We need simultaneous prescriptions for prophylactic as well as punitive measures to deal with the crime.
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children and its women.”
In news-flow last week, the Opposition’s move to impeach the Chief Justice of India is being increasingly deemed a revenge petition to undermine the judiciary, which augurs badly for the body politic. The motion is tantamount to the “Rape of Democracy”, because resorting to impeachment to discredit and intimidate judges hearing controversial matters sets a negative precedent in lowering the dignity of the highest court of the land. The second narrative that is taking the form of a national emergency is the sinister series of rapes, with international headlines proclaiming India a “Rape Republic”. The year 2018 is in many ways reminiscent of anti-establishment sentiments that prevailed in 2013 before the ascent of Narendra Modi, as mounting clamour on women’s safety is linked to the most vital criteria of good-governance. Safety of citizens is a primary obligation of the state. This is now building up to an electoral issue, almost on par with concerns of a faltering economy that will hold considerable weightage in forthcoming state and Lok Sabha elections. To tackle this demon on a war footing necessitates actionable and remedial measures, pre and post-crime, which are two separate issues.
Promulgating the contentious ordinance for speedier amendments to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act is a reactionary move to assuage national outrage, considered “legal populism”. Because what was needed was implementation of existing laws that were already in place and expediting low conviction rates which stood at an abysmal 29% post-Nirbhaya. Jurists fear the death sentence will not act as a deterrent, and runs the risk of the rapist killing the victim to destroy all evidence. As rape is a crime of passion, and whether it is pre-meditated crime or triggered on impulse, it is a form of momentary madness and perversion when the offender thinks little of the legal aftermath.
We need simultaneous prescriptions for prophylactic as well as punitive measures to deal with the crime. Contrary to popular belief that sexual violence occurs mostly in patriarchal or poor societies, UN findings state that the incidence of rape has now reached pandemic levels, being rampant in the most liberal and advanced societies of Sweden, Australia and US, which have high per capita incomes.
In order to raise moral and civic standards nationally, the focus has to be on raising literacy levels, as school is the primary institution a child is exposed to in the external world, after in-house parenting. For starters, let us bring up our boys better, and mentor them in their adolescence on “positive machoism”, instead of thinking it’s cool to do drugs, or indulge in lewd and immodest social behaviour, watch pornography, or that the display of brute force construes masculinity.
Post-crime, the first two points of contact for any victim in an attempt to seek justice is the police, and thereafter the courts. Both institutions are systemically flawed, corrupt, subject to political interference, badly understaffed with judges or police personnel, making redressal beyond the reach of the common woman. Sadly then, the administrative system works to “victimise the victim”.
Contrary to perceptions that media hypes sensational stories for TRPs, sordid rapes, paedophilia, incest and molestations are under-reported, being age-old crimes that have gone unpunished, because it was taboo to even articulate the shameful act. When assaulted sexually, the boy or girl-child is so doused in shame, they hesitate to admit the sense of humiliation even to parents about schoolmates or family who inappropriately touch, feel, or try to molest. Domestic factoids on this aspect are disturbing, as nine out of 10 perpetrators are known to the victim, and an astounding 52% of both boys and girls have experienced abuse during adolescence.
Grappling with the demon requires multipronged measures at the pre-crime level. Firstly, the Rs 2,900 crore Nirbhaya funds allocated for women’s safety have been under-utilised, and must be put to good use speedily. Community-based efforts and “prevention campaigns” need massive funding to be released on a war-footing by the government by increasing outlays on ad-spend. It’s time to display advertisements with dire pictorial “statutory warnings” at regular intervals on roads and highways across the country to reiterate and build subconscious recall on the consequences of the heinous crime. This awareness and sensitisation campaign should run across mainstream and social media, including advertising on hoardings, billboards, ads on public transport, and through radio, film and television documentaries, and more open dialogues and debates expressing condemnation.
Secondly, “community activism by men’s groups” would also help as a collective initiative. When icons from Bollywood, cricket, or industry who are family-minded men take to the streets as a movement to protect daughters, sisters and wives, it sends a loud message to lumpen low-life misogynists that medievalism of brute patriarchal societies has no place in a modern world. In the US alone, there are over hundred “Men Can Stop Rape” activist groups. Even the #MeToo movement to name and shame offenders of sexual exploitation in the workplaces in America may not be a formal platform for redressal, but is giving voice to angst that has no name. The collective is aimed at de-stigmatising sufferers so they do not live in fear of retaliation after filing complaints.
Thirdly, the Ministry of Education must impart moral messaging through school and campus curricula, including changes to teacher training, imparting sex-education, shedding fear in reporting predatory behaviour.
Complex problems can only be solved by citizens, civil society and government working collaboratively in mission mode. Our Indian Constitution was framed in an era when the condition of Indian women was economically poor and socially inequitable. At the time, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, author of our Indian Constitution, took constructive steps to provision for women’s parity, emancipation and empowerment. In the 21st century we need to further modernise and upgrade gender perspectives in policy, law, and practice, in the knowing that women’s rights are human rights: universal and non-negotiable. It is now time to demand a stringent set of jus cogens from the global governance system in order to make the world a safer place for women, where certain overriding principles of international law will remain overriding, and from which no dilution or derogation would be permissible.
Bindu Dalmia is author and columnist.