Time to alter the language of rape
It is well known that under no circumstances can the identity of a rape victim be revealed. Neither the police nor media can disclose the name of the victim in public as its disclosure is a punishable act. Printing or publishing the name of the woman against whom an offence has been committed is punishable. This is also to prevent social victimisation of the victim of sexual abuse.
One can understand the temptation to reveal the original name and identity of the victim by the media. However, in the absence of any system within the government, a few newspapers and TV channels used names of their preferences for the unfortunate victim of 16 December 2012 that took place in the capital of India. These names included: Nirbhaya, Amanat, Dhamini, Anmol, Anamika and probably a few more. With passing time, the references of these names are bound to create a lot of confusion in future when the case needs to be referred for different purposes. Therefore, the aim of this article is to initiate discussion and suggest a need for developing a systematic methodology to deal with the cases of rape victims in the country to reduce the social stigma to the affected families. It also avoids the recurrence of the original names at a later date which unfortunately bring back sad memories and traumatic experiences to the near and dear.
It is also bound to rejuvenate the social stigma (if ever disappeared with time) which may bring back many socio-cultural implications to the affected family members, communities and villages. I draw inspiration for coming up with this proposal from the prevailing system of naming cyclones, hurricanes, storms etc. We are familiar with weather forecasters naming the storms aimed to avoid confusion of reference. World Meteorological Organisation and its Regional Committees play important roles in selecting these names. It is advised that National Commission for Women takes a lead in evolving a system of naming the rape victims for the following reasons:
1. Giving a temporary name officially to the rape victim by the NCW will help the family from the social stigma and suffering to the affected family.
2. Media all over the country (and worldwide) uses the same name ensuring uniformity and consistency with the case. Some of the national newspapers on their front pages headlined with ‘Gang rape victim…..’ and ‘Rape survivor…..’ Use of an assigned artificial name to the rape victim by NCW takes away the use of negative words which otherwise keep the wound alive till the news
coverage on the sexually abused victim subsides.
3. Citation of such rape cases in media, academic research and in similar arena is bound to take place whenever rapes occur across the country. It becomes easier to refer which protects the original name lifelong. For example, the tragic episode of 16 December 2012 had opened up a few old cases. Print media tends to protect the names by changing names again of their choices leading to several names for the same victim. Multiple names for the same tend to confuse the readers, NGOs and people who are engaged in that discipline for various objectives.
4. It will be very useful to develop a system with names and codes for each state and union territories. For example, as soon as a rape is reported in the press as police takes more time to register a case, the concerned state or union territory (say Andhra Pradesh) may name it: Anjali-1(AP). While the name remains constant the number increases with each rape case. It is intended that this name remains for a few days. Once the case advances and depending on the severity and further progress of the case in various departments, in consultation with the respective state commissions, NCW could provide another name for follow-up till the case is closed. It is assumed that in the initial days of any rape case, state commissions are expected to take lead by naming the victim. If the cases are very severe and barbaric in nature, then the victim could be given a separate name (not with number) from the list of names available with the NCW.
5. Suggested system helps to get a clear picture on the rape map of India rapidly. All states and UTs can come up with generic names identified through internal procedures followed by the serial number of the rape with abbreviation of state name in parenthesis. NCW can develop a reservoir of say 400 names with full participation of states and UTs (on the lines of naming the storms and
hurricanes where each country provides names).
If agreed, the above suggestions could be further discussed and refined with a goal to develop a systematic approach to handle sensitive subject in a careful manner with full participation of the state commissions for women. Courts can use these artificial names and refer them while the proceedings are in progress in stead of describing the subjects as ‘victims’. This system also protects the identity of the girl or woman raped and removes the use multiple names by the media. Once the names from the reservoir have been used up, the same names could be recycled with year reference which could be after several years.
Nirbhaya Fund created by the central government with an initial allocation of Rs 1,000 crores remain untouched for want of good proposals. A beginning can be made by expanding this idea into a nationwide programme. Let us hope that the present situation of rape across the country shakes and wakes up the administration to improve its security, governance to protect women; make men more sensitive, sensible and turn into good and responsible citizens; and the need for using these names become rare and rarer in our society!