Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Population

RIGHTS-INDIA: Recent Rape Cases Trigger New Alarm

Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, Oct 22 2003 (IPS) - This October, Indian President Abdul Kalam will forego the solemn, time-honoured, annual ceremony of presenting the silver bugle to his resplendent, mounted bodyguard in the forecourt of the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan, once the home of the British viceroys of India.

The reason? Presidential displeasure with four members of the bodyguard, the very cream of the Indian army’s elite troops. They were arrested by the authorities after they took turns to rape a young college student who had the misfortune of wandering into the sprawling woods behind the Rashtrpati Bhavan with her boyfriend on Oct. 6.

If that is not embarrassment enough for the Indian government, then there is the abrupt cancellation of several public engagements in the national capital by the Swiss Embassy, following the rape of a 36-year-old lady diplomat from its consular section on Oct. 15, to think of.

The Swiss diplomat was abducted in her own car from a parking lot outside the venue of an international film festival, where an attempt to abduct a woman journalist was thwarted on the same day only because she resisted and screamed loud enough to attract the attention of passersby.

These incidents in October have revived a debate on how to deal with rising instances of sexual attacks on well-to-do upper class women, rather than the largely unsung phenomenon of poor women in rural areas falling prey to the lust of wealthy landlords and men in power.

In November, when a medical college student was dragged off a busy street lined with the offices of several leading newspapers and into the Khooni-Darwaza, an arched mediaeval gateway, and raped, India’s Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani said it was time that the rarely used death penalty was invoked against rapists.

Advani’s prescription has been greeted by protests from human rights activists, psychologists and women’s groups. They said what was important was quick legal retribution aimed at social correction rather than long-drawn out trials that lead to barbarous punishments – if indeed a conviction is secured.

”It is the certainty of conviction that can act as a deterrent and less than 20 percent of those rapes that are reported end in actual convictions,” Indira Jaising, women’s rights activist and lawyer, said at a recent discussion of the menace.

Others at the discussion expressed the fear that the death penalty could induce the rapist to also murder his victim.

Prabha Nagaraja of the voluntary organisation Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues (TARHSI) felt that judges would be more hesitant to convict where the death penalty and harsh sentences were involved.

”What is really needed is to study and understand the mind of a person who is so depraved and debased as to carry out rape with a view to effecting social correction,” Rani Jethmalani, a leading lawyer and rights activist here told IPS in an interview.

There have been no dearth of studies, just as there have been no dearth of rapes and rapists. But among the better rated studies is one carried out by well-known psychologist Rajat Mitra. His study involved interviews with some 600 prisoners at the Central Jail in Delhi who have either been convicted on rape charges or are still undergoing trial.

Mitra learned from his interviews that the average rapist does not associate sex with such values as intimacy, loyalty or relationships and tends to pick on seemingly defenceless women in a location he is familiar with.

”A combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors seem to be at work in producing a rapist,” Mitra said.

Such studies are small comfort to the rape victim who usually finds herself traumatised as much by publicity and by crude legal processes, if she chooses to seek legal remedy. The chances are that she would prefer to suffer in silence.

Mitra found that most of the rapists, convicted or otherwise, that he interviewed at the Central Jail were caught as a result of overconfidence and typically when they were making a seventh or eighth assault. ”One man was caught after committing 25 rapes,” he said.

Studies such as Mitra’s deal mostly with ‘rush-hour rapes’ and exclude those committed by close relations of the victims such as uncles or brothers who get away with it because the families are keen to avoid scandals. Such rapes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, probably account for 84 percent of all rapes.

They also do not take into account routine rapes of lower-caste women and such phenomenon as the mass rape or sexual brutalisation of scores of women during an anti-Muslim pogrom in the western state of Gujarat last year.

Many of those women have been encouraged by voluntary agencies to approach the courts, but may never get justice because the present legal definition of rape limits it to ”penetration of the vagina by the penis”, when many assailants use sticks to violate their women victims.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

pavel power to the people