The Supreme Court sentenced all the culprits in the Nirbhaya rape and murder case to death recently.
I saw a lot of posts on Facebook and other social media platforms applauding the judgment. There was a lot of anger against rape palpable in the posts and comments, but it made me wonder... if such strong sentiments against rape exist, why have crimes against women increased since 2012?
If such strong sentiments against rape exist, why have crimes against women increased since 2012?
Firstly, I have always questioned the reaction of everyone (including myself) in the Delhi gangrape case. It was not just a matter of rape but of excessive violence. The news elaborated exactly how horribly her body was mutilated post-rape. Those were blood-curdling details that made it difficult to sleep at night. Public outrage, however, had one positive effect. It compelled a quick reaction from the police. The culprits were apprehended sooner than what is the norm in general when a rape complaint is filed.
But I have always wondered—if it were not for the violence meted out post rape, would the case have made headlines at all? Let's face it, rape by itself is very rarely front-page or primetime news. If rape were such a major concern for us, the rates would be dwindling, not climbing, since the Delhi case.
Yes, the media reports on rape statistics every now and then, but there is no real activism to be seen. The rise of social media means that many voices are heard speaking against crimes against women, but that hasn't changed the basic fabric of society—one clear-cut example of this is the mass molestation of women in Bangalore on New Year's Eve.
So I question myself and all the rest... are we serious about combating rape as a criminal offence or is it just another opportunity to get on the soapbox and feel we've done our bit by posting a few comments?
Public shaming, chemical castration, death penalty... all are spoken of freely and profusely. The prevailing sentiment is, create fear in the minds of the offenders to deter them. Don't get me wrong, I do believe that stringent laws and quick legal proceedings can help, but the buck doesn't stop with the courts. It is like pruning a few branches without addressing the roots.
Public shaming, chemical castration, death penalty... all are spoken of freely and profusely... It is like pruning a few branches without addressing the roots.
Inducing fear through punishment alone may create a whole new problem of even more heinous crimes to cover up rape. Case in point—Nirbhaya met a horrible end owing to the offenders fearing she would report them to the police. They took the next extreme step of murdering her so to erase all witnesses.
I don't think the Supreme Court's judgment against the offenders guarantees a reduction in sex offences in the coming years. The problem is bigger than we like to acknowledge.
We are a country where a majority of the population lives below the poverty line, struggling to arrange two square meals a day. Lack of education, combined with age-old patriarchal dominance doesn't help. Women in the underprivileged sections of society are subjected to violence on a daily basis. To add to our woes we are in general a sexually repressed society where a child in the urban set-up struggles to understand her/his urges (leave alone the many children that are never exposed to an education).
The problem is so much more complex than we like to think. When the oppression of women in general is considered all right, rape is just a natural outcome. And addressing this issue is the key to all other problems, whether its rape, sexual harassment or domestic violence.
A problem that isn't even acknowledged as one is the reason nothing gets achieved.
We need to start working today to groom the next generation with the right values. Otherwise, we will remain a society that vents on public forums but leaves behavioural amendments to someone else.
We all need to play our parts if we need to change the society.
Of course the government—both at the Centre and at the state level—need to come up with solutions that have long-term impacts. Education and counselling of families and individuals need to happen on a regular basis. Society as a whole needs to contribute if such evils are to be vanquished.
At home, we need to treat our domestic workers with more respect. In schools, we need to counsel both boys and girls from a very early age so they grow up to be respectful of each other.
More NGOs need to be activated to address problems of education in rural areas. The government needs to come up with many more suitable vocations to empower women financially so that they can earn respect and independence in their society and families.
It is a long process but it is the only way towards a better society. We need to start working today to groom the next generation with the right values. Otherwise, we will remain a society that vents on public forums (yes we will always have systems, courts, governments to blame for all the evils) but leaves behavioural amendments to someone else. We'll continue to be people who hope for a better tomorrow without having to work towards it. Of course, we can all spew venom on social media when the next rape case makes headlines and prune a few branches in the bargain...after all it solves the immediate problem and makes us sleep better at night.