Tackling rape and sexual violence

It is time we had a national body, not merely our politically appointed, generally toothless  Womens' Commissions, with trained, dedicated women police and lawyers committed to bring sexual offenders to justice

 
By Mari Marcel
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

It is time we had a national body, not merely our politically appointed, generally toothless  Womens' Commissions, with trained, dedicated women police and lawyers committed to bring sexual offenders to justice

The face of India is changing at a frightening pace. But not for the better, as far as women are concerned.  If I continue to write about rape and sexual abuse with alarming regularity, something I rarely did in the '70's, '80's or even a  decade ago, its because I do believe our streets were safer when I was a girl in the '70's,  than they are for young women now.   

I'm not being naïve. I know rape, incest and sexual abuse have been prevalent since time began. Yet the culture of our cities and semi-urban areas has altered irrevocably for the worse. Education has not improved our society. Take Kerala, Punjab and Haryana, ostensibly three of our most prosperous states. Note, I do not equate economic prosperity with progress  Rape, sexual  abuse, alcohol and substance abuse abound in these states. The  fabric of society there has degenerated with the so-called prosperity factor.

Why else would the Kerala High court rule, in the infamous 1996 Suryanelli case, in favour of rapists, so that the Supreme Court was forced to intervene?  Sexual abuse is so rampant in Kerala that it has become commonplace. Kerala society demands that its women behave and dress more circumspectly. The onus rests with the girl or woman, not to provoke the male's attention. How on earth can a society with 100% literacy and the country's most highly educated women, descend to this  abysmal level? What are Kerala's women thinking, that only a few feminists and Marxists came out on the streets to protest the Suryanelli verdict? A 16 year old girl was abducted and raped by over 30 men over a period of 40 days. But in spite of the case being sensationalised, Kerala was not outraged. Sexual rackets  are passè now. Google Keral sex rackets to read more. The victim was humiliated and condemned by the media and the High Court.  She may have been flirtatious, she may have had  sex with her boyfriend. That does not give 35 men the right to rape her. The earlier trial court stated this, albeit in legalese.

The  abduction and sexual exploitation of a 16 year old girl by several men over 40 days in 1996  led the trial court to sentence all the 35 persons  involved, to rigorous imprisonment for varying terms. The court noted that the main accused was a “hardened criminal” and that his act of ravaging the life of a docile teenage girl was “so devilish” that he deserved no leniency. The court extended the maximum punishment to him under Section 376 (rape) and Section 376(2)(g) (gang rape) of the Indian Penal Code. The judge further noted that “What had occurred was not only a crime against the victim but also a violation of the moral habits of society,” and termed it “as being among the rarest of rare cases,”  where the maximum sentence provided by the law should apply.

Yet, unbelievably, the Kerala High Court subsequently let off all but one of the 35 accused citing among other reasons, mainly: (a) the absence of “convincing evidence” that the victim was an unwilling partner in sexual intercourse with all those men; (b) that the accused could not be considered as guilty of rape (of a minor) as the girl had then (just) passed the legal age of consent (16 years), above which consensual sex would not be considered under law as “rape”; (c) that she had ample opportunities, which she did not use, to escape from her captors or inform others of her plight; (d) that there was evidence that she had been of “deviant behaviour” earlier (like attempting to mortgage her gold jewellery and spending the amount given by her parents to remit the hostel fees for dubious purposes) and therefore her statements could not be taken at face value in the absence of corroborating evidence; and (e) that the accused could not be punished for the offence of gang rape (Section 376(2) of the Indian Penal Code) either, as there was no “culpable common intention (among them) to commit rape”.

Why did the Kerala media not profile the judges  who came out with this unacceptable verdict? Why did Kerala society, informed, aware and highly political, not condemn the verdict or ostracise the men who came out with such a vile ruling? What is all that famous Kerala education and  awareness being used  for?

The SC Bench said the High Court’s (most shocking) conclusion that she was a willing partner in sexual intercourse might be true perhaps “for one accused but not for all the others.” Could most Malayalis not see that this is mere common sense?

In Haryana and Punjab, daily rape reports appear in the news.  If the perpetrators are powerful, if  they belong to the dominant castes, the police do not even bother to register them. Justice is difficult, if not  impossible for poor or Dalit families. The media in Kerala, picks up on cases  and follows them. Political parties  jump into the fray. In other states this does not always happen. Try googling dalit rape victims and check on the status of these rapes. Convictions are rare. Mostly nothing happens. The perpetrators walk free.
In Gujarat, after the 2002 riots much has been written about it all being  the dead past. We need to move on Corporate Modi followers urge us. Tell that to the victims who have to live in the vicinity of their rapists and murderers, men who walk free and gloat about it. Check what happens in UP after the latest riots.

It is time we had a national body, (not merely our politically appointed, generally toothless  Womens' Commissions,)  with trained, dedicated women police and lawyers committed to bringing rapists and sexual offenders to justice. We dont need rabid people. We need good people who are fair-minded and decent. We need groups of  dedicated, motivated volunteers trained to follow up these cases and provide counselling for rape victims  and their families.

The Nirbhaya case had  the  entire country up in arms. Let us put that to good use so that it does not remain mere rhetoric and rage. We can and must  turn the outrage to a productive end. Help rape victims and  their families both through the  trauma of  the trial and the subsequent effects. We need training  and  sensitization programmes for  lawyers. Judges, the police and the media. The way we handle rape cases is shocking and disgraceful.

We also need, on an emergency footing, to talk to young women, potential victims,  the vulnerable,  about the crass stupidity of allowing themselves to be manipulated and blackmailed by boyfriends  and lovers. Having their sexual escapades liaisons photographed and videoed is the height of foolishness. Womens' groups must take this into consideration when doing  training programmes. We can’t fight  this in small groups. We need to get advertising companies, film and TV stars, Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood – the  entire film industry involved in helping to clean up  the mess that is being  created by porn, cheap videos  and our cell phone obsessed generation. We need to train them to keep themselves safe, to protect  themselves in this new age of sharing sexual exploits on phones. We need to talk to our schoolboys and young men too. But  that’s  another story.

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