, close to 95% rape cases in Mumbai involved a person (or persons) known to the unfortunate victim. Ranging from a father or other male family member to distant relatives, family friends, servants and even paramours have been perpetrators in these cases. This attaches an additional social stigma to the crime. Age has no relation since perpetrators have ranged from 15 to 65 years of age while the victims have ranged from as young as a few months to as old as 60 years. This highlights a disturbing facet in our society. Family and friends are usually where a person goes to find solace and security and it is important to maintain the sanctity of this setup if we want to prevent our society from deescalating into a broken and corrupt one. This must begin at homes at a very young age. Parents must avoid leaving infants in the care of relatives or worse servants. I know this is odd especially for a culture that has been based on a joint family structure where, much akin to a lion pride, one woman looked after all the children in the house while all the others were free to take care of the various domestic duties. Change is evolution and evolution necessitates survival of the fittest so we must change ourselves too. As soon as the child is ready to understand basic things and communications, parents must teach their child the difference between good touch and bad touch. Children usually memorise by association and hence it may be a good idea to teach the child where and how only a parent may touch them. In addition to this, the child must also be taught to fearlessly report any inappropriate touch by anyone to a parent as soon as possible. While nothing much can be done about the undeserving louts who go around calling themselves fathers and then sexually assault their own progeny, this will at least protect the child from other known people in the environment like relatives and servants. Mothers will have to play a prime role by speaking even at personal risk. Many people have had traumatic sexual experiences as children when they are way too young to understand them and this has led to deep and permanent scarring even as adults.

While teaching about good touch and bad touch is a gender agnostic subject and meant for younger children, once children start growing up they also need to be imparted gender specific training. For girls, this would entail them being prepared to defend themselves, stand for their rights, avoid getting into a potentially dangerous situation and above all else never to hesitate and hide such incidents from the family. Typically hiding the incident encourages the perpetrator as it sends out a message that the victim is scared to come out in the open and hence he is protected. My previous statement may have incorrectly implied my support for what many (evidently stupid) politicians have said on public fora about girls not dressing provocatively. wearing makeup and going to parties and nightclubs. Some have even, audaciously, suggested that skirts must be banned in schools. This is a sick and twisted solution. Many urban parents are bringing up girls and boys with the same facilities and education available. Why then must we differentiate between them on this count? Girls have the right to dress in whatever they want and go wherever they want and nobody has the right to deny them this.

For boys, the most important value to be inculcated in them is respect for women. As is their wont, children learn much less by words and much more by actions. So a male family member beating up and/or abusing female family members or parents themselves differentiating between children of different genders sends out the wrong message to the youngsters. Boys in such environments often grow up not respecting women. To put it crudely, a boy should have such good upbringing that even if a woman were to stand naked in front of him, he would not touch her without her consent. These values would also involve discouraging boys from making disparaging remarks or lewd comments and/or gestures with reference to women in general or specific parts of the female anatomy.

While parents can do a lot to reduce and eventually prevent such incidents in the future, there is work to be done in our schools and educational institutions too. First of all, I have never understood the logic behind single sex schools. My entire education has happened in a co-ed environment and I have no qualms in saying that it has gone a long way in my respecting girls and women. I perceive women as equally (often more) sentient and smart individuals who have a right to be respected just as I do. I am more tolerant of them, more sensitive to their presence and most importantly from a young age have been conditioned to not objectify them. All in all, I treat them as equals, not people to be subjugated but people to be coexisted with. While sexual assaults on minors may be attributed to perversions, those on adult women are mainly where a man (who is himself probably subjugated or oppressed in some way) enforces his superiority on another human being. Ancient Greeks were known to sodomise newly purchased slaves as a mark of their superiority and this is pretty much the same mentality at work here.

Moving on to specific contribution, schools and educational institutes need to organise regular sex education classes (not workshops or one-off lectures) where experts can discuss topics related to sex in a non-erotic manner. It should be possible to discuss most, if not all, topics in an audience that contains a mix of boys and girls. Keeping gender specific sex education classes not only created gender specific biases and preconceived notions related to the other sex but also often result in a lot of confusion for both boys and girls. Here society must contribute its bit by being more open about sexual topics and not making them a taboo during discussions. Whereas I do not suggest that it be made common place to sex and related topics as party conversation, children must never feel hesitant to ask their parents questions related to sex and their sexuality and about any inappropriate physical contact(s) with other people. At a young age, children are curious and have a lot of unanswered questions. They naturally approach their parents to seek answers and at such time it is our job, as adults, to answer their questions in the best possible way so that they have a clear answer to their query. Discouraging the child from asking such questions or giving too little or too much information will only increase the curiosity and the confusion that can lead up to disastrous consequences.

