In a land where the majority of people, by faith, believe in Female God and her powers being no less than that of the Male God’s - as a philosophy and mythology, the rampant rapes of women represent one of the many paradoxes of India. The country that aspires to be anointed as a global Super Power is today woefully listed as one of the least safe for women.
The first week of December was particularly traumatic for most Indians as two women living in two different corners of the country were raped and burnt alive by their tormentors. In Hyderabad, 27-year old veterinarian died at the hands of four men who waylaid her as she was waiting for help for her scooter’s flat tyre on city outskirts; she was gang-raped and burnt alive. On the other hand, the next day, a woman who was raped in UP’s Unnao a year ago, was attacked and set ablaze by her rapist and his four friends. The gutsy woman survived with grievous injuries and spilt the beans about her attackers who wanted to stop her from deposing against her rapist in a court of law on that day.
The spine-chilling details about how the Hyderabad woman had called her sister on mobile to convey that she feared danger from the men around her on a lonely stretch and it happened soon after broke the myth about South India being a safer place for women and also led to a huge outrage.
The rape epidemic took yet another grisly turn when the Telangana police responded to the outrage and cries for rapists’ blood by killing the four accused in wee hours of December 6, a day after they had been arrested on the basis of their identification through CCTV footage. The police version that they threw stones on them and tried to escape from the scene of the crime, where they were taken for investigation, and were killed in retaliation is being taken with a pinch of salt and yet people don’t want to raise the issue.
The story looks not so credible and yet people celebrated the killings by showering rose petals on policemen involved in the shootout shows the public unrest over the increasing crime of rapes across the country. Even the family members of the rape victims applauded the Telangana police for summary justice as against the normal torturous and protracted judicial process for justice. The mother of ‘Nirbhaya’, a Delhi medico who was brutally gang-raped in a moving bus seven years ago and later died, congratulated the Telangana police for doing the right thing.
According to the National Crimes Bureau annual report in 2017, in all 32,559 rapes were reported across India. Madhya Pradesh has recorded the highest number of rape cases at 5,562 cases followed by Uttar Pradesh. Delhi continued to retain the dubious distinction of being the rape capital of India with 13,096 reported cases even after a decline from previous years after several measures taken up for women’s safety.
In India, the unabated rape culture despite the plethora of stringent laws is related to the traditions of honour and misogyny associated with women’s roles. The law enforcement agencies being part of the same society often don’t show due sensitivity and response to the crimes against women as is expected of them. In this context the Verma Committee set up in the wake of 2012 nationwide outrage following rape and death of ‘Nirbhaya’ had given concrete ideas for sensitization of the police and reforms in the education system to make gender issues part of learning.
The policemen who hail from the same patriarchal milieu continue to see the rape as a deviation from the institution of family and not as a crime against an individual. In the Hyderabad case, the police didn’t pay heed to the version of the sister of the victim and took its sweet time to start a search for her. Likewise in Unnao, the woman with some 60% burns walked about one kilometre to get help and contact police as nobody came forward to help her because of the fear of reprisals.
Manmohan Singh’s government had lost a chance following the public nationwide protest against rapes to overhaul the system. Though the Verma committee submitted a thick report to the government, most of its recommendations were ignored. For example, the committee has taken a stand against the death sentence for rapists and yet the amended law has it. It had also placed several ideas for police and educational reforms that have been brushed aside. Interestingly many people feel that lawmakers too take the rape issues rather non-seriously and only do lip service when the people are protesting. It was to play to the galleries that Samajwadi MP Jaya Bachchan demanded in the Rajya Sabha, rather prophetically, that the rapists (of Hyderabad vet) be killed publically.
The lawmakers’ casual attitude stems from the fact that 233 MPs (43 per cent) of the Lok Sabha have cases of serious crimes including rapes registered against them. Some elected leaders have spoken outrageously on issues concerning women’s safety. Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Khattar said that use of jeans and eating noodles was leading to rapes; a UP minister said crimes like rapes were part of the society and even Lord Rama could not help. Such people only perpetuate misogyny and oppose equality for women.
The rapes reported are just tip of the iceberg; in remote areas and villages, the disclosure about rape and sexual violence is still considered a shame for the families and the onus to remain pure remains on the women. This keeps women in quarantine; instead of boys being taught how to treat girls, the latter are forced to curtail their movements lest she could be molested.
As the government is unable to find definite ways to curb the rape culture, the people’s patience is on a tipping point as was seen from the euphoric reaction of people after the killing of four men, who, in the legal term, were only suspects in a rape case. If they have been shot dead deliberately to appease the public and also to send a strong message across, it’s giving rise to a dangerous trend.
Also, the image of India as a democracy and as a country for business and tourism takes a major hit with such incidents. Several countries have issued advisories to their citizens on being cautious about rapes in India.(Published on 09th December 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 50)