Crime and Pun­ish­ment

The great­est pro­por­tion of all vi­o­lence— in­clud­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence— takes place at home

India Today - - UPFRONT - by Shilpa Phadke Shilpa Phadke is co-au­thor of Why Loi­ter? Women and Risk on Mum­bai Streets

This last week, we have seen two spe­cific con­ver­sa­tions around rape on na­tional and so­cial me­dia, in re­sponse to two judg­ments. In the Bilkis Bano case, the Bom­bay High Court up­held the life sen­tences of the 11 con­victed, and also con­victed seven more for tam­per­ing with ev­i­dence. In the ‘Nirb­haya’ case, the Supreme Court up­held cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment for the four con­victed.

The first con­ver­sa­tion fo­cuses on the na­ture of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment and mainly ar­gues that the state can­not do what it would con­sider a crime when done by its ci­ti­zens. The sec­ond fo­cuses on the dis­tinc­tion be­tween two judg­ments, both con­cern­ing gan­grape and mur­der, though in one case it was the rape vic­tim who was also mur­dered (Nirb­haya) and in the sec­ond it was the fam­ily mem­bers (of Bilkis Bano) who were mur­dered. This sec­ond con­ver­sa­tion asks why the case of a sup­pos­edly mid­dle class vic­tim at­tacked by ‘lower class’ men in a city is seen as the ‘rarest of the rare’, and there­fore mer­its the death penalty, while an at­tack on a Mus­lim woman when part of an at­tack on her en­tire com­mu­nity is not given that same sta­tus.

One has only to look at the his­tory of Par­ti­tion vi­o­lence, or the Rwan­dan or Bos­nian geno­cides, or at com­mu­nal at­tacks like those in Gu­jarat or Muzaf­far­na­gar, or by armies at­tempt­ing to con­trol se­ces­sion­ist pop­u­la­tions, as in Kash­mir or Ma­nipur, to know that rape is used as a weapon of war—whether this is be­tween na­tions or com­mu­ni­ties. Rape is a weapon. When women are stalked on the streets or trolled on­line, one of the most com­mon threats made is that of rape. When we fo­cus on sex­ual as­sault as a fate worse than death, we play into pa­tri­ar­chal val­ues that prize a woman’s sex­ual virtue over all else.

The rec­om­men­da­tions of the Jus­tice Verma Committee sug­gested that at­tacks against women be seen along a con­tin­uum, and in keep­ing with these rec­om­men­da­tions, stalk­ing and acid at­tacks were in­cluded un­der the purview of the Crim­i­nal Law Amend­ment Act, 2013. Tellingly, the committee’s sug­ges­tion that rape com­mit­ted by army­men in re­gions where the AFSPA is im­posed be tried in reg­u­lar courts, did not make it to the new law.

Fam­i­lies are anx­ious not only about daugh­ters be­ing vi­o­lated, but also about daugh­ters mak­ing in­de­pen­dent choices in con­sent­ing re­la­tion­ships with men not cho­sen by their fam­i­lies. Ruk­mini S’s sur­vey in 2014 for a na­tional news­pa­per on re­ported rape cases in Delhi showed that a third of the cases dealt with con­sent­ing cou­ples, where the par­ents ac­cused the young man of rape. Neha Dixit’s ex­posé in 2014, about the young Hindu woman in Meerut who was forced by her fam­ily to file a case of ab­duc­tion and gan­grape against her Mus­lim boyfriend, and was used as an ex­am­ple of ‘love ji­had’, re­veals ever more com­plex lay­ers to rape cases. In­ter­est­ingly, mar­i­tal rape is yet an­other crime rec­om­mended for in­clu­sion by the Verma Committee that did not make it to the law.

In Ut­tar Pradesh, the new gov­ern­ment pur­ports to keep women safe by in­sti­tut­ing anti-Romeo squads. In many vil­lages and towns, lo­cal women are sought to be pro­tected from them­selves by deny­ing them the use of in­de­pen­dent mo­bile phones or two wheel­ers. The fo­cus is on con­trol­ling women and pre­vent­ing them from mak­ing sex­ual choices, rather than on safety as women would de­fine it them­selves.

My own work on women’s ac­cess to pub­lic spa­ces has sug­gested that while safety nar­ra­tives have taken over the main­stream me­dia con­ver­sa­tion on gen­der, these nar­ra­tives fo­cus dis­pro­por­tion­ately on the dan­ger that awaits women in cities, es­pe­cially from strangers. The fear of rape then be­comes a way in which lov­ing fam­i­lies re­strict their daugh­ters. When fam­i­lies ask their daugh­ters to stay home af­ter dark, they might eas­ily say some­thing like “Bet­ter safe than sorry, re­mem­ber Nirb­haya”, but if we in­clude the fact that the great­est pro­por­tion of all vi­o­lence—in­clud­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence—takes place at home, we would know that rape is not some­thing that one can avoid by just “stay­ing at home”.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.