Following the spine-chilling and horrific gangrape and brutalisation of a 23-year-old in the national capital on Sunday, when Tehelka asked how the rapes could be stopped, there was only one refrain: attitude to women must change; the legal process of dealing with the crime must speed up; and men must be educated and ‘sensitised’ about women’s issues. Twenty personalities — lawyers, activists, writers, filmmakers – suggest some real solutions.
‘Attitudes to women and recognition of their full range of rights should be linked to recruitment, promotion’
Karuna Nundy, advocate, Supreme Court of India
There’s so much outrage this time, and outrage can change things. But the conviction of these rapists is clearly not enough, sexual violence runs deep in Delhi and unless we deal with the source, it’ll continue to pour forth. Here are some changes I’d like to see.
• Attitudes to women in the criminal justice system. Attitudes to women and recognition of their full range of rights should be linked to recruitment, promotion. The system should recognise and reward good police officer, a good magistrate, a good prosecutor by their attitudes to Dalit women, to lesbians, to sexually active women wearing skimpy clothing. Also penalise actors in the criminal justice system for the opposite, i.e. discriminatory behaviour. So when a policeman or woman, a prosecutor or a judge is recruited, their attitudes need to be part of the interview.
• Masculinity: Equality training in various spheres should be included in schools — what kind of citizens are we looking to produce? Showing children early on that people of other gender, other castes, religions are equal needs to be central to our education system. We’ve been thinking of the Dalit boy sitting in corner of classroom, who sees a cartoon that’s discriminatory. Think also of the girl who only sees Maharani Laxmibai and Sarojini Naidu in her history books. Teach women they are equal, and they are more likely to be treated that way. We need self defence classes in school for girls. And to teach boys that girls are equal. Boys should also be given empathy training to show them what it’s like to be a girl. Anger management courses have been proven to work.
• Allowing women to sue for money damages and injunctions in civil cases would help to go along with criminal cases. We need civil damages for victims of crime in India, it’s an easier forum for her to navigate, also on principle, she should be compensated for the psychological and material damage she is caused as well as have the perpetrator punished.
• Reform criminal justice system: The low conviction rate for rape — some figures show only 27 percent convictions — is also why rapists are not that scared and victims reluctant to go to court. Police reforms have been waiting to be implemented since the 1980s — police in Delhi need better investigation methods, find the right guy, ways to preserve evidence. We don’t have proper witness protections programmes, or the best prosecutors — though the victim’s lawyer being allowed to be present now helps somewhat.
• Some of the important changes — like quicker trials enabled by more judges and courtrooms are reforms the whole criminal justice system needs. Also you have to have to be able to complain effectively if your prosecutor is not competent or has been bribed.
‘What we need to do, and urgently, is two-pronged: systemic social change and legal reform’
Mihira Sood, advocate
Rape exists because of a patriarchal, misogynistic culture that condones it, whether tacitly or explicitly, and because of widespread lawlessness that encourages it. What we need to do, and urgently, is two-pronged: systemic social change and legal reform.
We must educate people, starting at the school level, about respect for women, for personal spaces and for the rule of law. We need to introspect, all of us, on how we contribute to the objectification of women, from the popular culture we consume to the way we bring up our children — from where it’s a slippery slope to a twisted and unjust understanding of sexual assault in legal terms.
In terms of the law, we urgently need a more comprehensive and inclusive definition of sexual violence, critical amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure that will reduce the time taken for trials, fast track courts for sexual assault cases, harsher punishments and a serious programme of police reform and sensitisation. All of these are doable, and all are equally crucial — not just for better implementation but also to signal the seriousness with which such crimes will be viewed.
Unfortunately, there appears to be little political will for any of these measures, which is where the media and the increasingly powerful voice of public — spirited citizens will have to take centrestage.
‘Men are raised in our society to think that we are men because we demand, we take, we win, we conquer’
Gautam Bhan, queer activist, academic and consultant
Men are not born biologically violent — we make them so. Our responses to sexual violence must recognise, name, and both institutionally and individually counter the dangerous mix of impunity and entitlement at the core of contemporary masculinity that allows such violence. Boys and men are raised in our society to think that we are men because we demand, we take, we win, we conquer. Add to that the sense of impunity pervasive in our cities on all fronts due to the failure of our institutions and we are brought to where we are today. We cannot legislate good behaviour, as the saying goes, we have to build its DNA — in schools, in homes, in public spaces, in our media — that must begin by refusing, unlearning and denying this entitlement and the violence it takes to live it as the only way to be “men.”
‘The outrage on this incident is welcome but the solution lies outside the law, in the mindset of the people’
Tridip Pais, lawyer
I don’t think what is needed is an increase in punishment or in speed of trial. What is required is a systemic change. The Mangalore pub incident also reflected the attitude of the Indian male. Boys were trying to get women to conform to certain standards. It is a high form of violence to subjugate a woman who otherwise wouldn’t pander to your ego. Rape is the worst form of that violation. It is a way of subjugating women and an attempt to establish their superiority through violence. Men have not been able to accept that they need to respect women.
