"Twenty eight days. Just imagine, 28 days old."
Ringing with part disbelief, part repulsion, this line will surface several times during a conversation with Prerna Kumari. The 39-year-old lawyer at the Supreme Court filed a PIL in December 2015 urging the apex court to consider a revision of the existing laws against rape and include chemical castration as a punishment for people who sexually assault children.
On January 11 this year, the Supreme Court agreed that people who have been convicted for sexually abusing children should face stricter punishment than those who assault adults and asked the Parliament to consider a law which addresses the issue. The court didn't directly suggest that castration be included in a new law, but recognised the petitioner's argument that men who rape children should meet with a much harsher fate than they usually do.
Kumari filed the PIL on 18 December, on behalf of the Supreme Court Women Lawyer's Association, a group comprising at least 200 women lawyers practicing in the apex court.
"On 6 December, I read this report in a newspaper. A 28-day-girl had been raped by a 25-year-old man," says Kumari, pausing briefly to catch her breath. "How can you do this? What kind of a human are you then?" she continues.
Kumari, the general secretary of the SCWLA, admits that the idea of introducing chemical castration as a penalty for rape had been on her mind for a while now. In fact, in 2009, along with a friend from Australia, Kumari had prepared a presentation on how chemical castration may act as a deterrent for potential rapists. "I wanted to show it to ministries and ask them to consider the same. This has been on my mind for at least ten years now," she says.
Kumari and her friend managed to bag a few meetings at union ministries, but nothing came out of them.
The lawyer remembers following the powerful wave of protests that washed over the country following the gangrape and consequent death of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi in 2012. As demands of 'hang the rapists' echoed through the corridors of the legislature, India was forced to amend the existing laws and introduce death penalty. "But that's in the rarest of rare cases," she points out.
The Supreme Court Of India.
The SCWLA harks back to Sophocles to stress the importance of instilling fear among criminals. "Long back, an eminent thinker and author, Sophocles, had to say : Law can never be enforced unless fear supports them", their PIL states.
Kumari, who has been practicing in the Supreme Court, for over 15 years, says it makes a great deal of sense to tap into Indian men's great pride and simultaneous insecurity about their 'mardaangi' - manhood or virility in English. "The fear of losing the ability to have sex is a very daunting one for men. We should have a law that puts that fear to use to keep away sexual abusers," explains Kumari.
The fear of losing the ability to have sex is a very daunting one for men. We should have a law that puts that fear to use to keep away sexual abusers
The ignorance, that prevents people from being able to differentiate between chemical castration and permanent castration, Kumari hopes will work as a deterrent too. Chemical castration is a process which temporarily affects a man's sex drive as long as he is made to take pills or given injections that make him incapable of having intercourse. Once the medication stops, the man's sex drive is restored. However, the very mention of castration evokes images of even bobbitisation and the permanent loss sexual prowess.
"Darr rehne do (let the fear thrive)," she adds, saying anything that acts as a deterrent is good enough.
Can castration be a deterrent?
The idea of a deterrent that caters to a society with complicated and disparate relationships with education, morality and economic autonomy, has been debated with great enthusiasm and great futility for a while now. There is no empirical evidence that the threat of losing one's manhood will have an effect on the psychology of potential criminals. Yet, Kumari says, it's worth giving a shot.
"Once people start fearing this word, it may start yielding results," says Kumari. A lawyer, who has professionally dealt with divorce and other civil cases, says that the present law is not enough to scare people. If nothing else, the provision for castration should be tried as a trial, she feels. And she cites an unusual example to drive home her point.
"So many people had cribbed about and had reservations about the odd-even rule, right? But see, now that the government implemented it, it turned out to be successful. Like that, we should maybe try this out as a trial and see how it works," she offers.
Kumari is a firm believer in the power of a law as a deterrent. She cites a recent incident where she invoked a hardly-followed law to straighten out a bunch of street thugs. On her way back to her Karol Bagh home from the Supreme Court, Kumari noticed a bunch of naked children begging on the streets. As her car stopped at the signal, she noticed, in a distance a group of adults sitting full clothed. The children occasionally interacted with them before knocking on car windows. "I immediately went to the Pahargunj police station, from where I was sent to the Mandir Marg police station. I gave them the exact location and complained that the adults were making the children beg without clothes, and the Beggar's Act prohibits begging itself."
On her way back home the next day, Kumari says, she saw the same bunch of children at the spot, but fully clothed this time.
The police, government and society will have to come together to implement these laws, says the lawyer.
Opposition to castration
In most developed and developing countries, the focus on reformative justice leaves death penalty and other forms of penalty that involves physically reprimanding a convict in the backburner. Such methods are evoked in the rarest of the rare cases.
Bhakti Pasrija Sethi, vice president of SCWLA, says that initially she wasn't absolutely sure about Kumar's demand for chemical castration as a penalty. "I believe more in reformative laws and therefore was initially uncomfortable with the idea."
Protests against rape in Delhi.
However, she came around once it was explained to her that chemical castration doesn't do any permanent damage to the convict. "Also, almost everyone in the executive committee agreed to Kumari filing the PIL. I think chemical castration can be included for rare cases, or repeat offenders. However, the state also has to actively put forth a mechanism whereby people have access to education, moral training and basic amenities. The state is responsible for its people," adds Pasrija.
The executive committee of the SCWLA, which passed a resolution to go forward with the PIL, comprised '10-15 people', all of whom agreed with the need to include something like chemical castration in India's rape laws.
Kumari says, it shocks her that people seek mercy for men who rape defenceless children. "I remember reading about a case when a boy, who was raped, couldn't even explain what has happened to him. Usne bola, bhaiiya ne mujhe bahut mara (he beat me up)," she says.
"Barbaric kya hai? (What's barbaric). What these men do is barbaric
"Barbaric kya hai? (What's barbaric). What these men do is barbaric," says the mother of a 6-year-old boy. Kumari admits that Indian society at large don't educate their children enough to protect themselves from sexual harassment. "People are ashamed of talking about it. But they have to. When I considered teaching my son about good touch bad touch, even I hesitated. But then I read about a girl being abused in playschool and decided it was high time I taught my child ways to protect himself from sexual abuse," she adds.
Accordingly, the PIL, a copy of which is with HuffPost India, reads, "The big question before us in a country like us which is known for it’s kindness is, can such a punishment be awarded. The answer is certainly because the developed nations/States like South Korea, Russia, Poland and nine American States including California and Florida have already enforced castration as punishment for sex offences against children.
"Adopting the same would not take us back to ancient era but India would be respected more for this stringent law alongside these countries for respecting and upholding the rights of the small angels of our country. It is true that there is a special act Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012. But the crimes against the children are rising despite the stringent law. Between the year 2012 and 2014,the number of these crimes have been increased from 38,172 to 89,423 i.e. more than the double and this is alarming."
The SCWLA may now consider sending a representative to the Parliament so that the issue is taken up. "The Supreme Court gave a great order. We plan to send a representative to the Parliament so that they consider taking the issue up," says Sethi.
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