Hathras rape case has taken the country by storm with people questioning every institution–religion, caste, politics, economy, job availability, mental health, indoctrinated misogyny, general “traditional” mindset–of the Indian society. The graph of rape cases in India has seen an exponential growth curve and is being countered by an array of socio-political issues which aggravate the conflict rather than addressing the cardinal question–what is the cause of rape?
The state of Uttar Pradesh is now the face of shame as it lays spectator to the inhuman gang-rape and murder of a 19-year old Dalit girl by four ‘upper caste’ men, followed by the cremation of the body by policemen at the middle of the night without consent of family members.
The whole country is in outrage demanding strict actions and death penalty for the accused, but the question remains whether that would curb the increasing number of rapes. Would public protests, social media petitions, candle marches or assurance of the government be enough?
However, in cases of sexual assault, victim-blaming and slut-shaming are the foremost options adopted by the government as well as the general public.
In the Telengana gang-rape and murder case of a veterinarian, the Home Minister of the state commented victim should have called the police instead of her sister. Nirbhaya had been blamed for wearing western attire and being out late at night with a male companion. It is a common belief that women transgressing the set boundaries and social norms are ‘asking for it’. It appears easier to blame the victim for jeopardizing her own safety, impose restrictions on women and take away their independence than making definite laws or resorting to stringent actions. The deep-rooted patriarchy in the Indian culture has reduced women to ‘second-class citizens’.
According to Anuja Trehan Kapur, criminal psychologist and advocate, “rape is a non-bailable offence in the Indian Penal Code but people do get bail because of a lack of evidence (in many cases). The accused are often sheltered by police, or politicians, or even lawyers.” After the 2012-Nirbhaya case, there are multiple instances like that of Kathua and Unnao, where the state has given in to public demand and the law has been amended twice in 2013 and 2018 to make provision for death penalty for brutal rapes, repeat offenders and the rape of minors below 12 years, but the provision alone does not ensure that the death penalty would be granted.
Compulsory death penalty is against Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution which provide rights of equality and right to life and personal liberty. It would also oppose Section 235(2) of the CrPC which ensures the convict’s right to be heard while deciding a sentence, and Section 354(3) of CrPC which requires the court to provide special reasons for imposing a death penalty. Therefore, only ‘rarest of the rare cases’ in India is met with a death sentence where the crime is committed in a gruesome and barbaric manner. A Fast Track Court gave Nirbhaya case rapists a death sentence in Delhi in September 2013, but the execution took place seven years later in March 2020.
The Indian police registered 33,658 rape cases in 2017, Uttar Pradesh alone recorded 59,853 cases of crimes against women in 2019 according to the ‘Crime in India 2019‘ report by the National Crime Records Bureau.
Experts opine that a woman is raped in the country every 16 minutes. But none of the accused of these cases would be given a death sentence due to faulty laws and loopholes in the Constitution. The police shooting all four accused of the Hyderabad rape case is a glaring instance of resorting to vigilante justice in the absence of a competent judicial framework.
Centuries-old patriarchy has indoctrinated a belief that men are superior to women–children internalize this notion from a very young age. A woman’s wishes, opinions and consent are not taken into consideration, and they are treated as subservient from the beginning. Whenever a woman is empowered and tries to break free from the set boundaries, she is violated sexually to ‘show her position’ and establish dominance and control over her. Lack of proper sex education, awareness, mutual respect and gender-sensitization form the root causes for sexual harassment, assault or character assassination of the victim.
The other factors that passively contribute to the objectification of women are the cosmetic industry, entertainment industry–movie dialogues and song lyrics–which thrives on portraying women as consumable objects, and even sports which give greater importance to events of men than that of women.
- Media Trials and family pressure
Media trials and sensationalizing of rape reporting also has a severe negative impact by fueling violent retributions, or instigating the criminals to take extreme measures to do away with any evidence, like burning the victim after sexual assault or cutting off of the tongue of the victim. A large number of victims never come forward to seek justice as they are considered to be responsible for saving the ‘honour of the family’.
- Religion or Caste rivalries
Violence against women takes a horrible shape when caste dynamics enter the picture. A potent mix of caste-driven and religion-based rivalries become prime motivating factors for sexual violence. The gang-rape and murder of an 8-year old Muslim girl in Jammu and Kashmir drew global condemnation. The marginalized groups of the Hindu society–tribals and Dalits–forming the lowest strata of the caste hierarchy face tremendous oppression and sexual violence, wherein Hathras case is the latest in the long list of caste-based sexual violence.
In 2018, a Dalit girl who was allegedly raped for several months in Madhya Pradesh, went to the police station with a six-month-old fetus wrapped in a plastic bag. Caste-based violence has become a tool for domination of the lower caste women by the upper caste men.
The problematic mindset of the society in general comes to the limelight when prominent figures like the former judge of Supreme Court, Markandey Katju, make controversial statements to justify or explain the rape culture. Katju’s Facebook post blaming unemployment to be the cause for men to give in to their carnal desires has faced tremendous backlash and caused public outrage.
Katju claims sex to be a ‘natural urge’ in men and unavailability of a marital partner to fulfil such desires due to lack of jobs have increased rape cases. Such claims are derogatory on several grounds as they do not consider women’s sexual desires as ‘natural’, does not identify the need for mutual consent and neglects the issue of marital rape.
The hurried cremation of the Hathras case victim by the UP Police without the consent of family members, confinement and threatening of the family members and restricting the media to interrogate the family has raised questions about political involvement in the matter. Though the BJP-lead Yogi Adityanath government has stated that appropriate measures would be taken against the convicts, the dubious role of the police has given a possible political tint to the issue.
On the other hand, the opposing Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been continuously politicizing the brutal incident. They had to make multiple attempts to reach Hathras to express ‘solidarity’ with the victim’s family, as the police initially restrained them. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor who accompanied them to Hathras said that “Is it prohibited to do politics in a democracy? Yahi mauka hai.” This accidental admission of the senior leader has highlighted Congress’ agenda of brazen politicization.
Union Minister Smriti Irani condemned Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s attempts to play politics and advised them to go to Rajasthan instead to ensure justice to another gang-rape victim’s family over there. Both the rulers and opposition are eyeing the vote bank instead of expressing genuine remorse and concern for the sufferers.
Fundamental changes are required immediately in the country’s judicial system; investigations should be carried out with the aid of scientific and technological methods, general sensitivity and gender issues should be given utmost priority to make a safe environment for women.
Raising accountability is much more important than increasing the severity of punishment. The fear of being caught and not being spared must deter offenders from performing heinous sexual crimes, rather than harsher penalties.
Countries like Brazil, Netherlands, Austria and others, which have legalized prostitution have seen a significant reduction in cases of sexual offence. The morally stiff Indian society that considers sex as a taboo prevents intermingling of unmarried men and women, suppresses sexuality, considers addressing sexual issues and sex education as social stigmas, has increased the wrong beliefs, inappropriate or violent behaviour and gender inequality. However, the question still remains how many more Nirbhayas before this savagery comes to a culmination? The answer remains unknown.