During every war and riot men have wanted to violate women. Every riot today is followed by sexual violence. This happened in Gujarat too. It is a way of saying that I am superior. Harsher punishment won’t take you very far. A psychiatrist, Dr Mitra did a survey with rapists. He asked them if they would have committed the crime if the punishment was death penalty. Most respondents said that in that case they would have killed the woman. I am also against the death penalty. I do not endorse violence by the state in any form.
The implementation of law is very poor. Further the court staff, typist and the defense counsel treat rape cases as salacious gossip. Men need to go through a sea change on their attitude to women. There should be gender sensitisation classes in primary and secondary education. Bureaucrats, officers concerned with maintaining law and order and the security forces should also be sensitised. A nationalist like Sushma Swaraj would defend the rapist if he was in the security force and the incident had occurred on the border. The outrage on this incident is welcome but the solution lies outside the law, in the mindset of the people. We need to tackle the rape case, misogyny in office and the Mangalore pub incident equally seriously.
A quick trial can have adverse impacts. It will be difficult to prove a lot of things with such less time. One should have enough time to argue out a case. A time limit of one year sounds reasonable. Further, life imprisonment if implemented properly should work as punishment.
‘The community and the Police need to work together. This involves security at vulnerable places, at critical hours’
Kiran Bedi, former IPS officer
We had started gender sensitisation training at the police institute in collaboration with a gender training institute. It needs to be a continuous process. Unfortunately in government institutes rather then continue good practices tend to get broken down. The system breaks them down. After I left the gender training was discontinued.
Rape is rooted in two reasons. It is primarily a foundational issue. It is the failure of social norms, from the family to educational institutes, to exercise control. Thus society has gone weaker and become loose. People then behave like loose canons. They may have gone to school, but that is not education, that is literacy. Today the boys only want Mazaak and Mazaa- and that obviously means disrespect for women.
The police is a step behind and not in step with society. It is not audited and is monopolistic in nature. If you don’t conduct social audits, you don’t receive any feedback from the community. How are you to strategise without any feedback from the ground? The system suffers from a statistical approach. So, while you may have failed professionally you are still successful statistically. Statistics hide information. Statistics state there is only a marginal increase in rape cases. But hardly anyone reports them.
These things perpetuate crime and embolden the criminal. In the good old days we used to do group patrolling. The community and the police used to work together. Now they have abandoned support schemes such as citizens volunteer schemes.
We used to maintain a rough register that contained names of ruffians. The officers used to visit their homes and check on them. We even kept an eye on school dropouts. Nobody was out of sight. We did that with minimum manpower and maximum community support.
Good policing means that the law is the same for everyone. We never spared any VIP. It was all about being accountable to the community. Today, the police is accountable only to the VIP.
We need to rise to the challenge and co-opt private security if there is a problem of manpower. I have trained thousands of boys and girls in civil defense. Where are they? Where are the citizen wardens?
There are four steps to what I call the Complete Criminal Justice System:
Prevention: The community and the Police need to work together during this stage. This involves security at vulnerable places and at critical hours.
Investigation: This is primarily the responsibility of the police but involves the community in the role of witnesses. Measures such as installing CCTV cameras in buses should be taken. Make it mandatory to install a CCTV camera to get a license for a bus. There are schemes where corporate houses have been asked to take up areas and work on keeping them clean and green. On similar lines they can be asked to install CCTV cameras.
Prosecution: If someone comes out on bail make sure that it is conditional. They should have to report to the police station at least once a week about good behaviour. This was one can ensure that they do not influence witnesses and intimidate the victim.
Punishment: This falls in the ambit of law. The courts will take the final call.
‘We need an overhauling of the judicial system and a re-assessment of priorities’
Rebecca John, lawyer
Why this happens: This is not just a Delhi vs. India scenario. Our society is not used to the fact that women are now visible and are breaking out of their set roles. There is a baser male element that seeks to exercise power over women; and what better way than raping her. It’s a power equation where men want to tell women that they are ultimately the masters of the universe.
Systemic flaws: We need an overhauling of the judicial system and a re-assessment of priorities. Rape cases need to be treated like no other cases. There is an imbalance in the system. You have 26 special courts set up in Delhi that are supposed to look at corruption on a day-to-day basis. This puts a huge strain on an already over-worked criminal justice system. The burden on the ordinary criminal courts have increased manifold, as they have to look after all the other cases. Regular criminal courts have to look at 30-40 cases every day. And at any point there will be 100 rape cases at various stages. Corruption is important, but it doesn’t affect real people and real lives the way rape does.
Administrative solutions: Unless there is a way to dispense the same kind of justice across the board, as fast as humanly possible, such instances will re-occur. For that we need more judges looking especially after cases of rape and murder. There has to be a strong and stern judiciary that looks at these cases with complete control. If there are special courts for corruption, there need to be parallels for other criminal cases. “Fast-track” is a word I do not like. You cannot keep fast-tracking all cases. Special treatment to one case is not a sustained effort. The system also needs to understand the extra-ordinary courage to testify in court. A number of cases do not go reported, that is the real tragedy.
