Nonsensical and sometimes not-so-nonsensical rants about what may or may not be going through my head. Try to liberalize your canvas of interpretation when reading these posts - you will go far...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Delhi gang rape: a case for the death penalty

In the Goddess-worshipping nation of India, a gang rape took place last month. On the night of 16th December 2012, a paramedical student,  Jyoti Singh Pandey (pseudonym Damini) and her friend after watching a movie boarded a bus in South Delhi, when they were beaten by a group of six males (5 adults, 1 minor), after which the female victim was raped.

When her friend tried to intervene, he was gagged and then hit mercilessly with an iron rod. Five men then hit the woman with the same rod and gang-raped her while the driver kept the bus moving. At about 11 p.m., the couple was thrown semi-naked onto the road. A passer-by phoned the police who collected the couple and moved the pair to the hospital. The girl had been hit with the iron rod for nearly forty five minutes.

“It appears to be that a rod was inserted into her and it was pulled out with so much force that the act brought out her intestines… That is probably the only thing that explains such severe damage to her intestines,” said a doctor at Safdarjung Hospital where the victim was being treated before being shifted to the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore where she breathed her last.

When news of the rape went viral, the first questions asked were not ‘Who could commit such a violent and inhumane act?’ or ‘How did the offenders manage to escape?’ but instead
- What was the girl wearing?
- Why was she out post 9 p.m. in the night?
- Why was she alone with a boy?

Spiritual guru Asaram Bapu  remarked, "Only 5-6 people are not the culprits. The victim is as guilty as her rapists... She should have called the culprits brothers and begged before them to stop... This could have saved her dignity and life. Can one hand clap? I don't think so". According to media reports, the self-proclaimed godman further said that he is against harsher punishments for the accused as the law could be misutilised.

There are pictures of Dimini floating on the internet where she is dressed in a sleeveless blouse and a sari and people have commented saying ‘Look at the clothes she’s wearing. She’s inviting men to stare at her and to commit such acts’. So apparently wearing sleeveless or not calling your rapists ‘brother’ justifies rape – what a perfectly logical and rational argument!

We live in a society where daughters are asked not to get raped. As if it were an option they have the discretion of avoiding. We are told to hide our faces in shame, if we were to be abused, eve-teased, harassed and sweared at. It is “culture” to be tolerant and toil away as a woman, as it is testimony to your femininity. And this is equally applicable to Pakistan as it is to India, if not more.

Something an acquaintance posted on Facebook got me thinking. He wrote, ‘I'm very curious to learn what course of justice people on my friend's list think should be served to tried and convicted rapists. In light of the recent gang rape in Delhi, which is fast becoming a watershed rape case in India, what shall be done with/to/about perpetrators?

I'm addressing everyone, but women in particular, seeing as it is women, globally, who bear the brunt of this assault on their bodies and person.

Capital punishment? Chemical castration? I hear both these options are being considered and propositioned in the Delhi case. There are lawyers who are going as far as to say they won't represent the accused. I myself am inclined to feel that criminals so depraved should be denied the right to life and liberty.’

Really, what can be a befitting punishment for a crime this heinous? I feel, even the death penalty falls short for a grotesque act of this magnitude. The objections against capital punishment are plentiful and relevant. Capital punishment is barbaric and cruel. It is inhuman and the mark of repressive, bloodthirsty societies. Countries around the world are looking to do away with it, preferring to focus on rehabilitation, treatment or simply life in prison. No crime warrants human annihilation. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Violence to repay violence is morally indefensible. The poor get the scaffold, but the rich escape punishment. And what if you convict and execute the wrong man?

Let us consider the flip side of the coin.

The laws against rape in India are inadequate to the point of being shameful. If a man rapes his wife, he faces no more than two years in jail. Others face comparatively little time in prison. The women, meanwhile, could face ostracism from their families and villages, scorn from the people around them, and possibly death at the hands of their own family, in the name of ‘honour’. Swift and harsh penalties against rapists, including the death penalty, would prevent people from seeing the crime as just one more infraction to overcome.

The laws are inadequate also because of the definition of rape. Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code specifies that sexual intercourse comprises rape. What about fingers? Fists? Bottles? Iron rods? Broomsticks? All of these have penetrated women and men in acts of violent aggression. Are these not rape? Are these not enough to cause injury or death? They do constitute rape, and they are enough to cause injury or death. This kind of assault should include the death penalty as a government reprisal.

Finally, assaults like the one on the bus are enough to leave the victim as good as dead, psychologically and physically. The victim does not have to die to justify a penalty of death. India allows death penalty for other non-lethal crimes: large-scale narcotics trafficking and treason are enough to get the noose. But rape – the ultimate mental and psychological violation of another human being – is not? The death penalty should be considered because of the severity and callousness of the crime committed. The barbarity of what the men allegedly did to Damini lies in the intent to defile her, not just the way that they did it.

India and Pakistan are countries where girls are neither safe inside the womb nor outside. The patriarchal animal we call society needs to be castrated and the most severe form of punishment must be meted out in order to deter others from ever committing such atrocities in the future.

*Written for 'Legal Eye' - January edition

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