Jails or pills: What is the cure to prevent gangrape in India?

"The girl was not yielding. So we called more people and took her to the outskirts and each one of us raped her to teach her a lesson."

This is from the confessional statement of one of the nine persons who gangraped a 15-year-old in Andhra Pradesh's Khammam district in 2007. They had recorded their crime of sexual perversion on mobile cameras. They threatened the girl, a tenth standard student, that the clip would go viral if she opened her mouth. Fear of public humiliation and worse silenced the girl. The clipping was being privately circulated among a voyeuristic audience.

Two years later, a copy on CD found its way into a cable network in Kothagudem town. There was public outrage. The police swung into action. Within 24 hours, the girl broke down and revealed what had happened. All the nine men were arrested.

The youngest of the accused was 18 years old, the oldest 54.

Has India failed to take enough steps to protect women in the country? AFP

The police was keen to send a stern message to potential perpetrators of such crimes. Going with the public mood of anger, those arrested were stripped, handcuffed and paraded through the town, as liberal verbal abuses were showered on them. All of Kothagudem gathered to watch the public spectacle in this very sensational case. The nine accused are serving life imprisonment now.

In Warangal in December 2008, three men accused of throwing acid on two engineering college girls were killed by the district police in an 'encounter' within a week. The police officer who was seen to have carried it out was publicly lauded for his act of  'instant justice', while long-winded bureaucratic delays are often perceived to derail the process of justice.

Since Monday morning when the news of the 23-year-old girl in Delhi being gangraped by five men flashed on TV screens, there have been shrill demands to deliver the Taliban brand of justice to such culprits. Like actor-turned-politician Khushboo who tweeted : "The 5 beasts who raped this girl in Delhi should be hanged or thrown to public who will decide the fate and I am sure it will be worse than being hanged.''

Or as journalist Malini Parthasarathy tweeted : "Lock away these rapist animals for life."

Or the anger and anguish in Sahana's tweet which says : "They hit her with a rod then injured her private parts with a rod, raped then threw! Beasts! Any punishment is cheap!!''

Nothing can condone the horrific act of barbarism. And public anger is justified in demanding stringent and quick punishment, so no one committing a beastly act can imagine that he can get away unpunished.

But who are these men, who seem to be hiding as one among us. They probably look normal enough on the outside and you may not be able to point out and identify one in a crowd. But obviously these are people who are mentally very, very sick. Are there no telltale signals which we can watch out for and address, if at all that is possible? Is it possible that fear of punishment can act as a deterrent to control sadists with seemingly uncontrollable urges to indulge in brutal acts of sexual violence?

Psychologists link the crime to the tendency among human beings to subjugate the weak. Such people, they say, suffer from chronically low self-esteem and in many cases, have themselves been abused as children or come from disturbed families. Such males are said to be more prone to molest or rape to gain a false sense of superiority as the adrenalin rush and libidinal high gives them a sense of power.

It seems strange that not one of the five men in the Delhi case, nor any of the nine men in Khammam, seemed to have felt that what they were doing was grossly wrong and not one of them tried to stop the rest. Are there vultures in seemingly ordinary men waiting to turn scavenger for a momentary high? In that moment of carnal madness, apparently the mind either seizes to think about the consequences or the feeling is that you can get away, you will neither get caught nor punished. Perhaps the mob psyche also gives a false sense of immunity.

Last week, there was a case of a 17-year-old girl raped by her father, stepfather and several others over the last one year in Kerala. In another incident again in Kerala, a six-year-old girl was allegedly sexually abused by her 40-year-old father for six months after forcing her to drink alcohol.

What is that urge that makes a father violate the sacred relationship and do the unthinkable?

Child rights activist Isidore Phillips argues that instead of only treating such people as criminals, society needs to recognize that such people are themselves suffering from a serious problem and need treatment.

Does the solution to preventing rape lie in better healthcare? Reuters

"Mental health is a huge issue. A parent or a teacher is in a position of trust. When it is violated, action must be taken in accordance with the law of the land but then if you do not treat him and just dump him in jail, it is even more dangerous as the jails have no mechanism to correct a deviant behaviour. He will come back one day, without being treated and more angry,'' Phillips said.

Putting an offender into jail is just a way of blocking out an undesirable man from the public space. Worse is when people deal with rape within the four walls of the house by ignoring it.

Psychiatrist Dr Purnima Nagarajan spoke of a case of a father who for a long period of time, raped his two daughters and when the elder one got married and gave birth to a daughter, he raped his three-year-old granddaughter who was left in the grandparents' care during the day.

His wife knew of it all along but never thought it necessary to intervene. When asked why she chose to look the other way, her reply, "Bahar nahi ja raha hai na'' (At least he is not going outside) shocked Dr Nagarajan.

Another convenient way of overlooking the malaise is to blame the woman for "dressing provocatively''. By putting forth an argument that an attire that excites a male is an automatic license to the latter to grope. By that yardstick, no rapes should be reported from rural India where women may be presumed to be dressed more conservatively than in the cities but research has established that the way a woman dresses cannot be related to the sexual crimes against her.

The gangrape in Delhi, where the victim is making a valiant bid to stay alive, is a wake-up call. Branding Delhi as India's rape capital is just an exercise in semantics because the point remains that a rapist, a molestor is lurking somewhere around us. How we deal with the disease is as much a test for all of us, as it is for the diseased amongst us.

Updated Date: Dec 18, 2012 12:47 PM

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