Police force: The police have to be sensitized. They have to be made vigilant. Our police force is overworked but extremely callous towards gender crimes. If a woman had the confidence that she could go to an SHO to complain and not get either mocked or raped again, she would. However, she cannot. For this case, because of the media attention, the police are following due process and collecting forensic evidence. I applaud them. However, it’s almost comic. You do not need forensic evidence here because there is so much other evidence, and an eyewitness who will testify. Why do they not collect DNA in the million other cases where the crime happens in a jhuggi or a locked room, there are no eyewitnesses and all they have is the sole testimony of the prosecutress? When was the last time they secured a crime scene and used gloves?
Media: Do not make rape one-week news. We need to do follow-ups. For example, after the Guwahati case judgment came out, half the people were let off. These are the questions that need to be raised. What are the mechanisms? Why this judgment? Why have we failed to dispense justice? Also, attention needs to be given to the uneducated poor women who travel in buses to do housework. Talk about the maidservants and factory workers. These are the majority of the victims, who have no access to police or media. Let us not get elitist in our debate.
Societal changes: Start with schools. Even in our elitist schools there are no programmes to sensitise young children on matters of sex and sexual crimes. We need to tell them that this is wrong. Schools should make that effort, along with families. We need to address little things in our daily lives, such as advertisements that objectify women, instead of internalizing and accepting them. There has to be a change in our approach to investigation, prosecution, the conclusion of a trial and how the judiciary looks at these cases.
‘The current mentality is that the law cannot touch you at home’
Dipankar Gupta, sociologist
What we need to look at is the issue of gangrape specifically. It’s a whole different ball game from rape by a single individual. There is a phenomenon in South Africa called ‘jack-rolling’. A group of men, usually friends, gangrape a woman for sport. It is fun for them. Much research has been done on this to be able to address this issue. Similar research has to happen in India if we are to understand the motive or the psyche behind the perpetrators. Why is this a gang operation. Does this include the element of sport. It is not simply a sexual affair, and it also goes beyond the exercise of power to make the woman feel inferior. In the US, 25% of rape cases are gangrapes. In South Africa the number goes up to nearly 50%. In India, however, these numbers are not clear though I have been asking around for them.
Apart from intensive research, we also need changes in law enforcement and the judiciary. The current mentality is that the law cannot touch you at home. So many times, the police have traced perpetrators to their villages and towns but not been able to take action because the men are protected by their khap or clan or family.
‘We need to fight the idea that the blame lies with the woman’
Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA
It is not a question of technical preventive measures that can be taken. The Delhi Police has done an ad campaign with Farhan Akhtar where he urges men to protect women with the tagline ‘Be a man’. Women don’t need men to protect them. What we need to fight is the idea that the blame lies with the woman, that she needs to dress differently. We need to assert women’s freedom which only the left parties are doing.
‘We also need to treat a crime as a crime. The questions that are being asked are irrelevant’
Subhasini Ali, AIDWA
There is no fast solution to the problem. As you have shown in your survey even the mindset of the police is such that it blames the woman. Even our politicians are the same. In this particular case there was no political influence. Had that been the case the culprits wouldn’t have been caught. The perpetrators know they can get away and that encourages them.
We also need to treat a crime as a crime. The questions that are being asked are irrelevant. Instead of finding faults with the girls character we need to focus on ensuring justice.
There is also a need for a severe crackdown on drunken driving. The bus went around that area several times and the police had no idea. We also need to ensure there are fast track courts. No girl is prepared to go to the court 30-40 times. Unless these criminals are seen as being punished and political influence is removed.
‘There is no protective system in place, nor is the police systematic about tackling crime against women’
Indrani Mazumdar, CWDS
Women come out to the sphere of employment and go back home late. This is true across classes. There is no protective system in place and nor is the police systematic about tackling crime against women. Even our Chief Minister had come out a few years ago and said that women shouldn’t be out this late at night.
‘Families of boys must give the right lessons, teach them to be gender sensitive’
Flavia Agnes, women’s rights lawyer and activist
Rape is a cultural thing in India, just as US has gun culture, we have this. There is a whole culture of teasing women in our society, eve-teasing is so widely accepted, cracking jokes, saying ill things about women, it’s as if men must prove their manhood by indulging in it. Of course, the police subscribes to the same value system. We must learn to respect women in our society.
The role of media should also be looked at when discussing rapes. Not covering it in media is not the solution, but certainly there is something wrong in the way we cover it. There is an indefatigable curiosity in the media which stops at nothing. A sense of responsibility has to be there, the name of the victim cannot be revealed, the victim cannot be hounded. We saw this in Mumbai in the case of the Spanish woman who was literally hounded by the media and could not step out anywhere.
