By Rashme Sehgal
Rape followed by murder. This deadly cocktail of crime is being played out across the subcontinent where tougher laws introduced in 2013 to curb sexual violence against women are clearly not working.
Two school girls were raped and hanged from the same rope in the Karimganj district of Assam in early September this year.
This crime is very reminiscent of the Badaun gang rape and murder of two cousin sisters, 14 and 15 years of age, whose first post mortem report showed they were tortured but alive when hanged from a mango tree. This crime happened on May 27 2014 in the backward village of Sadatganj which falls in India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh. Both girls belonged to impoverished Dalit families. Traditionally, Dalits are members of the Harijan or untouchable class.
Despite widespread outrage at the gangrape and murder, two weeks later, three minor Dalit girls were gang raped by seven people in the same Badaun district.
West Bengal saw the gangrape and murder of a young girl earlier this year because she opposed the ruling of a kangaroo court that wanted her to lick some spit. Her dismembered body was found near a railway track.
In another case, a tribal girl was gang raped in the Birbhum district of West Bengal as punishment delievered by a kangaroo court for entering into relationship with a Muslim man.
Dr Rajesh Kumar heading Society of Promotion of Youth and Masses which has been working closely to stop substance abuse with juvenile delinquents and has interacted closely with both juvenile rapists and murderers pointed out ,` For boys who commit these crimes, there is little difference between living on the streets or spending time in a jail. Murdering the girl (who they raped) means they have done away with the key witness which they believe will help them in a law court .’
Statistics released a 873 per cent increase in rape case during the last five decades
These chilling words explain why this perverted dance of rape and death is being played out with such regularity. Statistics released by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) has shown a 873 per cent increase in rape case during the last five decades with police have registered 240,000 rape cases reported in 2013. Gang rape has not been documented separately but there is no doubt that a large number of cases target Dalit women only because they are powerless.
Raj Tilak, member of the Rashtriya Dalit Mahila Andolan (National Agitation to Protect Dalit Women) ascribes these increasing rapes to intimidate girls from her community who are trying to improve their socio-economic prospects. Tilak points out how girls trying to go to school and colleges are stopped by upper caste boys who will not hesitate to physically abuse them and have been responsible for gang raping young girls from the Bhagana district located in the state of Haryana.
This escalating graph of rape and murder are directly linked to the low conviction rate of rapists. Statistics collected by the NCRB has shown that conviction rate for rape is as low as 25 per cent in the past.
Sloppy investigation by the police and interference by the premier Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in key cases has often served to muddy the waters in favour of the rapist.
A case of rape and murder turns into one of honour killing
In the Badaun rape and murder case which created a national uproar, the CBI’s team of police officials brought in to give further teeth to the investigation has in actuality allowed the five upper caste suspects to walk away scot free.
The CBI, according to senior lawyer Rebecca John, have twisted a case of rape and murder into one of honour killing. They put doubt on whether the girls had actually been sexually assaulted and since the village has been flooded due to the heavy monsoon rain, the bodies of the girls could not be exhumed. The CBI team claimed the polygraph tests of the five accused ` showed no deception’ while the families of the girls ` showed deception’ and therefore the alleged upper class perpetrators of this crime have been allowed to go scott free. Upper classes, John believes, are better connected politically. They also have more money to buy their way out.
The CBI findings have raised a question mark on the first round of investigation conducted by the local police as also subsequent investigations undertaken by different NGO groups including the well reputed NGO, the All India Women Democratic Association whose general secretary Jagmati Sangwan brought out a report on the Badaun rape within three days of this double crime having been committed.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that the Dalit family which lost their two daughters is so poor that they lack the resources to question these findings in a court of law.
The CBI acquittal in this and other cases is a handle to encourage criminal activity and to give a further push to patriarchal and established anti-Dalit attitudes entrenched in our society.
The media didn’t want „bad news“
For over fifteen years, (1994-2012) women issues have remained largely unreported in the national media whose focus has been unrelentingly on the corporate world and Bollywood from where they receive huge advertising revenues. Corporate houses did not want bad news to be written about as this, they believed, would adversely impact their business.
This trend would have continued were it not for the horrific 16 December 2012 gang rape whose ferocity and savagery shook the conscience of the nation.
A 23-year old physiotherapy student had iron rods pushed into her uterus and intestine and was left to bleed to death on a premier street of New Delhi.
Talking about the psychology on one of the five men who raped this girl, well known sociologist Dr Ashish Nandy pointed out, `When the rapist committed this crime, he was 16 years of age. If we look at his antecedents, he had been forced to leave his home at the age of eight and had to fend for himself. Young boys on the streets are invariably sexually assaulted by truck drivers and others and grow up holding a grudge against society. Making laws more strict will not remove the problem. Earlier parenting was shared in an extended family. Now we are down to single parents and kids are being left to fend for themselves. But before we arrive at conclusions, a great deal of research needs to be done in this field.’
Stricter laws don’t lead to less rape cases
The new rape laws issued in early 2013 mandated strict guidelines for reporting rapes, shorter trials, less onerous hurdle for victims making accusations and an insistence that female officers question the victims.
Stricter laws have not brought down rape cases. Dr Rajesh maintains,` In western countries, the state has created institutions where if parents are not taking care of a child, the state will step in. In India, traditionally, children have been nurtured by families and communities. Both have broken down. All forms of social control have disappeared. We have a society which is imploding in all directions.’
The result is there for all to see. We have an entire underclass of boys who are growing up with no educational and vocational skills. Many of them are on substance abuse and lead a life of crime to be able to afford these drugs.
‚We have produced a lumpen army of brutalized men‘
Madhu Kishwar editor of Manushi magazine devoted to raising women’s issues sums up the situation very aptly when she says, ‚We have produced a lumpen army of brutalized men who have failed both economically and emotionally. They are at the bottom rung of our society – all these Yadav gangs and political thugs – who think they enjoy immunity from law.’
Gang rape can give men a sense of (false) power and bravado with men seeking strength from their numbers. But it could also be because of the low status that women enjoy especially since large numbers of girls continue to be trafficked into prostitution.
Commenting on the significant number of foreign women who have been gang raped Dr Rajesh believes, `It is linked to an increasing break down of law-and-order. These rapists believe they can get away with the crime.’
The decision of a Mumbai law court to hang four rapists who gang-raped a 23-year old photojournalist who had gone to do a photo-shoot in a deserted textile mill in Mumbai in 2013 has however evoked criticism within some sections of society.
Commenting on the court verdict given this year, Indira Jaisingh, a former additional solicitor general has criticized this growing demand to evoke the death penalty for rapists. She said, `Death penalty will not deter anyone from committing a crime. Rather, it is the certainty of conviction which is the greater deterrent. Better investigation and prosecution is the need of the hour.’
Women’s activist Dr Ranjana Kumari heading the Centre for Social Research which works closely with rape victims is not happy with this demand to hang rapists. ‚Death penalty is very difficult to establish and is used in the rarest of rare cases. Since independence in the last 65 years, only 46 people have been hanged but there are 40,000 rape cases pending in our law courts. A lynch mob mentality will not do, ‘ said Kumari.
More patrolling, more visability
Fingers are increasingly being pointed at the police force and there is a growing demand for better monitoring and patrol. A former Inspector General of Police Kiran Bedi forcefully asserts on the need for improving ground policing systems. `The primacy of beat patrolling which is the backbone of policing has been systematically annihilated. Between 1980-86, when I headed Delhi, we used to patrol the streets of the capital. We also ensured that the public was equally involved in our efforts and made sure public personalities were involved in these patrolling efforts. The result of this public and police partnership was that there was a sharp decline in crime. These joint efforts must be brought back,’ Bedi stated.
Is the increase in rape statistics be linked to increasing media coverage in the past two years. Rebecca John believes that there have been few credible statistics on the number of rapes and gang rapes in the past.
`All I can say is that a much larger number of complaints are being registered and these are receiving much higher visibility,’ she said.
Women no longer keep quiet
Changing norms in society are also responsible for larger numbers of women coming forward and make complaints. `As a society we are changing, women are changing. Earlier women kept quiet when they were subjected to brutal criminality. But today women are understanding their honour does not lie in their vagina. They have nothing to be ashamed about if a rape is committed against them and they will speak out,’ John claimed.
But John believes that cases of rape, murder and other heinous crimes will only decline if the law courts give them greater primacy. ` When I joined the law practise in 1988, there was only one special court dealing with corruption while the other courts dealt with cases of murder, rape and other heinous crimes. Today, 26 special courts are dealing on a daily basis with very few cases of corruption while a handful of courts are having to deal with a huge number of rape and murder cases. No wonder sentences in such cases take years and years to be delievered,’ she added.
Whatever maybe the factors, women in India are scared to step into public spaces. Increasing exposure to pornography, some psychologists believe, could also be responsible for these increasingly brutal sexual attacks.
Dr Ashish Nandy rues the fact that there are few studies in India on rape, the psychology of rapists and also on the impact of pornography on rapists if at all. What there is little doubt about is that a woman is being raped every hour in the country and there seems to be little that the government or society can do to reverse such a horrific trend.