Gender: The ideology of rape needs to be attacked

With the Thomson-Reuters report and a spate of fresh rape cases, the flawed argument for death penalty for rapists is gaining limelight. We have to stop reinforcing masculinities in our lives

Getty images
Getty images

Kavita Srivastava

The argument of the death penalty with rape is back, with the Thomson Reuters Foundation survey global poll of about 550 experts on women’s issues, which put India at the top, making it the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence and being forced into slave labour, behind even war-torn Afghanistan and Syria.

The horror of the Mandsaur (MP) rape, got the media into a high pitched ‘hang the killer’ as the only solution to the constant increase in sexual crimes, taking away the gravity of a life sentence which takes away your freedom and civil liberties completely. This is followed by arguments relating to installing CCTV cameras in all public places, including buses, more security guards, street lights and better policing, speedy justice and of course more budgets and financing for all this.

Well, let us look into each one of them. It is our clear cut understanding that the death penalty is no solution to the increasing brutality and violence against women and children, as the risk of doing away with the violated woman or girls is higher than any deterrence that it may have.

The most valuable and clinching evidence is the testimony of the survivor of violence, as the SC has again and again said that the testimony of the violated woman is paramount in rape.

The harsher the punishment gets in the statute book, the risk on the life of the violated woman and girl is higher. Also the courts would expect the investigation throw up evidence which is crystal clear, so acquittals too would follow more easily than conviction.

Until the woman’s autonomy is not at the core, we will only be addressing the symptoms of sexual violence and rape

Those arguing in favour of the death penalty are also arguing in favour of retributive justice, whereas in our country, including in our statute books there is space for correction and reform of the criminal. In fact our jails are actually supposed to be correctional/reformative homes, with jail authorities and staff being (not from the police) but those who have come from society with a comprehensive training of reform of the human being.

The experiments of the 60s when the first open jail was started in Jaipur Rajasthan, with more than 26 jails today, clearly establishes a case for reform, where people having committed the worst crimes, including rape and murder when given an opportunity to go back half way into society, like in an open jail, where relatives and families can stay with you have not repeated the crime.

It is also strange that with the increasing desire of the public opinion of wanting to see blood for blood or blood for rape, the snatching away of freedom and liberty by due process of law, through a life or a shorter sentence is considered not enough. It is frequently argued that life sentence gets reduced to 14 years and it is intermittently filled with leave from jail for parole and other rights provided in the jail manual.

This argument of course got the better of the executive and the lawmakers who introduced sections 375 (2) and 376 (A) in the post Nirbhaya amendments brought to the criminal law, where it states that if the woman dies or goes into a persistent vegetative state, the quantum of punishment may be life imprisonment with an additional phrase, ‘for the remainder of the person’s natural life or with death.’ This new addition of the remainder of the person’s natural life or with death takes away the entire reformatory dimension to the jail manual or to the existence of life itself, condemning the prisoner to death. It also takes away any scope of reform even in under eighteens, with the recent amendments in POCSO.

The question to ask is whether condemning a rapist for life, till the last breath or sending to the gallows, reduce the increasing crimes of rape, sexual violence, trafficking for sex and labour. The above choices may end up eliminating one person from life or from society (to breathe to his last in jail), but it does not change the culture of rape and sexual violence in our society.

The culture of rape and sexual violence exists because of reinforcing masculinities in every dimension of our lives. Masculinities are not only synonymous with violence against women alone, rather sexual assault becomes a tool through which nations, states, armies and communities assert their power. In that sense women’s bodies no longer belong to them; they belong to men who are emasculated by using sexual assaults. And these masculinities are of those who have the courage to ‘share’ and ‘enjoy’ these victories through the documented violence, which the social media has made even easier.

The Kathua gang rape and murder case could not have established this any better. In present times, not only are the bodies commodified but even violence, pain and humiliation is commodified given the neo-liberal markets we live in. Until this ideology of rape is not attacked, until the woman’s autonomy is not at the core, we will only be addressing the symptoms of sexual violence and rape. In times of the state apparatus being taken over by Hindutva politics and the social fabric normalising hate violence, the solutions become tougher for gendered violence. Since at the core of the Hindutva is a celebrated masculinity.

Not to belittle the CCTVs, better lighting, good policing, more security, speedy justice, which are mechanisms to prevent some of the crisis, but the answers lie in a concerted fight against patriarchy, from all sections of society.

(The writer is national secretary of PUCL)

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