These incidents don’t occur in isolation. Any change must start from the grassroot level. Families of boys must give the right lessons, teach them to be gender sensitive, the same must continue in school, all sexism that is latent in texts must be corrected. A whole new generation has to grow up with a whole new value system for any change to take place. Twenty years from now, we could be looking at an actual difference. The Delhi case in some ways is a reaction of patriarchy to a woman stepping out, and that too with a man. When a woman steps out with a man, something happens, she must be taught a lesson, we saw that in the Bangalore case of the law student too.
‘There is a marked desensitivisation in our urban environments, which has led to a brutalisation’
Akhila Sivadas, Executive Director, Centre for Advocacy and Research
We can talk about increase in patrolling, community vigilance and stringent laws but a crisis like this demands measures which can withstand such trying moments. It is not enough to say we will solve it post-event. Something more long term is required. The one thing that needs to be done is to have a responsibility charter in place. Right now, there is no structure in place, no one takes ownership. Who is the custodian of women’s safety? Everyone keeps passing the buck. Who will step up and say I have failed the system when something like this occurs.
All across the country one is witnessing a marked increase in crimes against women, specially in cities. It’s a combination of reasons, anonymity, lack of sense of community and accumulated anger. There is a marked desensitivisation in our urban environments, which has led to a brutalisation. We’re all battling with our own issues, cities are losing equilibrium and bursting at the seams. There’s no sense of community, we all live in anonymity, it’s the ‘I’ phenomenon. The economic disparity is creating negative anger and expression of perversion.
There has been a long-standing tradition of misogyny specially in Delhi, where streets have always been hostile and a particular revulsion of women has always existed. But, it will take us a long time to recover from this incident, it’s perversion and sadism. It brings to mind the Geeta and Sanjay Chopra case of the 70s, where everyone’s psyche was affected for a long time. The ferocity of this case is almost like that.
‘Under the onslaught of Western superficiality, not its serious underpinnings, we are reverting to primitive barbarism’
Sudhir Kakar, social psychologist
The velocity of Western civilisation has now become so great that we are losing sight of the core ideas of this civilisation that we need to assimilate, namely the unending search and respect for knowledge and the notion of universal human rights, which will help us to revitalise our own Indian civilisation. Instead, we seem to be in thrall of the perversions and distortions of Western civilisation. The idea of full equality of women and their social emancipation, especially in the erotic sphere, is to be welcomed and advanced with all the strength at our command. But by putting this idea into practice through clumsy and feeble imitation of Western mores of fashion, beauty and sexual conduct only diminishes the power and desirability of the idea, makes it appear superfluous, cheap and ludicrous. Another perversion is the widespread propagation of the idea of the body as a field of entertainment by the media, entertainment and advertising industries. The traditional Indian idea of the body as a temple that must never be desecrated only provokes pitying glances, if not sniggers, at those courageous enough to still uphold this ideal. Under the onslaught of Western superficiality, not its serious underpinnings, we are reverting to a primitive barbarism that is making us deviate from our traditional moral compass without replacing it.
‘If you can’t even ride a bus in the city without ending up in ICU, then what use are our public institutions?’
Mallika Dutt, President & CEO, Breakthrough (bellbajao.org)
Violence against women is pervasive and endemic to our society and has remained unchecked for too long. Lack of political will, poor law enforcement combined with a focus on dealing with violence after rather than preventing it are all factors that I think have contributed to the current phenomenon of public violence and rape. Most women in India can attest to the constant feeling of threat and insecurity that we live with in most large cities; and the disastrous safety record of Delhi and the surrounding areas is nothing new.
I feel that there is increasing attention to public rapes and harassment in recent years because of several reasons: first, in many of these incidents men have been killed or injured trying to defend the woman who is being attacked. That makes the usual excuse and narrative of “she asked for it” difficult to use to simply dismiss the violence. Second, there is a growing anger at the overall governance crisis and the collapse of our law enforcement systems and these kinds of incidents bring that into sharp focus. If you can’t even ride a bus in the city without ending up in ICU, then what use are our public institutions? Third, while violence may be increasing or becoming more visible there is also a growing number of young people who are willing to challenge gender inequality and use social media and other tools to bring attention to these kinds of violations, especially when they happen in urban spaces.
I also feel that it’s time that we shift the frame of violence against women and really bring men into the discussion. When violence against women occurs, the media should reach out to men and ask why do men feel the need to violate women; what’s in the male psyche that needs such domination and control; what would you (man) say to your buddy who was harassing or abusing a woman; how do men feel about India being the worst country in the world for women?
While there are a number of concrete measures that the government can take (after all, if we can take on drunk driving, why can’t we make streets safe for women?), I strongly believe that the larger challenge on the table is how to make men more accountable. Not just as perpetrators of violence against women but as part of the solution to challenging the second class citizenship that women experience – in their homes and in the public space. Enough is enough – it’s time that men stepped up to stop the violence.
‘Sexual harassment is universal, but what does it say about this city that we flaunt it blatantly?’
