As I sat in the office cafeteria yesterday over a cup of tea, the Surat rape flashed on TV. When I saw that her hand was broken, I flew into a momentary rage and wanted to sweep every tea cup off every table of every employee. I wanted to smash everything.
For Mumbai, where every single deaf and mute girl has been raped at Karjat boarding school in Mumbai. Every single girl who boards there. Every single one between the ages of 6 and 13. Every single one. By their “caretaker.”
For Unnao, Kathua, Orissa and the endless stream from everywhere.
I knew I was going to breakdown, so I abruptly left the cafeteria for my office room and sat there for many minutes before regaining composure.
The past few weeks have been harrowing for most women who follow the news. I am not ashamed to say I have wailed and cried, been dumbfounded and stricken with anger and grief.
I don’t know if men feel the same way, but for me, and many women, such tragedies are intensely personal. As if they happened almost to me or someone very close to me. In rape, every single woman on the planet is very close to me. Very.
My gut is coiled tight and has stayed that way for these weeks. You know the seven stages of grief that come with the death of a loved one? I oscillate between phases 2, 3, and 4. Pain & guilt, anger, and depression without ever letting go. All that happens as time passes is repression. Not letting go, but repressing.
Many try to cope by calling for death penalty. Including the chief ministers of some of the states with the worst records for punishing rape: MP, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana.
For a second, just till the end of the next few paragraphs, shove aside the abhorrence and put yourself in the shoes of these perverted sociopaths.
- They decide to rape someone they know. 95% of rapes in India are by men who know or are related to the victim.
- They make a plan, premeditated, most likely since they know her and have marked her.
- They prepare to unleash violence as that is the only way to rape. Rape is violence. Rape is by force.
- It crosses their mind that they may get caught. They dismiss it since they know that 99% of rapes and molestation incidents are unreported. They see it all around them. They talk, others talk.
- They also know for a fact that in India, it is shameful to be the rape victim, not the rape perpetrator. She becomes the news. Her picture is flashed everywhere. Everyone is talking abut *her being raped.* Her social circle, family and friends will likely ostracize her, and even if the don’t, she is unlikely to recover from the mental trauma and have a “normal” life with a man, or even want to do that. It is in her interest to avoid the multiple whammies and simply suppress the crime and trauma. The rapists know it all too well that it will never get reported.
- If it is reported, and even if they get caught, conviction rates are in single digits. They will almost certainly escape unscathed.
- The rapist may talk about getting rid of her if she struggles too much, or if she screams and shouts and attracts attention, or threatens to go public. Or, they may just get rid of her at the spur of the moment because of these reasons or because things got out of hand. Indeed, they did so in Kathua and Surat. Who knows? They are perverted sociopaths.
The point is that they are emboldened to rape because they know that a) it will most likely go unreported due to social stigma, and b) it will even less likely reach conviction.
Death penalty doesn’t change either of that. Does not erase social stigma. Does not make law enforcement – FIR, investigation, timely trial, conviction – any better. The state of affairs in India is such that it simply doesn’t matter what the punishment for rape is as it never makes it past stigma, law enforcement and justice to even reach a conviction, which is where penalty matters.
In this country, we wage this Pyrrhic battle to change rape stigma and reorient focus away from victim centricity – where she was, why she was, what she was, who she was etc. to crime and punishment. As we battle this, death penalty is not only completely irrelevant and misdirected, it can actually backfire.
First, if the perverted sociopath knows that death is the reward if he gets caught for rape, he may as well kill her as it is the same penalty whether it is rape or murder. Plus, he wipes out the plaintiff and precludes chances of getting caught. This will end up ensuring that more raped women are killed, nothing else. This punishment will actually abet the crime.
Second, data world wide shows that death penalty does not deter rape. Certainty and swiftness of justice do. That is what we need to fight for. In fact, more rapes will and should be reported if the victims know that justice will be served, and will be served shortly. Namma Karnataka has three fast track courts of the 95 ordered to be set up. Even Bihar and UP have set up 30-50%.
Third, the spotlight on false cases will increase manifold, and to the point that the discourse loses sight of the real crime and real victim. And indeed, we must not be sending innocent men to the gallows on fabricated charges. Death is final and can never be undone.
When the law and justice system in India improves to the point that reporting, catching and punishing of criminals is prompt, then we look at what else can be done beyond. Then we re-examine if, in the wake of data we know to be otherwise, death penalty will make any difference.
Until then, there are no shortcuts.
We guilt. We grieve. We rage. We get on the streets for social reform, police and judicial reform.
With that, I will get back to the cycle of guilt, pain, anger, depression. And hopefully start to repress pretty soon.
[This article is based on the author’s original post on Facebook]