On the evening of 27th November 2019, a young veterinarian, who was on her way back from a physician’s appointment, was stranded in a desolate place after her scooter had a flat tire. Sensing an opportunity, a group of sexual predators, who were waiting in a nearby truck, gang-raped her and strangulated her to death. Thereafter, they burnt her body in an underpass some distance away. The incident happened in the southern city of Hyderabad, India, which is otherwise considered to be safe for women. The spine-chilling crime caused a rude awakening in the masses, who took to the streets baying for the blood of the culprits.
Rape appears to have become a new normal in Indian society. Hardly a day goes by without reading or hearing about violent crimes against women. All these incidents involve victims undergoing pain, humiliation, mental agony and even excruciating death in many cases.
Every time a brutal gangrape-cum-murder incident comes to light it justifiably causes outrage in the society and the media turns the spotlight on it fueling further outrage. The outrage reflects the profound sense of hopelessness prevalent in the society towards sex crimes and inordinate delay in the delivery of justice.
Only some cases become high-profile as they attract wide media attention such as the Nirbhaya case and the recent Disha case. In the rest of the cases, the victims don’t get speedy justice and their ghastly killings silently sink into oblivion.
Rape: A Complex, Multi-Dimensional Problem
Sexual violence against women has complex social, economic, political and behavioral aspects. As a result, the society and the governments are finding it difficult to grapple with the crisis and are not able to come up with any concrete solutions.
If we closely analyze the economic background of the culprits in both Nirbhaya and Disha cases, all of them were born into poor families and did not receive a proper education. Their parents appear to have failed in inculcating any discipline among them. As a result, they started eking out a living doing odd jobs and cultivated bad habits.
Coming to societal aspects, Indian society, being patriarchal, treats women as second-class citizens and portrays them as a submissive and disempowered gender. In the movies, they are mostly objectified and depicted in a demeaning manner as sex objects giving legitimacy to evil thoughts of the sex offenders.
The dependence of governments on the revenues earned from selling liquor has resulted in a growing proliferation of alcoholism. It is not a coincidence that in both Nirbhaya and Disha cases the culprits committed the crimes under the influence of intoxication.
Every time a sexual offense comes to light the ensuing outrage exerts tremendous pressure on the politicians and law enforcement agencies. They get blamed for their perceived inaction and the enraged people demand jungle justice such as castration, beheading or lynching of the offenders. All these demands only reflect the growing frustration and helplessness among the people.
The growing frequency of the sex crimes of rare nature and the ensuing media attention have also resulted in a perception that India has emerged as the world’s rape capital, which damaged the nation’s reputation in the international arena. This is despite the fact that the rate of sex crimes in India is far less compared to some developed western countries.
Who Is Responsible?
Now the question arises as to who is responsible for the growing crimes against women. People who have different ideological convictions respond accordingly to this question. For example, feminists blame toxic masculinity, left-liberals blame Brahmanical patriarchy, and ultra-conservatives blame women’s attire and their efforts to exercise too much freedom. We only indulge in blame game not paying much attention to what needs to be done to curb the crimes.
The need of the hour is instead of putting the entire blame on the perpetrators and conveniently exonerating itself, the entire society must take collective responsibility to improve the situation. We the people, being part and parcel of this society are equally responsible for all its anomalies. The societal conditions and perceptions that evolved over many generations can’t be changed overnight and the only way out seems to be taking some proactive steps to prevent the crimes against women.
Though there are law enforcement agencies they can’t ensure everybody’s safety. Therefore, individuals should also take responsibility for their own safety and security.
Jungle Justice Is No Answer
All the four accused in Disha’s rape-cum-murder case were killed in what was dubbed as an ‘encounter’ that was believed to have taken place in the wee hours of 6th Dec 2019. Police gave their version, which no one was ready to buy. However, there was a sense of jubilation everywhere as the people believed that instant justice was delivered without the intervention of the snailish judiciary. They heaped praise on the politicians and the police for executing this extra-judicial killing.
The politicians and the police clearly exploited the situation to emerge as heroes. The waning popularity of the politicians has rebounded, and the crumbling credibility of the police got reinforced. In the process, the rule of law has been buried neck-deep.
In the entire episode, all the soft targets lost their lives. The victim, who found herself in a helpless situation, fell prey to the sexual predators. And the accused, who had a poor socioeconomic background and were not given a fair trial, were eliminated in a so-called encounter, which was eulogized by one and all.
There were numerous cases where the wealthy and influential, who were accused of equally heinous sex offenses, could dodge the law to go scot-free. Therefore, the so-called encounter is only a knee jerk reaction, which is unlikely to bring about any change in society.
People, who are fed-up with the inordinate delay in serving justice, are condoning and even applauding the extra-judicial killings. In a way, this is an impeachment of the judiciary, which needs to buck up at least now to deliver speedy justice. Otherwise, the clamor for more ‘encounters’ will increase, and the political class will only exploit the situation to increase their popularity ratings.
The people must realize the fact that clamoring for jungle justice will only aggravate the problem. There are no quick fixes to this evil called rape and following the due process of law is extremely important. If we encourage police donning the roles of judge, jury, and executioner, one day they will come knocking at our doors and we will not have and defense then.
Only the measures such as strengthening the education system, creating better economic opportunities, parents donning the role of disciplinarians, and bolstering the criminal justice system can bring about a qualitative change. Moreover, the people, instead of banking entirely on the police, should take preemptive measures to ensure their safety and security. Better situational awareness and greater vigilance should be part of our daily lives, which could ensure improved safety and security for all.