Monday 31 December 2012

A tribute to Damini

The author was on a sabbatical this month, so the long gap.
Though hoping to end the year on a cheerful note, it would be more fitting perhaps to help in any small way to make the world safer for the girl child, the woman, the mother, sister and the wife ... I would like to contribute my mite to the debate on dealing with rapacious men who have a free run of the country, it seems. Months ago, I wrote this on another blogsite, which never got around to enable its publication. Though I wrote it long back, it remains as painfully relevant, perhaps more. This is equally a tribute to the late Damini, who met with such an unnecessary, tragic end:

An animated debate took place recently on television on the effect of TV serials on family lives, girls in particular. One participant pointed out that girls were getting wary of marriage into joint families. The reason: an overdose of intrigues by women in such households and the tyrannical ways of mothers-in-law shown in these serials.
But rape is surely an even more serious issue. There are a number of Hindi serials currently dealing with this matter too. One disturbing serial centres on an incurable lecher, a habitual rapist who does not spare even family. Another is dealing quite insensitively with a rape and its aftermath that includes overt and covert jibes by neighbours and relatives, among other things. It remains to be seen how they pan out eventually.
The victim’s state of mind is one concern. Punishing the rapist is another. For society at large, however, the bigger issue must be how to curb this most inhuman of crimes.
Our social fabric is wearing thin. Rape, incest and other types of sexual abuse are not new to society. They did happen even a hundred years ago – indeed, all through the ages. What is worrying is the rapid spread of sexual abuse, and our near-incapacity to curb it, in terms of collective will. We are becoming inured to reports of rape and assault in newspapers and on television. We are accepting that the crime will mostly go unpunished, or dealt with lightly, if at all.
As a society we are countenancing it nonchalantly. We do not worry on reading that what is reported may be a fraction of the actual number of incidents occurring every day. There could be many more instances where the victims are threatened into silence, or too traumatized, or even unaware of the criminality of what is being done to them. And often the perpetrators are known to them: people who ideally should be protective of them, who teach them, live, study or work with them, who should be trustworthy.
Then there are the predators who stalk and pounce on a whim, or rape out of a sense of power, or even avenge a perceived wrong committed by someone else.
A murderer takes away a life, but a rapist assaults not only the victim’s body but also her spirit. Both types are equally culpable, and neither deserves leniency. Recent reports on Supreme Court rulings (Supreme Court rules, no corroboration required in rape cases: DNA, October 11, 2011; Rape case: life term to father, brother upheld: The Hindu, July 10, 2011) are reassuring, but justice needs to be swiftly delivered, in every case. However, in a case filed in 2007, the Delhi high court has awarded just seven years’ rigorous imprisonment for a crime committed on the victim over three traumatic years (Priest gets 7-yr RI for rape: The Times of India, April 4, 2012).  
News agency Reuters reported from Rome: “According to some estimates, only 5 per cent of rape victims in Italy report the crime to police” (Critics outraged at Italian court’s rape ruling, Asian Age, February 3, 2012). The percentage is that low in a so-called developed western society; imagine the situation in a country such as ours, where for many mothers it is still anathema to discuss even menstrual issues with their daughters, where “name and honour” is paramount for their families. Surely rapists who escape punishment far, far outnumber those convicted.
Even if the victim were courageous enough to fight for justice, the system and the law, aided by a male-dominated society, go easy on the offender. Families of victims are bribed or simply intimidated into silence. How to bring justice to a ravished woman?
This may sound too radical, capital punishment may be perceived as too harsh, but every rapist deserves not less than a life sentence at least, non-commutable. The most severe punishment is reserved for the “rarest of rare” cases, but every single rape ought to be treated as such. Can there be any extenuating circumstances for such an abominable deed?
What gave him pleasure once can return to prompt the rapist into a repeat act any time again. Are even his own womenfolk safe from him any more? Can we afford to trust again someone who did not think of the lifelong effect of his heinous act on his victim?
It can never spring from a spontaneous thought, because he has forced himself on someone. This scourge of easy targeting of women has to be gotten rid of. Man or woman, you cannot deny the lurking tension till your daughter, sister, wife or mother return safe to the sanctuary of your home.
The 1988 movie Zakhmi Aurat, aired recently on television, made a case for the same punishment that a woman judge recently advocated – bobbitise the rapist. And then let him roam free, now to commit a different crime to vent his frustration?
While we hope another Kalpana Chawla is growing up in our midst or more Indra Nooyis will head big corporations, a queer situation is developing on the ground. As more women come out to study, to work, to breathe more easily away from hearth-bound routines, to contribute meaningfully to society, they still find themselves in peril – from an ever-growing number of potential abusers. Find a woman who can claim she has never been groped, whistled or leered at, or not borne insinuating remarks at the very least. The more they strive to live life on their own terms, the more they are vulnerable to men looking to feed their lust on.
And because it is difficult to keep the predators’ abundant testosterone in check, women are told to avoid travelling alone, working late, venturing out after sundown with or without male escorts. Indeed, they must stop going out altogether to escape inevitable assault.
Some men wage a battle so that girls are not killed. Fathers put their lifetime’s savings at their daughters’ disposal so they can get educated, make a mark for themselves. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous men prowling about, too, waiting to vanquish in body and spirit some mans beloved daughter, some mans beloved sister.
And these perpetrators are a confident lot. Those who spring to the defence of women are amply warned off, time and again. How many of us, for instance, remember Mumbai boys Keenan and Rueben, killed because they tried to stop eve-teasers?
The assailants may be mentally sick or maybe hardened criminals, but the loopholes that help them elude punishment must be plugged. And there should be the fear of imprisonment until death. Nothing less seems deterrent enough. The Supreme Court has rightly remarked on the “emotional injury” inflicted on a rape victim (Asian Age, cited above). That injury never heals. It is the responsibility of society to ensure that no one dare inflict such an injury.

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