From North to South and East to West, every part of the country seems to be unsafe for women. Rape is a crime not only against women but the whole of humanity. While going through the last week’s newspapers, almost all of them had at least three to four headlines highlighting the same. This is appalling and heart-wrenching. The gang-rape of a 26-year-old veterinary doctor and the most brutal possible way of murdering her by burning the body to ashes was horrifying. This shook the conscience of the nation and subsequent protests following the incident reminded us of the long-forgotten Nirbhaya case.
People thronged on streets demanding capital punishment for perpetrators. They questioned the government, the efficacy of the criminal justice system and overall ineffectiveness of law and order in the country to prevent the unabated barbarity against women.
While all this was underway, I was expecting the government to come up with some long-term and sustainable measures rather than knee-jerk reactions. At the same time, under street pressure, no institution could turn a blind eye to what happened. So, something had to happen to woo the disgruntled protesters.
It is said that “Justice should not only be done but also seen to be done.” But in this case, it was only “seen to be done” while actually denying it. There was no assurance that such crimes would be prevented in future. The country’s leadership knows that everything will soon go back to normal, and people will forget one more Nirbhaya.
According to the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) data 2017, the number of rapes taking place is more than 90 per day. If we assume that around 150 people are involved in this criminal activity, would they all be punished the same way – by taking them to the site of crime and shooting them down? This amounts to 4500 people a month. Is this how the daughters of this nation are going to feel safe?
I have no sympathies for the perpetrators. I too wanted them to face the fate of criminals. But this ought to be done by following due process and not by undermining the rule of law. This was not a victory for our democracy either. As it only highlighted the weaknesses of our system, and leadership, mired in long-standing inflexibility, political unwillingness and neglect of pressing issues (of course, women safety is topmost of them).
One of our Parliamentarians made a suggestion to hand over the accused to the mob. This is absurd. Rather than ensuring the accountability and answerability of government, she only made an emotional appeal.
The country is already facing the scourge of mob lynching, which the Supreme Court termed as “horrendous mobocracy”. Some of them are ideologically motivated hate crimes straining the social fabric and communal harmony of the nation. Some others are based on suspicions and rumours. At a time, when even the rapes are communally painted (Kathua rape case), mentioning such solutions increases the possibility of mobs frequently taking law and order in their own hands. This will make these faceless mobs a dark face of society, consuming the morality, ethics, tolerance and every single value that we traditionally cherished.
Moreover, we are living in democracy under the rule of law, not in medieval times under a tyrant.
People’s anguish over the failure of the whole machinery to prevent crimes against women is quite understandable. But they should not let the government shed its responsibility to overhaul the system.
Before offering solutions, I want to situate the problem of rape at three levels:
1) Political – Almost all political parties now offer their tickets to people with serious criminal backgrounds, facing charges of heinous crimes, like murder, rape etc. This factor is enough to understand the lack of any meaningful discourse over the issue in Parliament and State Legislatures.
2) Judicial – Delay in delivery of justice often frustrates people and makes them celebrate the encounters.
3) Household – Society is nothing but an extension of families. The seeds for the patriarchal mindset are sown right in the childhood. When children grow up in an atmosphere of domestic violence, seeing their mothers constantly subjected as second-class members, they emulate it and imbibe it in their behaviour.
In my opinion, all this coupled with illiteracy, unemployment, drinking, porn etc. are making this country a living hell for women.
There is no magic wand to stop it overnight. It will need long term efforts, political willingness and overall change in the mindset of society. Implementation of the Verma Committee’s suggestions must be done. This includes the following:
1) Establishing fast track courts to resolve cases in a time-bound manner.
2) Gender sensitisation programmes at schools, colleges, offices, society etc.
3) Lightening the dark spots, installing CCTV cameras etc.
4) Enhanced patrolling especially during night time.
The question of preventing crimes should be as important as punishing the perpetrators. Now, the choice is ours; whether we want to leave the streets littered with celebratory crackers or knee-bend the government to make India a safer place for women in the world.