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Have Death Sentences In Well Known Cases Changed Anything For Women’s Safety In India?

Posted: July 10, 2017

A couple of months ago, the Supreme Court sentenced all the culprits in the Jyoti Pandey rape and murder case to death. Let’s examine what exactly has changed for women’s safety in India.

I saw a lot of posts on Facebook and other social media applauding the judgment. Angst against rape was visible in words in all posts and comments and it made me wonder…if all this angst exists, why have the incidents of rape and crimes against women only increased in numbers since 2012?

Firstly, I have always questioned the reaction of everyone (including myself) to this particular case. It was not just a case of rape but of brutal violence against the deceased. The news reports elaborated exactly how horribly her body had been mutilated post rape. Those were blood-curdling details that made it difficult to sleep at night. Public outrage however had one positive effect. It compelled a quick reaction from the police. The culprits were apprehended sooner than is the case in general when a rape complaint is filed.

But I have always wondered, if it were not for the violence meted out post rape, would the case have made headlines at all? Let’s face it: rape by itself is not front page news or atleast, rarely made it to the front page or prime time news before this case. Because, if rape was that big a crime in our heads, we would have seen a reduction in the number of rape cases in the coming years. Five years hence the statistics tell a different story. Rape and crimes against women and girls have only been on the rise.

Yes, there is an article on rape statistics every year in some media or the other but it is more indifferent statistics than anything else. With the social media up picking pace in the last decade there is a culture of instant reactions and one sees a lot of posts and comments every now and then, but that hasn’t changed the basic fabric of the society. Mass molestation on New Year’s eve in Bengaluru is a big example of how undeterred the male in our society is. If anything, he seems to be more motivated to make his dominance felt now than ever before.

So I question myself and all the rest…do we look at rape as a criminal offence indeed or is it more a fad to condemn atrocities against women and we all do our part by posting a few comments?

Public shaming, chemical castration, death penalty are spoken of freely and rather profusely. Create fear in the minds of the offenders to deter them. Don’t get me wrong, I have been of the opinion that stringent laws and quick court proceedings can help but the buck doesn’t stop with the courts alone. It is like pruning a few branches without addressing the roots.

Inducing fear through punishment alone can create a whole new problem of more heinous crimes as fear has a psychological impact on the mind. It can drive the receiver to the other extreme and put the public in general at a bigger risk. Case in point – Jyoti met a horrible end owing to the offenders fearing she would go report about the rape. They took the next extreme step of murdering her so as to safeguard themselves and erase all witnesses.

So the Supreme Court Judgement against the offenders does not guarantee reduction in sex offences in the coming years. The problem is bigger than we like to acknowledge.

We are a country where a majority lives below the poverty line trying to arrange two square meals a day. Lack of education, combined with age old patriarchal dominance doesn’t help. Women in the lower strata are subjected to violence on a daily basis. To add to our woes we are in general a sexually repressed society where even a child in the urban set-up struggles to understand her/his urges leave alone a child that doesn’t even go to school.

So the problem is larger than we dare to decipher. When oppression of women in general is considered alright, rape is just a natural outcome. And addressing this issue is the key to all other problems like rape, sexual harassment, violence against women et al.

A problem that isn’t even acknowledged as one is the reason nothing gets achieved.

We all need to play our parts if we need to change the society.

Ofcourse the governments both at the center and state level need to come up with solutions that have long-term impacts. Education, counseling of both families and individuals needs to happen on a regular basis. The society as a whole needs to contribute if such evils are to be repressed.

At home we need to treat our house helpers with more respect. In schools we need to counsel both boys and girls from a very early age so they grow up to be respectful of the other.

More NGOs need to be activated to address problems of education in the rural areas. Government needs to come up with many more suitable vocations to empower women especially financially so that they can earn respect and independence in their society and families.

It is a long drawn process but it is the only way towards a better society. We need to start working today so we can groom the next generation with the right values – else we will remain a society that vents out on public forums (yes we will always have systems, courts, governments to blame for all the evils) and leave behavioral amendments to someone else and hope for a better tomorrow without having to work towards it.

Otherwise we will surely have our chance…we can all spew venom on social mediums when the next rape case makes headlines, knowing that we pruned a few branches…after all, it solves the immediate problem and makes us sleep better at night!

First published here.

Top image credits Ramesh Lalwani, used under a CC license 2.0

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Malini is a compulsive traveller, a hobby photographer, a self trained painter and now a

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