Giving a major relief to Nirbhaya’s parents and a ray of hope to thousands of rape victims, the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday dismissed pleas filed by the three out of four convicts seeking review of its verdict upholding the death penalty awarded to them in December 16, 2012, Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case.
India is slowly heading towards becoming the rape capital of the world and the daily headlines of rape and molestation of women, including little girls, paints a dismal picture of the direction in which society is heading. However, this heinous crime can be stopped from becoming an epidemic by giving capital punishment to the accused in cases where the victim is minor and in all cases of gangrape and the SC verdict in Nirbhaya case is indeed laudable and a step towards making India ‘zero tolerant’ to rape incidents. In addition, there needs to be better investigation and prosecution, fast track courts, sensitisation of youths and self-defence training to all girls and women.
Statistics present a horrifying picture of the rapes. Compared to 2012, rape cases increased by 56 per cent in 2016. What is more horrifying is that statistics do not reveal the whole truth. The National Crime Records Bureau in 2006 estimated that 71 per cent of rapes go unreported. Obviously, the majority of the victims do not get justice.
From Kathua to Mandsaur, the heinous crimes of our little daughters followed by politics and blame game gives the impression that politicians lack the will to curb rapes. Nothing is cheaper than politicising rape and taking political advantage of it. Rape is a tragedy whether the victim is a Hindu, Dalit, Muslim or from any community or religion. Politicians try to exploit the sentiments of the victim’s family or community when what is needed is concrete action and a political will to bring the guilty to justice.
Why death sentence?
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was strengthened after the Kathua and Unnao rape cases by an ordinance which brought in the death penalty for rapists of girls below 12 years of age and stringent punishment for rape of girls below 16 years. Now, we need to amend relevant laws to make the death penalty a must for gang-rapes.
When a child, teenager or woman is raped, it leaves a lifetime scar on them. Often, the victims have to suffer for a lifetime. Rape is a heinous crime not related to any community, religion, sect or financial status of the victim. Beasts are everywhere in society. It is important that the perpetrators should fear the law, instead of getting out on bail and searching for more prey. Only the fear of the death penalty can curb the outbreak of rape epidemic.
Arguments against having death penalty for rape are often based on the premise that death penalty is not consistent with human rights. However, it should be noted that the death penalty is still existing in the statute books and is legally and constitutionally valid. Why not apply it to rape cases too? Rape is a violation of human rights and so we should look at the human rights of the victims.
Another argument against the death penalty is that it is not effective. But death penalty can be made effective if there is a proper investigation by the police, robust prosecution and prompt delivery of justice by fast track courts.
Fast track trial, support of judiciary and investigating agency (as was in the case of Asaram), proper forensic investigation are must to provide justice to the victim.
Dealing with rape cases
Police machinery can play an important role in curbing the incidents of rapes in India. In many cases, there is a lack of sensitivity towards the victims. Humiliation at police stations forces victims to step back. Lack of counselling and legal support especially when the victim is from a poor socioeconomic background and callous treatment by the police deter victims from moving forward.
According to the NCRB, the conviction rate in rape cases is a mere 25.5 pc. Proper counselling of victims, collection of evidence and statements of witnesses, along with interrogation of accused could go a long way in increasing the conviction rate.
Role of media
Revealing the religious identity of a girl by media in their headlines like the victim was a Dalit, Muslim or Hindu will only create a division in the communities and give a chance to politicos to get mileage out of the situation.
Media should follow up the case and give wide publicity to the death sentences or other harsh punishments passed in the cases. This will help ensure the sentence has deterrence value.
It is the moral responsibility of every community to impart quality education to youths, especially males and sensitise them towards the opposite sex. They should imbibe cultural values in youngsters like showing respect to females in the family. This way, young boys will learn to respect other girls. Sex education is a must in all schools, including municipal schools.
NGOs should also sensitise youths from the poor socio-economic background including slum dwellers. They should organise workshops to change the mindset of those who think women are just objects and can be used as a commodity to satisfy their lust. Corporate houses should organise workshops for their male employees to sensitise them towards their female colleagues. This will to a certain extent help in reducing sexual abuse at the workplace.
Mandatory self-defence training for girls
It is high time the government makes self-defence training mandatory for girls in all schools and colleges. Every family with a girl child should impart self-defence training to their daughters from an early age. This will help her become self reliant and protect herself from the beasts in the society. Here also, NGOs can play an active role and organise such training workshops for girls from the weaker sections of society and slum dwellers so that they can give a befitting reply to molesters and can help others in time of need. Corporate houses can organise women’s safety and self-defence workshops to empower female employees.