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer
When I was in high school, a popular local boy’s school had a fad with their car horns. Any time you heard these teenage boys, zipping across the city, they’d beep continuously, almost like a tune or a ditty: beep-beep-beep-beep-beeeeep-beep. It was a code, someone told me, laughing, but didn’t reveal the code till later. “Pakad, pakadke chod do.” Catch ‘em and fuck ‘em, for those who didn’t grow up in this city where ‘chod’ is one of the first Hindi swear words you learn, ‘chutiya’ is almost refined, and ‘I will rape your ass’ is tossed around at any altercation. I didn’t think the boys meant it, they were nice boys, my friends, and plus boys schools are dens of sexual deprivation, right? But then, later, I overheard a classmate in my co-ed school laughing about this “really cool” trick he pulled on weekends, going for a drive with a friend around M Block Market, slowing down when he saw a pretty girl and leaning out of the window, grabbing her breasts and driving away before she could react.
It may not even have been a pretty girl.
The fact is, when the boys got to drive around in their cars, beeping, we were given notes on safety by our parents and our other girl friends. Rules of the rickshaw: never get in when there are two drivers. Rules of the teenage house party: if someone feels you up at a party, obviously it’s your fault, because you were drunk, and you mustn’t be a tease. We were very hard on each other. Girls regularly developed “reputations”, I remember being totally tongue-tied face-to-face with one of my peers once, because I had heard, behind her back, of all the things she did. We never blamed the boys. It was always the outfit (so low cut!) the booze (she can’t control herself, ya!) the she-asked-for-it (well, she’s always hanging out with boys, anyway.) The boys spoke of it, if you asked, somewhat sheepishly and yet, with a certain amount of pride in their voices, and you’d have to be the Cool Girl, listening, nodding wisely, thinking privately that you’d never be in a situation like that. We let them get away with it, and these were nice boys, boys who were educated and well brought up and probably don’t even think about that part of their lives anymore. Boys who were socialised with girls, who had “rakhi-sisters” and yet.
People say Delhi is the rape capital of the city, and I was hotly defending it on Facebook when I thought about that beep-beep and what it stood for. I know sexual harassment is universal, but what does it say about this city that we flaunt it blatantly? That there’s no going to a dark alleyway or an empty room, nope, people are able to rape people in broad daylight, in a moving vehicle on a main road, and the only thing they have to worry about is banging into someone else’s car, because then people can get really angry. I can bet the men in the situation wore an expression of sheepish pride too, “oh well, it was nothing really that I was able to do it for so long”. They slapped each other on the back. They might have gone to get a cup of tea. What a nice night out, they probably said. How nice to be in Delhi where you don’t have to pay for or beg for sex, you can just pluck it off the street and no one does a thing.
‘To counter terrorism the government makes public announcements. Why not use similar tactics to address gender-terrorism towards women?’
Madhu Mehra, lawyer
The system thrives on the good and bad dichotomy of women. In Delhi, women live with a curfew sanctioned by the CM, who says that women should be home by a particular time, because she cannot secure the streets. Women have to live with an enormous amount of calculation: should I go out, where should I go, what should I wear. This is a situation very similar to terrorism.
To counter terrorism the government makes public announcements in public places, to not touch suspicious objects, report untoward behaviour to the police. The society knows what to do. Why not use similar tactics to address gender-terrorism towards women? Make announcements about what kind of behaviour is to be reported. Put up infrastructure for help in places. These are preventive measures that give women confidence that they will get help, society is aware of their responsibility to respond and the perpetrators know what they’re doing is wrong. CCTV is not preventive. That will provide evidence of a crime that has happened. I am a strong believer in public announcement. As a culture we are used to that. Treat it like a war zone, because that is what women are living with everyday. This is in Delhi; forget about India’s militarised areas. We have the CM and the NWC chairperson saying that women should be careful of what they wear. The ideology needs to be changed. For that loud clear messages need to be given again and again. Not just on TV, but at airports, bus stops, schools, again and again, till they are ingrained in people. Train emergency personnel in hospitals to identify injuries of sexual violence and then refer the victims for counselling, instead of just making it a legal medical case. Women also need to know that this is not something they should accept.
The letter in the law is extremely deficient. Anything other than a penile penetration of the vagina is not rape. In this case, there was a lot of other penetrative sexual assault. That under the law is not rape; it is outraging the modesty of a woman. The maximum sentence is two years. That’s what the Guwahati men got. We have rape on a pedestal that is difficult to prove, and in some cases the sexual assault that happens is beyond scope of the law. There is a limitation in the definition. After the Guwahati case, in August, we read in the newspapers that the Cabinet had approved the Criminal Law Ammendment Bill of 2012. There was a new version of which we had no idea despite enormous correspondence with the government. In this Bill, they have defined sexual assault as gender neutral; gender-neutral victim and perpetrator. Hypothetically in a society, where a woman is attacked every few minutes, we have a law, which could come into force, where theoretically a man could accuse a woman of rape. After lobbying for 20 years this is the proposed Bill that we have.
