In a world of
By Suchitra Behal
It could easily be one of
the most misused words in modern parlance. In fact lexicologists at
a recent conference suggested that, due to the increasing misuse of
certain words, society was becoming apathetic to the context in which
they were being used. One such word was rape.
In the Indian context nothing
could be truer. As a society, we dismiss rape as a mere statistic, only
fit to be reported in the newspapers. We are so dehumanised that recently
when a disabled child was raped in a Mumbai suburban train, passengers
chose to avert their eyes.
In New Delhi, chilling incidents
of assaults on girls within the university campuses have finally led
to a public outcry and a media campaign that now refuses to let the
issue die down. Perhaps the most frightening was the rape of a young
medical student on November 15 in daylight a few metres away from the
Police Commissioner's office. The spirited response of the students
has turned the spotlight on a host of issues connected with rape.
Women, as the statistics
make clear, are routinely subject to eve teasing, sexual assault, dowry
deaths and sexual harassment at work places. But it is rape that is
the most traumatising. National Crime Records Bureau figures show that,
despite a certain amount of liberalisation in attitude, dress codes
or societal trends, crimes against women have been rising, especially
in the urban areas.
Consider the facts. Every
26 minutes a woman is molested, every 42 minutes a sexual harassment
takes place and every half hour a rape takes place. But what is frightening
is that majority of the cases are never reported for fear of reprisal,
shame and guilt. Worse, the conviction rate is so low that most offenders
know that they can get away with it.
Ranjana Nirula, working with
the CITU, said that rape continued to occur because, "A large number
of people know that they will go scot-free". The entire judicial
procedure is so gender insensitive that a woman, "goes through
rape not once but many times over". Nirula said that the whole
process from registering an FIR to the courtroom was so insensitive
that it was scary. "The police will ask the victim to repeat what
happened to her. In court, she is examined in the presence of the accused.
Even in the recent case of the Maulana Azad Medical College student,
everybody is asking who the girl is?"
Unfortunately, despite the
protests that women's organisations have made over the years, successive
governments seem to have turned a deaf ear to their pleas. The National
Commission of Women in 1993 came up with many suggestions, which asked
for a more specific definition of sexual assault. It also asked for
a more sensitive approach in handling such cases, but nothing seems
to have come out of it.
The response of university
authorities has been slow and ponderous. Take for instance the time
when five persons in a car kidnapped a student from the north campus
in Delhi University. When the media went to town with the issue of security,
the authorities then reacting, asked for more police patrolling within
the campus. A Gender Sensitive Cell against Sexual Harassment was quickly
set up and promptly forgotten.
Students and resident doctors
of Maulana Azad College say that this incident was waiting to happen.
Said one doctor, "The college gates are open to the public all
through. There is no check on who is walking in or out. How then can
they maintain any security?" A few days after the incident, two
men were caught trying to molest two nurses who had stepped out of the
college's Out-Patient Department.
Students from colleges in
Delhi University complain that the authorities are not willing to consider
their demands for better security. On their part, the authorities feel
that they have taken certain measures and steps, which will soon show
But just as capital punishment
may not be the best answer to prevent rape, no amount of security can
help change a mind set. According to CITU's Nirula, "It's all about
power and control. I think a lot of men are insensitive to women."
She also felt that the issue of capital punishment was very complex
and more likely to be a "red herring".
Figures reported in the Parliament
show that from January to July, 229 rapes occurred in Delhi alone. Not
even one rapist has been convicted. More sensitive judges have counselled
their clients through many an ordeal. Despite the recent statement by
the police commissioner, that women must dress less provocatively, more
than one-fourth of the cases reported involved minor children. According
to lawyer Kirti Singh, "It is important to answer this whole question
of provocation. Most of the girls raped are below 16, so tell me what
is so provocative about them?"
Criticising the antiquated
procedures in handling rape cases, Singh said there was a total lack
of sensitivity within the police force as well as the judiciary. "The
procedures are long drawn and inhuman and also we have not updated our
laws. Women's issues are a low priority area and once it is out of the
limelight it is conveniently forgotten," said she.
As a lawyer, Singh wants
a legal process that will recognise the trauma of a rape victim, tougher
punishment and quicker procedures to catch the offender and, most of
all, a gender sensitive police force and judiciary. "My first instinct
is to counsel the victim and her family. We don't have any systems in
place to take care of the psychological trauma that these people go
through. Rehabilitation is a must," she said.
Part of the blame of the
recent rape cases within the campus had to be taken by the university
authorities, she felt, since they had been negligent and lax in maintaining
However according to Rajya
Sabha MP and actor Shabana Azmi, "We have to begin by changing
the mindset of the people. If we want to make our society safe for women
then our solution has to be multi pronged." In a recent article
on the issue, Azmi said that one could put any number of cops inside
the campus; police people regularly and yet not achieve this.
She has a point. While the
police today run more help lines than ever for women victims, while
there are more social organisations offering help, violence against
women, whether in rural or urban India, continues to grow. There is
no one answer to any of this and neither are there any simplistic solutions
that will make for a safer society. Instead it is a long haul, which
needs more than mere lip service to achieve this goal.