EDITORIAL; Facing up to shame of rape
5 January 2013
IF A nation is judged by how its women are treated, India has much to answer for in allowing a male-dominated culture to express sexual urges wantonly and often with impunity. Tragically, a young woman had to die from the unspeakable violence of gang rape before the public conscience was visibly pricked.
Official attention is now being paid to tackling such crimes in a more decisive way, but only after tens of thousands of protesters demanding justice for the victim had met with police baton charges, tear gas and water cannon in New Delhi streets. Ironically, the law enforcement often missing after sexual crimes are reported was out in full force when people objected to the sorry state of affairs.
The demonstration of public outrage won few promises, some of which might go unmet once the spotlight dims. Enhancing punishment, even threatening the death penalty, will not deter criminals if law enforcement officers are unwilling to investigate and judges are reluctant to convict. Instead of acting swiftly on complaints, investigators often blame or taunt the victim into silent suffering. In another recent gang rape, a 17-year-old in Punjab killed herself after policemen humiliated her, according to her family.
While reported rape cases rose from 3,000 in 1973 to 24,000 in 2011, conviction rates dropped from 46 per cent to 26 per cent in the last 40 years. New Delhi, "the rape capital of India", had 600 cases last year but only one conviction. So, any investigative and judicial reforms will have to be matched with action on the ground.
Other proposals offered are problematic like a "name and shame" campaign to display convicted rapists' names, photos and addresses on the Web. In the process, victims might be indirectly identified and be stigmatised as a result.
What it will take to change the situation is no less than a transformation of gender values. Women will need to take their equal and rightful place in society in an effective and meaningful way. This will call for better education and employment opportunities, bride dowries should become obsolete, and the preference for sons over daughters should cease. In particular, the perverse belief of villagers that a woman brings dishonour to the family if raped needs to be scotched.
Modern India has excelled in many areas and its talented people have done their society proud in diverse fields internationally. These will help propel India into an economic and political powerhouse in Asia. Progress in these areas will have to be matched on the social front too if India is to take its place among the top tier of nations.