If The Death Penalty Doesn’t Deter Rape, What Will?

For years we have been clamouring for stronger punishment for rape, including the death penalty. Here's a closer look at the multi-faceted approach needed.

For years we have been clamouring for stronger punishment for rape, including the death penalty. Here’s a closer look at the multi-faceted approach needed.

The 2012 gang rape offenders have been long sentenced to death. We also have the death penalty now for raping a girl under the age of 12. But rape – including the rape of minors and gang rapes doesn’t seem to be on the decline. Fresh this week: Rehab home horror.

We have been musing angrily for years now. We blame ourselves sometimes (we have too complicated, too patriarchal, too unequal a society) and sometimes outsiders (Reuters has to have gotten it wrong!). This is a problem so twisted that even commission reports thicker than encyclopedias fail to get a grasp on it and our last hope, stricter punishment, seems to be not working either. So what can be done?

Before diving into that, I need to clarify that my intention here is not to challenge stronger punishments. I am not an activist with a heart when it comes to heinous crimes, nor do I see any value in wasting taxpayer money jailing such perpetrators, or letting them off through loopholes. But, the achievement on passing death penalty shouldn’t overshadow the need to push the more vital change needed. Because the death penalty will not deter rape, cultivating two basic thoughts unanimously as a nation and a society will.

Honour is obsolete

In our nation, not only rape and sexual violence but most acts of gender violence stem from the question of honour in one way or another. To protect honour, to take away honour, to take revenge for the loss of honour, or to establish honour. Honour (or what is wrongly perceived as honour) is used to justify the action, and then, as a perfect double-edged sword, is embedded into the victim to keep her mouth shut. From blackmail by the perps themselves (videos and social media uploading threats) to further violence and victimization by all (rape victim, not the perpetrators, gets burnt alive by village elders!).

This is not isolated ignorance and atrocity. This is what we cultivate as a nation. Because we, as a society, cultivate honour as our holy grail. Boys are taught machoism in the name of honour. Girls are taught subservience. Entire communities’ brainwash themselves into getting on the honour express. But what is honour really? Where does it lie? We all know the answers – but do we believe them?

No. That is why every stratum of our society keeps falling into the honour trap, not just some segments manifesting extreme outcomes. What if we repeat and keep repeating instead – to ourselves and our children – honour doesn’t make its home in women’s bodies or men’s heads? And that it is not a thing to be sought, preserved or reclaimed. It is time for the nation, starting at the family level, to build a bottom-up ‘we don’t give a damn about honour, instead, we care about life – ours, and others’ culture. Our awareness incentives against rape and gender crime, often lost in the multitude that it strives to address and sort, need to be targeted with this tagline.

Consent is a concept, and it is important

We as a nation, do not understand the concept of consent. That is why we get away with using random logic (prosecution will be problematic, false allegations might flood the system, or marriage in itself provides a blanket stamp) to keep marital rape legal. That is why we glorify stalking in our movies, and our soaps get popular when a woman is forcefully ‘persuaded’ by her lover.

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At a granular level, simple rejections lead to violent crimes daily and touching in public transportation/crowded places is something every single woman I know has experienced. In many parts of the world, ‘yes is yes’ is being discussed. For us, we are still asking, ‘does even a screaming no really mean no?’ Or worse still, ‘why the hell does there need to be a yes or no?’ Just like honour, we misunderstand consent as our birthright, but not the other person’s. We need to change this.

The death penalty is a consequence. It delivers vitally needed justice. But I am not a genius for realizing that national behavior change is what we need. But there the problem becomes that with so much to sort through, what do we target? What do we cultivate and preach? We have established to death that we are a deeply patriarchal society – deeply flawed when it comes to gender rights. But how do we fix us?

Yes, this is an attempt to simplify things. Yes, there are so many other factors, dependencies; moral, socio-economical, anthropological analyses that I am possibly being clueless about. But we need to start somewhere. And this is where I have started.

Image via Pixabay

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About the Author

Tanushree Ghosh

Tanushree Ghosh (Ph. D., Chemistry, Cornell, NY), is Director at Intel Corp., a social activist, and an author. She is a contributor (past and present) to several popular e-zines incl. The Huffington Post US ( read more...

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