In closing, I would like to say that to root out rape from society, a severe punishment alone is not enough. Sufficiently severe punishment needs to be coupled with quick and efficient implementation and justice and supported by better upbringing and a more open and inclusive society. I have always maintained that female foeticide/infanticide, dowry and dowry related crimes and rape of women are all issues that form part of one huge problem. And till the day our society lovingly embraces badnaam Munni, jawaan Sheela, chikni chameli, Jalebi bai, halkat jawaani or fevicol Kareena, we will keep relapsing into this bottomless pit of ghastly animalistic behaviour.

(P.S. I chose to name the post ‘Amaanat’ after the pseudonym given by one of the newspapers to the unfortunate girl victim of the Dehi Bus gang rape. “Amaanat” in Urdu means a Trust or a Deposit with the condition that it will be returned safely (and completely) when requested in the future. In simple terms, “Amaanat” is a promise which must be kept. We all vociferously came forward on social media when she was alive. We now need to keep the promises made to her. We need to form a vote bank, vote sensibly and most importantly influence policy making positively to achieve the desired result. And when our society is free of this horrendous crime, we would have kept our promise. Only then would we have returned her “Amaanat” to her safely.)

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Categories: Random Stuff
  1. 30 December 2012 at 19:36 IST

    Yes Siddharth.I would totally agree on what you said..
    Seems like they say Girls shouldnt go outside after 9pm..but i feel it should be for guys..
    may her soul rest in peace and may god give her family strength to overcome this irreparable loss

    • 30 December 2012 at 20:38 IST

      Thanks for the comment, Nisha.

  2. Nikhil
    30 December 2012 at 19:45 IST

    Good one SKS. You’ve pretty much covered it . Except maybe what to do in case of false accusation ? I raise this only for the sake of completeness. Should the same quantum of punishment be meted out to the other party ? Every new law or modifications to it must have some checks and balances.

    • 30 December 2012 at 20:42 IST

      Thanks for the comment, Nikhil. Regarding, wrong accusation, this law would be like any other law where the wrongly accused would always have a legal recourse to file a case for libel. I feel that rape is such a crime that you will get fewer false accusations than many other crimes. That said, I think the risk is one worth taking in favour of having more effective laws and commensurate punishments.

  3. 31 December 2012 at 10:19 IST

    Excellent post Sid. You pretty much covered all that I thought. I don’t think you ruffled any of my feathers! I quite agree that the poor girl is not a martyr, but was a victim of terrible circumstances. Given the conviction rates for death penalty and the slow procedures, it would be better to mete out a stringent yet a more plausible punishment that can be fast-tracked. Perhaps life-imprisonment with death penalty after the term. I am not in favor of these people ever roaming the streets alive again! The moot point though, as many think is not in the measures but in changing the mindset of society towards women. Abject commodification of women be it in ads or item numbers has gotta stop and respect needs to replace it. Until then, these cases can’t be stopped by our bechare policemen or by laws that take years to take action.

    • 31 December 2012 at 10:47 IST

      Thanks for the comment Richa. By ruffling feathers, my primary point in question was the one about the police. A lot of us blindly blame the police for everything without so much as a second thought.
      As for punishment for the crime, we must separate emotion from practicality. As is said, you cannot use the same yardstick to measure everybody. Law requires that the severity of the crime be considered when meting out justice. I do not mean to say that a 25 year old woman raped once is any better off than say a 5 year old child. Both are horrible and often life changing incidents. But I would like to believe that the crime of the child’s rapist is much more severe than the former and hence deserves a harsher punishment. Even the law is on the same page which is why punishment is upto 10 years currently so that the court may name the punishment depending on the severity. I can understand your sentiments about not letting these people roam the streets alive again but remember we cannot play God and start knocking them off. There’s a reason most developed countries reserve the death rap only for the rarest of rare cases. Plus, I personally do not believe that adding a death sentence to the conviction would have much impact till the reporting and conviction rates remain at present levels.

