Delhi Gang-Rape: Why Strict Punishment Won’t Deter Rapists In India

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The brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus in New Delhi Sunday has brought to fore the predominant inequality in the Indian society that has allowed the perpetrators of such grievous acts to walk scot-free.

The heinous crime was committed while the bus crossed at least five police check posts in the span of 40 minutes. The victim who suffered grave injuries is struggling for life at a hospital in Delhi.

It has set off a hitherto unseen level of self-reflection in the society with every woman questioning the safety of public transport services in the country. It forced the government to announce a slew of measures amidst public outcry to award capital punishment to the rapists.

The government believes that measures including acceleration of the trial process through fast-track courts, increased patrolling, stringent background verification of transport staff records, impounding vehicles with tinted glasses and mandatory lighting of transport services on the streets can curtail assault against women.  

But unfortunately, none seem to address the root cause of the problem – the inherent gender insensitivity in the Indian society.

Indian Mindset To Blame?

In a country where gender insensitivity manifests blatantly in every walk of life, crime against women has remained an intrinsic part of the social fabric. The crime against women has a deep-rooted connection to the gender-biased patriarchal society.

In India, a male child is always considered to be the breadwinner for the family while the female child is frowned upon as expenditure in spite of the fact that majority of women today fending for themselves and support their families as well.

This attitude also reflects in the upbringing of children – instilling a sense of superiority in men against a submissive attitude in women. And any deviation of authority or show of disrespect or resistance from the girl child is hardly encouraged while the male child often gets off with his mischief.

Cut to the current violence, the accused stated that they wanted to “teach a lesson to the girl” who resisted their advances. And they claimed to have taught the lesson by raping and torturing her so brutally that even doctors who treated the victim said they “never saw a worst case of assault than this perpetrated on a human body.”

This is not an isolated incident. Each and every crime against women in India, be it a rape or an acid attack, is carried out by a criminals who believe they have absolute right over a women with women often being viewed as objects of desire that need to be exploited. Unfortunately, this attitude is nurtured by the family and a patriarchal society comprising both men and women.

Apart from the predominant male superiority complex and its role in rising crime rates against women, gender inequality and the huge drop in sex ratio is another aspect that warrants thorough review in the country.

Poor Sex Ratio

The huge craze for male child among Indian families has resulted in selective abortions (despite sex determination being banned) leading to a sharp drop in the male-female ratio. According to the Census 2011, there are only 940 females per 1000 males in India.

The sex ratio appears to be the worst in Delhi (866 females/1000 males) and neighboring Haryana state (877 females/1000 males), which are witnesses to high incidence of crimes against women.  

There is an acute shortage of girls in marriageable age in some of the north Indian states and this has led to an escalation of crime against women which include rape, trafficking and forced sex slavery. Most of the cases go unreported as they are abetted by community support in rural areas.

Besides, traditional practices such as the dowry system where the bride’s parents are forced to spend millions of rupees in cash and kind as gifts to the bridegroom during marriages have encouraged female infanticide in the country.   

Widespread Gender Insensitivity

Gender insensitivity is a deep-rooted malice in every strata of the Indian society and the attitude of law enforcement authorities is least helpful in preventing the assault against women. A few months ago, an investigative report jointly conducted by leading Indian television channel NDTV and Indian publication Tehelka exposed how police authorities as well as a minister invited public ire when they said “women are responsible for their rape.”

"If girls don't stay within their boundaries, if they don't wear appropriate clothes, then naturally there is attraction. This attraction makes men aggressive, prompting them to just do it." Sub-Inspector Arjun Singh of Surajpur police station, Greater Noida, told the investigating team.

Given the corruption and societal apathy toward women, not all cases of sexual abuse make it to the court.  Besides, the stance of law enforcement officers who blame the victims for the crime ends up encouraging the criminals. The rate of conviction in cases of sexual abuse is least in the country and this encourages criminals, who believe they can get away with their crime.

Probably another crime in a moving train may lead to a ban on opaque train shutters or the government may make it mandatory to keep the lights in train on during night journeys. 

These measures or increasing number of fast-track trial courts are not going to solve the problem and what is needed apart from stringent enforcement of laws is a change in the society and authorities’ attitude towards women.  

Crime against women cannot be deterred by such actions in the peripheral level or by just awarding harsh punishments.

Unless the family, the community and the law enforcement officials are gender-sensitized, rapes will keep on happening in the country. Chemical castration or even death penalty won’t deter rapists.   

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