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Thursday, April 24, 2014  
Rape of faith

by AJ Philip
Indian women must be freed from fear of roads, buses and trains

She remained unidentified from the evening of December 16 -- when she was gang-raped, savagely attacked and thrown naked on the roadside by six men ‘having fun’ in a moving bus in New Delhi -- to her death in a hospital in Singapore on Dec. 29 and her cremation at Dwarka in New Delhi a day later. 

One large newspaper group christened her ‘Nirbhay’ (Fearless), while a popular English newsweekly declared her ‘Woman of the Year’. Another called her ‘Jagruti’(Awakened) because she was “a fighter, an inspiration, a catalyst for change”.

Every newspaper in the country devoted page after page to cover her death from every angle possible, while television channels were at it the whole day. Millions of people of all faiths mourned her death, some of them organising silent, candle-lit processions and some others saying a humble prayer for her. No other death has in recent times united a nation as the death of the 23-year-old paramedical student, a role model for the youth in her locality and a topper in her class.

An insensitive government did everything possible to prevent the young from protesting against the horrendous crime and when it found that blocking public roads and closing Metro stations were futile exercises, it used brute force to disperse the crowds. Many had their limbs and skulls broken but that did not silence the protest, which forced a reluctant prime minister to make a national appeal. It was staccato and devoid of emotion that it only added to the people’s anger. Rather than assuaging the people’s feelings of hurt, the government thought of ways like transporting the dying girl to Singapore for fear that her death in Delhi would exacerbate the volatile situation. Finally, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to go to the airport to receive the girl’s body, braving fog and cold in the wee hours of December 30. They have made vows that her death would not go in vain. Even on the hospital bed, she suffered, having to give her version of the incident, first to the police, then to the sub-divisional magistrate and, yet again, to another magistrate because of a little controversy between the Delhi Police chief, who was peeved over the denial of a post he considered as his birthright, and Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who singularly failed to capture the imagination of the young.

In history, the first known rape is that of Lucretia by the King’s son in 506 BC, which led to the overthrow of monarchy and establishment of the Roman Republic. Unlike Lucretia and many others who embraced death to evade ‘shame’, this girl expressed her desire to live by writing a chit, when she could not speak.

It was that urge to live that made her a hero for countless men and women. A good thing that has happened is that people have given up their inhibition to discuss rape in public. Many of them have even openly talked about introducing punishments like stoning to death, physical and chemical castration and death by hanging.

They could be dismissed as the ranting of the angry but they did not overlook the fact that there was an urgent need to revisit the law on rape. In the instant case, the worst offender among the six who attacked her is a teenager, who is treated as a ‘juvenile delinquent’ and not a rapist.

The Supreme Court had sometime back taken a lenient view of a rapist because he convincingly argued that he was “under the influence of liquor” when he committed the crime. It was like the accused who killed his parents and then sought leniency because he was an orphan! Who knows, the six may even argue that they were drunk when they attacked her.

Hopefully, the Justice JS Verma committee, constituted to recommend legal measures to counter rape within 30 days, will rise to the occasion. Since certainty of punishment is a greater deterrent than severity of punishment, fast-track courts to hear all cases of rape and sexual harassment need to be set up in all districts with provision for just one appeal, irrespective of the punishment the law fixes for the heinous act.

Once there is certainty that a rapist will be caught and punished severely within a few months of committing the crime, rapists will no longer be on the prowl looking for vulnerable girls. This will empower women and free them from their fear that roads, buses and trains in India are unsafe for them.

Oman Tribune

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