We still use subjective terms like modesty and chastity. The judiciary and law enforcement can look upon a woman and decide if she indeed has modesty and chastity by their moral standards. In the proposed Bill of 2012 they have not graded the offence of outraging the modesty, which is Section 354. They’ve increased the punishment to 5 years. In the Indian subcontinent one particular form of sexual violence against women, especially in rural areas, is public stripping and parading of women. This is not mentioned as a heinous crime under the graded category of outraging the modesty of a woman. This doesn’t deserve 5 years. If you manage to grade sexual assault, you will see the types of crimes that are peculiar to our subcontinent and then decide appropriate punishment. You cannot leave so much to the imagination.
The 2012 Bill let’s us down enormously. Women’s groups went to the Home Ministry the day Mr Shinde took charge and submitted a memorandum of problems with the Bill. They were told that none of them were significant and the Bill was before the Rajya Sabha. What do you do when the law is permanently in the process of being inactive? It will always remain deficient.
We need remedies that go beyond penalty to the perpetrator. We want victims to be assured of healthcare, counseling and shelter. They need all this to survive violence. This girl, if she survives, will need that for a long time. But we cannot assure her of that.
We need to enact a law that responds to the experiences of women. Currently we have global situation where rape is the most under-reported crime. Build confidence in women to report rape. Investigation and prosecution should be done efficiently and without prejudice. For that proper training needs to be given to the personnel. Each time, all we have are platitudes from governments. What does the CM mean when she says that the license of the bus has been cancelled and further action will be taken, so that rapes don’t happen in buses. We can keep making statements to tide over one statement. But there is no political will for proper solutions. Women are not a priority in this country. Make sure that every police officer that messes up the case is individually accountable.
‘The conversation turns towards what can we do to control women’s behaviour. It is almost never about what are you supposed to do about male behaviour’
Nilanjana Roy, writer
Demographic problems: I read a book, Bare Branches by Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. Den Boer. They did considerable research on India and China. Rape is not a knee-jerk response, it’s not just sexual aggression. It is not even classically power. It’s far more primal. If you have a surplus of males, typically young adult males of a low status, you will see a surge in all kinds of violence, including rape. That turns the conversation around.
In India, we’re not looking at male violence, the causes for it, at problems with masculinity, at problems attached to that particular demographic. If you look at the NCRB statistics on rape cases across the country, you’ll see two very clear patterns emerge. One, which we do not talk about, is about cases where women are raped by members of the family, by friends and neighbours. People they’re in closest contact with. We focus indignation and outrage only on stranger rape. That is the second pattern, of the young adult male behaviour, I mentioned. It’s men moving in groups, committing violence knowing that it will be acceptable within the norms of the tribe/clan/family.
Almost always the conversation turns towards what can we do to protect women, therefore, what can we do to control women’s behaviour. It is almost never about what are you supposed to do about male behaviour. What are the norms that are supposed to change? Would social shaming work?
Look at something really practical, the low conviction rates for rape. How many modules have there been for training police personnel in proper gender sensitivity, across the states where you have high crime rates? We don’t even have proper rape crisis centres, just one or two organisations across the country that have help lines. There is no organised network for support. One of the most difficult things that women have to deal with is the attitude that their lives are over because they have been raped. This is the logic of an honour killing, where the girl has to be killed because her chastity has been lost and family name has been dishonoured. You have to stop looking at rape as something that automatically destroys a woman’s life.
Systemic flaws: Short-term changes are systemic. Implement a system where crimes can be reported easily, get fast track courts and get away from the impulse of punishing in the wrong way. I worry about this steady demand for castrating rapists, and imposing death penalty. That would make convictions even harder for women. Capital punishment will then inevitably extended to other crimes, and do we want to be a society with an active death penalty? It also negatively impacts women’s safety. If a rapist knows that if he is identified, he’s not risking jail for a few years but death, he’s going to kill the victim. I understand the emotional outrage. But look logically at what the system is not doing. Open up conversations on child abuse, marital rape, sexual violence within the family and the abuse young boys face. Roughly, 80% f the rapes committed in India, according the NCRB data, are committed by known perpetrators. Media attention goes to rapes by stranger, because they are particularly horrifying. It’s an urban nightmare. There isn’t enough research here, but if you look at patterns of rape you’re going to see a connection with the surplus of the young adult male. That’s one of the reasons why you have so much in the way of violent crime around the Gurgaon-Delhi border. The question of demographic makes the debate a lot more dispassionate, but maybe that is useful.
Solutions: (Support network and bringing men into the conversation) If you have rise in the number of reported rape cases, that doesn’t mean there are more rapes. Maybe people are finally reporting them. But the message generally going out is that the nightmare is not going to end. It’s going to be perpetuated by the court system, the police and the social stigma. You need to start with an absolute zero tolerance for any kind of sexism, as impossible as that sounds. You need to start by educating people on the front lines. Police, medical personnel, law officials, people who deal with the rape survivors.
Look very hard at the laws. I don’t think the law serves the purpose. Right now rapists get away with a slap on the wrists. I’m not for death penalty, but we need harsher punishment, stronger deterrent.
