As a country we talk too much, think too less. We argue too much about problems and bother too little about actionable remedies. We let emotions overwhelm intelligence. And we are terribly fickle in our commitment to causes. That is one reason why we never find enduring solutions to any of our problems. The debate whether convicts in rape cases should be hanged or castrated or bobbitised reflects how limited we are in thinking sensibly.
Nearly, 24,000 rape cases take place across the country every year. Can we have that many hangings? The Supreme Court maintains that the death sentence should be used in the 'rarest of rare' cases. How do you distinguish one rape case from the other on the criterion of 'rarity'? Such an exercise makes one act of rape less heinous than the other while the reality is victims in both cases suffer the same physical and mental trauma. Castration? Forget that. We could be creating a class of violent sociopaths from this exercise.
Admitted, the brutal assault and rape of the paramedical student is a heinous act. It deserves all the condemnation it gets. The public fury spilling over to the streets is entirely justified. But seven days into angry protests over the incident in New Delhi and other parts of the country, it’s time to rein in emotions and ask the serious questions. The answer to these could make a substantial difference to the world we live in.
Why is the focus so much on rape? It is only one of the several forms of harassment women are exposed to in their everyday life. It could be that the act of rape forms the top in a hierarchy of crimes against women we tend to be casual and dismissive about.
We are conditioned to treating eve-teasing as a minor, harmless offence. It happens everywhere – on campuses, railway platforms, inside buses and trains and in virtually every public space. Girl students treat their male friends making comments loaded with sexual innuendos at juniors in colleges with indulgent indifference. The policemen rarely find anything criminal in such acts and let the culprits off with a small warning.
Incidents of groping and stalking are common too. Ask around, chances are that many of your friends from the fair sex have faced these. Also, chances are that their objection to it has been dismissed by friends and seniors and even the police as frivolous. These are unavoidable hazards of being a woman and there’s hardly any point complaining, the victim is conveyed rather crudely. She is expected to swallow the humiliation, tolerate the culprits and get on with life.
Now, on the crime scale how far removed are groping and stalking from eve-teasing? How far is rape from groping and stalking? Without getting into the niceties of the legal interpretation of such acts, it can be said with clarity that the distance between the crimes is not as vast as they appear to be. An eve-teaser – it’s a very loose word, one must admit – could easily be the man who could grope and be sexually offensive to a woman otherwise and the same person could be a rapist too. Disrespect of women is the common thread running through people indulging such acts. The gravity of the crimes they commit varies only in degrees.
Talking about harsh punishment to rapists without keeping in the frame of discussion sexual harassment in other forms makes little sense. The protesters in Delhi and other places everywhere and commentators in the media must insist that the law make both eve-teasing and stalking in all forms serious offences. The exercise would require a nuanced interpretation of both the crimes and fixing the degree of culpability in each different case. This would act as the first layer of deterrence against potential rapists.
Let’s face it, the rot runs deep. We live in a society where abuse of mothers, sisters, daughters and women in general form part of our everyday conversation. It’s cultural. We are culturally programmed to be disrespectful towards women and treat them as sexual objects. Incidents of rapes, groping and eve-teasing grow out of that programming. The efforts to change things must begin at the bottom, with us.
Emotions won’t lead us to anything concrete here. It’s time to dig around for real solutions.