Delhi rape: Why can’t we think above candlelight marches?

One more gangrape. It does not matter where - New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai or anywhere in the country. For God’s sake, let’s not cry 'shame' anymore - it sounds so fake and insincere. Let’s, for a change, be ashamed of ourselves instead. Such incidents have been going on for too long and if there’s no guarantee that women will be safe anywhere in the country, let’s blame ourselves for the situation.

The sense of outrage over the rape of the 23-year-old para-medical student in a moving bus in New Delhi has a tired, predictable ring to it. The anger on television during panel discussions, the protests on the streets and the outpouring of sympathy for the victim — haven’t we seen all of that before? The repetitive, reflexive action only serves to highlight our collective impotence in making things change in the democracy, even when they involve matters as serious as our own safety and security.


For the victim, rape is a personal tragedy the magnitude of which is
impossible to map for the outsider. The act is not merely the violation of the body, it’s more about the indelible scars it leaves on the soul and psyche of the victim. "If this girl survives, she will be a living dead," said Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha.

"When a woman gets murdered, she gets killed once. But when she gets raped, she dies again and again," said Girija Vyas, member of Parliament. The reactions sum up the tragic consequences on the victim rather well.

Rape is heinous crime, it needs no overstating. It reflects the society’s attitude towards women and its level of cultural and civilisational maturity. The solutions societies come up with to tackle the problem are also reflective of the collective ability to keep in check deviant conduct among some of its members. That the cases of rape are rising and getting more brazen in nature in India shows that the country has lost the ability to think with purpose.

The protest marches, candle-lit rallies, online rants and furious media debates are hardly the way to solve any problem. The call for tougher laws is little more than empty talk. More laws never make life better, good implementation of laws does. Death sentence for rapists might act as a deterrent, but with no fine-tuning of the investigation machinery and processes, it could be an instrument with the police open to abuse. Throwing the rapists in jail in quick time through fast track courts might help but it’s more like treating the symptom, not the disease.

The law is aimed at the criminal, not the crime per se, particularly
those emerging out of prejudices entrenched in social practices. The menace of khaps, killings ordered by them to be more specific, and cases of dowry torture and killings have not disappeared despite threat of severe legal action. It works best in case of crimes with no linkages to the beliefs and practices of the wider community, and the culprit stands without a larger social context.

However, it does not mean that laws need not be changed or created in accordance to the needs of the time. The purpose of this article is to underline that these changes must be matched by corresponding changes in the wider backdrop against which such crimes takes place. Acts of rape may not have explicit social sanction - although it’s known that panchayats have ordered rape of lower caste women as punishment — but they are born out of social attitude that is disrespectful towards women in general.

The best way to tackling rape would be to treat it as a social malaise rather than treat it purely as a law and order issue. Our current demands - tougher laws, fast track courts etc - are directed at punishing the guilty, not finding a remedy to the wider malaise. The latter would require involvement of the civil society, the communities and the government. It’s a long process, but we need to make a beginning somewhere.

For now, it would be a great service to the victims if we go beyond demands that are cosmetic in character. To begin with, why cannot we demand a more efficient, agile and sensitised police force? Why cannot we demand execution of concepts like community policing? Why cannot the civil society and students’ community encouraged to get involved in watch operations?

These are preventive measures and much more is needed to be done on this front. The country must put itself to the task of thinking more and reacting less.

Updated Date: Dec 18, 2012 22:00 PM

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