Set-up more support networks among women and the many, many men in this country who are equally appalled by sexual violence. Their voices are not heard sufficiently. Bring men into the conversation. Many of them have experienced an equal degree of fear and horror and anger. The attitude that you must stigamtise all men because they have the potential for violence is so unfeminist and so untrue. We have had several cases of men trying to intervene. What message are young men getting from that, that their fight is even more silent?
Every family is not going to change overnight. They will insist on the stigma. This is where a support network can step in. The moment a rape survivor feels that she is not alone, there are counsellors, there are people to accompany her throughout the court process, she has the right to not feel ashamed, I think a lot of things would change.
Preventive measures: This is an incredibly complex problem. You need to stop killing women at birth, so as to not skew the gender ratio. Areas where you have a balanced gender ratio tend to have lower reports of sexual violence. I don’t think hopelessness is a valid response. In Tehelka’s own story on the Delhi cops, they are only reflecting what so many men and women are thinking. I would like marches by women of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, mass movements from all stratas of society, to come out on the streets after 10 pm, to own the streets. The worst would be that women stop taking public transport. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a 20-year-old woman in the city. But we need to get away from the hysteria and look at the statistics.
Media: What the media could do right now, is look at statistics in districts where instances of rapes appear to be falling. Or there appears to be a definite positive shift in gender violence. See what happened here, what worked.
One of the more bizarre findings in the Hudson-Den Boer study was in China, when there was a very large concentration of status-less young adult males, the high risk population, they would sent of for some road-building project or nation-building project. When you shift the demographic, or change territories, you do change the dimensions of the problem. Migration then might cut both ways. I don’t know how you might get it to work, but it is worthwhile to look in that direction.
Let’s get realistic. The women at the highest risk in urban areas are those in slums, where their bathrooms are located in dark alleys. What about custodial rape? We don’t talk about caste-on-caste rape. It might actually be easier to visit the rogue young male phenomenon and than talk about the dynamics of the Indian family. There is no basic safety for a lot of Indian women. You’re not safe at home and you’re not safe on the streets, where are you safe?
The women in this country have a huge amount of fighting spirit, but we’d rather not be fighting every day.
‘How many of us will interfere in the public harassment of women?’
Avninder Singh, advocate, Delhi High Court
That bad cases make bad law is a cliché. The horrific and barbaric gangrape of a woman, and beating of a man, coming home after watching a film, picked up from one of the most visible bus stops in the country, has led, rightly, for calls for action. Responses range from CCTVs in buses, death penalty for rapists, fast track courts, no bail, more policemen, etc. This incident warrants only the most undeserved condemnation. Yet, its pattern is all too common, not in Delhi, but across our country. The primary culprit is us collectively, the Indian society.
How many of us will interfere in the public harassment of women? The criminal justice system cannot save a society from endemic behaviour patterns. Locking up a few percent of any segment of society is socially traumatic – and harms both the wider society, or any social or ethnic group in it, and the state which practises it. America’s war on drugs and its effect on young black men serves as a warning. Tragically, sexual harassment and sexual offence are too widespread in our society to be solved by the police. The right of women to be independent, autonomous, individuals in public spaces must become the societal norm, and laws and society must
protect this space. In this, the feminist movement in India cannot escape fault, for they have too often battled inequality within the blinkers of tradition, particularly in matters of sexuality.
The police cannot be the solution, and often they are the problem. A few weeks ago, society and the courts demanded the removal of police discretion to arrest people accused of cyber crimes. Today, we demand wider powers to law enforcement. Policing certainly needs expansion, but a policeman in every corner, more checkpoints, and more CCTVs will only improve the police’s ability to solve these cases, not prevent most of them. It would also make us less free. Far more effective would be 50% reservation for women in every cadre of the police force, which may force a change in the outlook and working practices of the police. There must be no settlement allowed for cases of domestic violence, a practice which has destroyed that law, and those abusing its provision must in turn be prosecuted. There must be compulsory prosecution of currently dismissed sexual assault and harassment cases, such as men in cars following and harassing pedestrians on streets, and astoundingly, sexually harassing a reporter broadcasting live from
outside Safdarjung Hospital. A sexual offenders’ register, placed on a public website, may also allow preventive action.
Calls to allow police fast track courts and waiver of the slim constitutional protections to fair trial, throw the baby out with the bath
water. A case such as this should be easy to try, and convict. It needs no special procedural assistance. A police armed with proper investigative powers, and a sessions court sitting day-to-day as intended, should be able to pass appropriate judgment within a few days. To take away the constitutional right to a presumption of innocence against all accused as a response would, however, be unwarranted. It bears no repetition that police investigations are ridden with gross errors and falsehoods. Almost every
person arrested confesses his or her crime. Everyone accused of rape is not guilty, and every case of sexual misconduct does not warrant the maximum punishment. Today, a man convicted of rape was not granted interim suspension of his sentence to attend the last rites of his father. Last week, he would have been.
‘Apathy from the police just adds up to the predicament of women in a patriarchal society’
Nandini Sundar, sociologist
Most of the rape cases in Delhi take place because of the lackadaisical attitude of the police. Most of the time, the police is not active enough to pursue the cases. They even refuse to file complains at times. And this apathy from the police just adds up to the predicament of women in a patriarchal society, which is always trying to dominate over its women.
Death penalty is a stupid demand in rape cases, specially, when we are fighting for the abolition of it. The police department has to be more active in its action. It has to make sure that the cases are pursued and the witnesses are given protection.
It’s not much of the loop holes in the legal system, the police have to bring the cases to the court. They are the prosecuting agency. The way the police handle the cases of rape is unfortunate. Most of the time, the police completely ignore the girl’s version of the case. It’s the girl who is interrogated in the court about the colour of the perpetrator’s shirt and such trivial things. It’s like getting raped once more inside the courthouse.
‘It should be on the perpetrator to prove that he is innocent, not on the victim to prove that she didn’t deserve rape’
The gender bias starts from childhood, in schools and home. That’s what we have to address if we really want to change the way things happen. At the end of the day we cannot be a society where every 100m there is a policeman standing. The solution has to be with the people, where they start thinking about how they bring up their children. A lot can change through the education system. There is a lot of gender bias there when people are taught how girls are supposed to behave.
Objectification of women in entertainment: Media plays a huge, and unfortunately a very dangerous role. Often, women are objectified in the name of entertainment. Look at our ads. It’s the woman who is made an object. I was really upset about a film coming from such a big production house – Yash Raj Films—a film like Ishaaqzaade. There you have a girl who is molested, harassed, who is raped – the guy lies to her about marriage to have sex with her and humiliate her – and she is told that this is her pati, it’s her duty and challenge to turn the beast into a man. That is disgusting. I am amazed that the censor board passes it, that critic after critic calls it entertainment. They are suggesting that women being molested is entertainment. You treat her badly, you humiliate her, but at the end of the day, she will come around because every woman is supposed to be a Mother Teresa!
It happens after film over film, even in films that are supposed to be progressive. For example English Vinglish. Here, the minute the female protagonist likes or has a soft spot for a guy who is not her husband she is punished with her son having an accident. In the end, she has to go back to her moronic husband. We are in a society that constantly validates the repression of women, be it psychological or physical. I think Sri Devi’s character is traumatised by her husband. But it is never seen as that because the woman is supposed to accept all that and upgrade herself at the end of the day. If one talks about it, the argument is that it doesn’t matter because it’s just box office and entertainment. Of course, it matters. Today we have big blockbusters where a girl refuses a cop and her father is brought to the police station and humiliated. Next day she packs her bags and goes off with the officer. What is this?
People emulate stars. It is time that cinema owned up to its power. It’s not just entertainment without a message. If films were so powerless, why do we have a censor board, why are films banned? Unfortunately a lot of people who get to decide things operate with the same regressive attitude. This is why the Chief Minister in Bengal can say that a woman has a loose character. Today if a woman walks down the street without a T-shirt, the moral police will be on her; the same moral police that says that Malika Sherawat is wearing too little. It is not correct for our society. What about all the bare-bodied males roaming Indian streets? You’re denying women their sexuality. She is not supposed to get attracted. It is only the prerogative of men to flaunt their sexuality, flaunt it by force if they will it. That is what our law also allows.
Solutions: Media has to have serious questioning of how women are portrayed. I am dead against censorship. But we need a progressive body of women monitoring how women are portrayed. It’s years and years of regressive portrayal on TV and film that needs to change. Sometimes people who are doing this, how aware are they? Are they conscious of their actions? This is where the media plays a strong role. They never write about these things. They work with ‘jo hit hai who fit hai’. We need to stop quantifying everything in this country. Everything populist is not good. We need to go to schools and to parents. Educate the police force. You’re not supposed to be scared of the police force; they’re working for us. There has to be harsher punishment. I don’t believe in capital punishment, but it needs to be stepped up. And it should be on the perpetrator to prove that he is innocent, not on the victim to prove that she didn’t deserve rape.
I got the biggest shock when I first came to India. I grew up in a small town in Bhutan, in a co-ed school. Everyone was treated equally. I came to India for college, with my sister. That was when I first saw eve teasing. We’d be walking down the streets and people would try to feel up my sister. Girls in college would tell me that their mothers would say, “guys will do this, don’t overreact”. It is infuriating. But society at large supports this by doing nothing about it.
‘Boys should learn to see women as human beings, not as forbidden objects of sex’
Aparna Sen, filmmaker
What can I say except that’s it’s heinous, cowardly and condemnable! I feel deeply depressed at the growing incidents of rape in the country. I don’t think the death penalty would help. The rapist would just kill the woman to wipe out evidence. What is important is prevention. Police patrolling should be introduced in a major way all over the country. Also, as a parallel measure, protection of & respect for women should be introduced as an integral part of education. Co-educational schools should be mandatory. From a very young age boys should learn to see women as human beings rather than as forbidden objects of sex.