January 2013 began with Minister of State for Human Resources Development, Shashi Tharoor, publicly stating on Twitter that the government must pay tribute to the Delhi gang-rape victim – popularly christened ‘Nirbhaya’ by the nation – by naming the new anti-rape law after her, only if her parents approve of it. What his comments did was spark off another controversy with the media, lawyers, and politicians getting involved leading to chaos. Even former IPS officer, Kiran Bedi, came out in full support of Mr. Tharoor by claiming that ‘honouring the victim could remove the stigma’. Bedi’s very-confident words appear hollow in light of the fact that very recently a rape-victim in Kerala who had openly declared that she was raped and had even gone to trial, was left to bear the ‘stigma’ of rape for life. Today, the victim and her father have been ostracized by their own relatives. Had a law been named after this victim, I doubt whether her scars — two years of treatment and painful suffering – could have faded away.
In fact, in the victim’s own words, “She lost out on life because she had complained against the rape.” Firstly, can an anti-rape law change our mindsets? Can the new anti-rape law or existing laws in our country change the way our elders think? No, certainly not.
While the debate, concerning acceptance of mercy petitions from rapists, rages on in the Parliament we as a society need to reform our mindset — the way we perceive a rape-victim. As a society, we need to build public awareness about the brutal consequences of rape and we need to highlight the fact that the rape-victims are not the ones to blame. To empower the women, we need to respect them first and we need to deal with victims of rape with compassion. The law, when enforced with tenacity, can only punish the offenders but it cannot heal our society. The anti-rape law can act as a deterrent to other future-rapists but it is not a preventive action. To prevent rape in our society, we have to first stop bickering over what name the new law needs to be given and we need to take strong steps to make people understand that the victim is not a disgrace to our culture and our values; she is a victim of a heinous crime.
‘Nirbhaya’ lost her life after battling for days to survive. Her family is still in a state of shock. Even if they do give their approval for naming the law after their beloved daughter, is it fair to her memory? The one person who can decide whether the anti-rape law should be named after ‘Nirbhaya’ is — ‘Nirbhaya’ herself. She underwent the trauma. She was beaten ruthlessly by the six rapists. She is the only one who deserves to christen the anti-rape law. But a question that begs asking here is — if a law in our country is not enforced strictly and offenders not given sufficient punishment then does the ‘name’ of the law really matter? I am sure that if ‘Nirbhaya’ wanted the law to be named after her then she would have only been at peace when millions of other women who are subjected to sexual assaults and harassment are granted justice on time. She would have also wanted the people of India to realize that a rape-victim has her whole life ahead of her; she cannot be ostracized for something that wasn’t her fault.
Before our lawmakers, politicians, and ‘people-with-an-opinion-on-everything’ decide whether the anti-rape law should be named after ‘Nirbhaya’ they must ask themselves a critical question — Is there any point in doing so? Can they ensure that once an offender is given a strong sentence, the victim can resume her life in peace after the attack? Can the judiciary ensure that the victim’s relatives and acquaintances will not excommunicate the victim? Isn’t ensuring a safe society for women a better way of honouring ‘Nirbhaya’ than naming a law after her?
Finding answers to these questions is a difficult task for our politicians. So instead of spending more time on Twitter they should work towards enlightening our society and ushering in positive change.