Dennis Ferguson is a prisoner of the past. A convicted pedophile in Queensland, Ferguson was released in 2004 after completion of 14 years sentence for committing child sex offences. Since then, he has been hounded by communities in various towns he has tried settling in. Outraged by his presence, people do not want him to be seen anywhere near children. In 2009, residents of Ryde area in North West Sydney were vying for the ouster of 61- year old even though he was legally entitled to space and met housing guidelines, Brett Collins, spokesperson, Prison advocacy group Justice Action, told Daily Telegraph.
The Ministry of Home Affair’s scheme to develop a public database of convicted rapists in the wake of the Delhi gangrape can create a similar situation where sex offenders will find it difficult to find an acceptance in society after having served sentences imposed by courts.
Dr Vijay Raghavan, assistant professor in the criminal justice department at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, said that the concept of naming and shaming, which the government will be implementing through this online database, goes against the international system of criminal jurisprudence.
“Convicting an offender itself means you have named and shamed him. Once the sentence by the court is complete, the person is entitled to lead a normal life. By putting the details of convicted rapists on a public platform, government will be punishing them for rest of rest of their lives, which is not something one expects in a democracy,” he said.
There are numerous stories of rich and powerful subverting the system. Be it murder, rape or crimes of passion. Law takes a beating when it comes to trying those belonging to the affluent class. Many men accused of rape also offer to marry the victim – one of the reasons why, according to experts, the conviction of rape cases was at 26 per cent in 2011, down from more than 40 per cent in 1991.
In fact, in some cases law breakers have been getting license to make laws. 42 MLAs and two MPs have declared charges of crimes against women. Of these, six MLAs are facing charges of rape.
Social scientist Ashish Nandy said that the same power dynamics will be at play once the proposed online list is published.
“It will be an extension of the current scenario where we see powerful accused and convicted persons, arm- twisting the establishment. Many people will pay bribe to get their names removed from the list. It will become another source of corruption,” said Nandy.
Since anti-rape protests began in the national capital last week, women rights groups, eminent citizens and students’ associations have put various set of demands to the government. Some of the suggestions include fast- track courts, gender sensitive police, safer public places and stricter rape law. However, the idea of having an online database of rapists could not impress even those who were leading protests in Delhi.
“Rape is about our feudal society. It is about the lack of fear in the mind of a man belonging to upper caste while he rapes a Dalit woman. First, the government should make sure that police lodges the FIR of such women and the rapist is punished. Then we will talk about things like online databases,” said Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA).