Hanging the Nirbhaya convicts is unlikely to change core issues highlighted by their crime
Four hangings as splints for a fracturing land. In caste-inequity normative India — where mythology is becoming history, politically-inconvenient histories being pathologised, "anti-national" students baton-whipped, minorities being demonised, rights selectively denied: all, viscerally-approved by majoritarianism — its as if these hangings will provide catharsis.
India — along with countries comprising more than half the world's population — permits death-penalties for "rarest of rare" crimes. Rapes are hardly un-rare, rape-murder increasingly rarest-of. The hangings, after following due judicial and presidential-pardon processes, were scheduled for January, then February, then early-March. Now, Indians collectively await the next fortnight.
The four are convicts of the 2012 "Nirbhaya" case: a surreal normalisation of rapes when a victim — gang-raped, vaginally-brutalised with an iron rod, killed is renamed "one who feels no fear". Any victim, including this writer, could tell them of their folly: fear is felt foremost and forever. Lack of fear isn't to be deified in sexual assault; it adds onus upon the assaulted to fight a physical-utmost to prove non-consent.
Despite continuous media-coverage, this case is nevertheless taking seven-plus years; the average is much higher. The conviction rates are abysmal: for the 39 rapes reported every hour, one in four is convicted. Governments change, none visibly improve the judicial system. Such sloth condones the rise of the criminal-politician: the criminally-charged centrally-elected has nearly doubled since 2004. Among the state-elected is a ruling-party legislator, his five sons and nephew gang-raping a young-widow over 45 days, then forcing abortion. She is now a statistic like the 1,10,000 pending rape-cases including child-rape with five child-rapes reported per hour. Meanwhile, rape-accused under-trials, some convicted of less-than-"heinous" get bail; they vanish, some repeat-rape.
Political totalitarianism also appropriates the police. A police cover-up of an eight-year old's gang-rape-murder saw a politically-fostered far-right group protesting subsequent arrests. There are only 151 police persons per 100,000 for 1.3 billion Indians (the mandated ratio is 222:100,000). The math in that gap — a visible and non-partisan police presence might reduce rapes — is also ignored by India's elected.
Predictably, a thirty-one per cent spurt in rape-murder cases in 2018 over 2017. Frighteningly, 25,000 child-pornography uploads-shares in five months of computer-generated child-images and actual children. Rape "content" being spawned, in real-time, through real-life, un-reported children. Forty per cent of girl-children, twenty-five per cent of boy-children are sexually abused in India, half at home or by adults whom they trust (cutting across caste-class lines). Strong laws are graveyards of good intentions given the state of police-judiciary; unsurprisingly, under-reporting of rape (adult, child) is estimated at sixty-five per cent, more among middle and upper classes.
Sum total: rich pickings for rapists.
When India is internationally scorned as the "rape capital" — rape-and-burn-alive, gang-rapes, candle-bottle-rod rapes, relatives of raped-teens assassinated — politicians play to the galleries. They call for lynchings, castrations. When alleged gang-rapists are shot dead, pre-trial, they congratulate the police.
Most known political parties have been in power by now: at central and state levels, in the lead or in alliances. They know — they know very well — that the frame around just-punishment, especially capital punishment, is collapsing. They know they are responsible. They know they are doing nothing nor do they intend to, to work on the solutions — all of which are surprisingly simple. Instead, see how they pretend to care for women's safety.
Politicians as indirect perpetrators: this writer — pro-capital punishment for specific crimes — realised how little they care for child-victims and grieving families when she researched death-penalty accountability. Political pardons had been granted to, among others, a long-dead person, and a repeat-rapist who with the jail-guard raped-murdered the jailor's daughter. Plus, the time taken by governments to move a mercy-petition file can take up to a decade. Anti-penalists may note: an inordinate delay in death-punishment is equally germane to the leeway of clemency. No law can ensure public safety if it's not applied fairly, firmly, fast.
If the lack of law-and-order abets rapists, India's hyper-patriarchal society is an accessory. Always about the brute-power that the muscularity of money can buy, casual misogyny is rampant. Money plus education doesn't minus misogyny: if she is not a wife-mother, she is the "other". An audio-recording has intent-to-rape ruminations by rich teen-boys in an upmarket-school debating class-mate "gang-bang", with-without rods, on a "rape-ability" index. Their parents dismiss it as "banter". In a hostel, 66 college-girls are stripped for menstrual checks, periods-isolation is "tradition" as she is "unclean".
The macho-male bastion of Bollywood films also convinces itself that rapes are a result of only their own silos. Routine, therefore, the sexual objectification of female bodies for male viewing-pleasure — the woman is the "item" in the "item-song" — while dialogues and lyrics don't discourage the prurient to think about sexual aggression and violence as power-tools.
Catharsis? For India's women, for rape-victims, it's the horror of a continuum.
The writer is an author-journalist who has assisted in framing laws against child sexual abuse in India. Views expressed are strictly personal
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