  4. 1 January 2013 at 19:00 IST

    That was one exhaustive essay, Siddharth — one that covered a whole lot of relevant points. My only grouse is that the paras were too long. A little break in them would have made reading easier.

    That said, the way the media is going about it is alarming since it might actually take away the focus. Also, the politicians shedding crocodile tears and promising remedies need to be taken with a teaspoon of salt. This movement has been spontaneous and though lakhs of cases go unreported, especially those happening daily in the slum colonies of our big cities, this one was the final straw for the sheer brutality. I also disagree that perversion is only when an infant or child is molested. Every rapist is a pervert and it is more than patriarchal forces that are in action. I would like you to also read my latest post.

    The points about policemen deserves to be made into a separate post. I have heard about the inhuman conditions they work in too. And there are good policemen just as there are bad ones.

    I also have a bone to pick about the accusation of objectification of women. Why do women allow themselves to be portrayed thus? It is not as if the PCs and others are being exploited to expose themselves for an ad or movie. And then why cry foul? If that is the way they like to be portrayed, where is the objectification?

    • 3 January 2013 at 12:54 IST

      Thanks for the comment, ZM. Trust you to be the voice of dissent 🙂
      I don’t think the media taking away focus from the issue is by accident. The way the issue has been handled shows the media is complicit with the Government and the police to keep a lid on this issue before it blows up into a full-blown public mutiny.
      I don’t believe the politicians’ crocodile tears either. As for the question of perversion, while not condonable, I still feel the perversion to molest/sexually violate a child is far more gross than to sexually assault an adult.
      Women agree to objectification because it earns money and it is their job (ref “item girls”). More often than not you will hear actors say that they want to break out of the “item girl” or bimbo role and actually do meaningful roles in good cinema. And since Bollywood and movies go a long way in molding the mindset of our diaspora, I place a part of the blame on them too.

  5. Pratibha
    3 January 2013 at 07:02 IST

    An exhaustive and a good post.
    As far as a juvenile is concerned, I think he needs to be given a harsher n a longer punishment. Otherwise, we release a criminal in the society for more crimes. I don’t want to go into the type and quantum of punishment. Enough has been discussed on it. I strongly believe, whatever be the punishment, it should act as a precedent to scare others in committing such an act.

    • 3 January 2013 at 13:03 IST

      Think emotionally and you feel that the juvenile’s punishment should be harsher but the law does not provide for special treatment on an individual basis. They are all accused of aggravated rape and murder so they must all be tried as equals.
      And please note, the punishment cannot set a precedent. The current punishment of life imprisonment is only a step away from the ultimate – the death sentence. The reason why people don’t refrain from such acts are twofold – one the extremely low number of reportings of such crimes in our country due to parental and/or societal pressure and even lower number of cases actually being closed and ending in a conviction. The second reason, and in my opinion as important if not more, is there being no moral qualms in doing so. Since these people have not been brought up in a manner where they are taught to respect women, they have no conscience prick that would enforce self-control and prevent such things.

  6. 24 January 2013 at 18:57 IST

    Quite an exhaustive post Sid. Inculcating the values of self and mutual respect in children, sex education, quicker and harsher punishments are the way to go forward.

    I don’t understand the way a juvenile is treated differently even though the committed crime is the same. Especially juvenile in this case is only a year younger than the so called adult age. Shouldn’t a case by case validation be done in case one of the convicts is under 18?

    I am very happy to see a male blogger writing about these issues. Kudos to you Sid !

    • 24 January 2013 at 21:04 IST

      Thanks for the comment Hima.
      A case by case validation would mean putting an element of subjectivity related to the severity of the crime. This could possibly be manipulated by clever characters to their advantage.
      As for male bloggers writing about these issues, we have mothers, sisters, wives and daughters too, right? And shouldn’t we be responsible for their safety and security. If 5 crazy men can bring a bad name to the entire gender, cannot millions of sane men bring about change?

  7. 21 April 2013 at 11:27 IST

    Too lengthy all that you wanted to say i would summarize is hang the criminals and change the law and act on it. You have marveled in beating around the bush.

    • 21 April 2013 at 12:00 IST

      Thanks for your comment. I can imagine the impulse to hang the perpetrators but i feel it is to simplistic to say make laws and implement them. It is necessary to consider all facets and make laws that are effective in action and not in spirit alone. A harsh punishment is not a deterrent for perpetrators of such heinous crimes

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