Castration As Punishment For Rapists: A Probable Solution?

Posted on September 28, 2011 in Specials

By Preetika Nanda:

The feeling of revulsion at the sight of every news report regarding sexual violence has made me indignant. What we witness today is a predicament which has taken an insidious stronghold.

The very fact that we use various nomenclatures such as rape, mass rape, date rape, marital rape, systematic rape, corroborates the omnipresence of the heinous act of violence. It has enveloped every aspect of our existence.

Owing to the ubiquity of the coercive crime, it becomes all the more important for us to understand what is rape. The psychological and sociological impact of rape goes beyond describing it as a non-consensual act of sex.

Rape is an act of violence. It is a hegemonic force to uphold patriarchy. It is a brutal catalyst to ‘punish’, a catalyst to fight back rejection, a tool to satisfy sexual frustration. Rape is the act of possession. It is the historical weapon of war, of instilling fear, of enslavement. It is about establishing and re-enforcing power relations. Rape is violation of individual’s aesthetics. Rape is pseudo-machismo. Rape is regarding the right of a woman over her body with complete disdain. It is a complete disregard for a woman’s choice to say ‘no’. It is abating the woman’s right to live a decent, dignified and a safe life.

According to Sec 376 of Indian Penal Code 1860 the maximum punishment awarded to the accused is 7 years (maximum) after which he walks free. On the other hand, for the victim, rape, becomes a perpetual fight for survival, a fight with oneself and with one’s family. Both arising from the taboos and stigmas our overpowering society imposes on itself through established ‘norms’ and ‘values’. In the throes of this smothering struggle, they face an uphill battle securing redress and then social acceptance.

Combined with a judicial system on the point of collapse, where cases routinely take years to be processed, and an almost total lack of modern forensic capability on the part of investigators, it is easy to see why the existing rape laws are not a major deterrent.

Further, most of the cases go unreported, owing to societal pressures and shame which is bestowed upon the victim, although there is no fault of hers. Compromises are sought, to the extent of proclaiming the crime as a dispute or a misunderstanding and a myriad of propositions are hunted for, to completely annihilate, the common knowledge that a crime has been committed.

Thus, the conviction rates for rape in India are extremely low, faced by a double headed spear of societal coercion (devoid of rational thought) and the failure of the judicial system in enforcing existing laws and considering, crime against women, a serious offence.

When the State advocates women empowerment, reservations, gender equality and so on, it should provide an atmosphere conducive to ‘change’, through concrete implementation of policies and laws, rather than merely talking about the above mentioned discourses. These important facets of a just society will be rendered as ostentatious, until systematic and structural steps are undertaken to address them.

So, recently when Additional Sessions Judge at Delhi’s Rohini Court Kamini Lau suggested castration as an alternative punishment for rapists while hearing a case, is a suggestion worth acknowledging (keeping aside the debate on castration as of now). Hence, I shall take the liberty of quoting her further- “The Indian legislatures are yet to… address the issue (of rape) with all seriousness by exploring the possibility of permitting imposition of alternative sentences of surgical castration or chemical castration, particularly in cases involving rape of minors, serial offenders and child molesters or as a condition for probation, or as an alternative sentence in case of plea bargaining.”

Talking about castration- Chemical castration is administration of medication designed to reduce libido and sexual activity, usually in the hope of preventing rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders from repeating their crimes. In surgical castration, the testes or ovaries are removed through an incision in the body.

I understand that castration is being pointed out as a punishment and a punishment is meant to set examples through fear. Having said that, chemical castration to me sounds like a ‘treatment’ given to diseased person, rather than a punishment. It reduces the sexual drive, agreed, but can it help to bring down the rising number of rape cases, assuming and understanding that rape is NOT an act of sex alone? I doubt. Moreover, I can draw a parallel between surgical castration and retribution. Revenge, for an act of sex. And I reiterate that Rape is much more.

Even if we consider that castration may act as a deterrent. What consequences does it bear for the victim after the crime has been committed? Can it relieve her from the horror, from the pain- physical, emotional, mental and psychological? From injury, from humiliation, from the trauma?

These are the questions one needs to ask.

Thus, we are focusing on the punishment, instead of addressing the roots of the problem. We need to understand why rape is so prevalent. Why, each and every day we come across reports of sexual abuse? The dire need of the situation is to formulate a holistic approach to address this grave problem, which not only benefits the victim, but also the accused. An assiduous framework which incorporates the society, the Government and various institutions to bring about an all pervasive change. A concoction of ideas, debates, researches, discussions, rational understanding and questioning not only on part of the ‘elite stakeholders’ but also in our very own drawing rooms.