Monday, September 16, 2013

True, death sentences won't end crime, but a wounded society needs relief

People's fury over the Delhi gang rape is a continuing thing as proved by the explosion of emotions at judgment time. When the pronouncement of punishment was put off by a few days, angry crowds raised slogans of protest. Defence lawyers were harangued by irate citizens for daring to plead for the criminals. The cry for death penalty rose from all quarters. A nation was in rage.

And in frustration, we might add. Despite the death sentence passed by the court, the feeling lingered that the violence against women was not going to go away in India, adjudged the worst country for women among the well-to-do G-20 nations in a 2011 study; even Saudi Arabia was safer than India. If the Delhi, Manipal and Mumbai gang rapes caught mass attention, thousands of others went unnoticed. Among the victims have been six- and five-year-olds and, recently, a five-month-old.

This is happening despite vastly increased public awareness and tightening of laws. One reason is that law-makers and law-enforcers are half-hearted about solving the problem. In fact they are part of the problem. It is well-known that the police across the country look suspiciously at women going to them with complaints. Rather often women are raped inside police stations. Politicians are no better. In UP-Bihar and more recently in Haryana, ministers and MLAs have been brazen in their abuse of women, sometimes leading to the suicide or murder of the victims. Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal was inspired by the Mumbai gang rape to advise all women to pay attention to what they wear.

Perhaps insensitivity is required qualification for politicians everywhere. US presidential candidate Santhorum publicly proclaimed that pregnancy through rape should be accepted as a gift from God. A US senator said that in the case of "a legitimate rape", women's bodies had ways to shut down (meaning, to block pregnancy). Putting them all in the shade, Asaram Bapu said that the Delhi rape victim was equally at fault and could have avoided the rape had she taken guru diksha, chanted the Saraswati Mantra and pleaded with her tormentors for mercy. Did any of the victims of this man, currently in jail on rape charges, escape by chanting the Saraswati Mantra in the nick of time? This proves yet again that the thinking that goes with a crime is more dangerous than the crime itself. In Rajasthan last year a father used a sword to behead his 20-year-old daughter for marrying a lower-caste boy. Then he went about displaying the blood-oozing head of his daughter as a warning to other girls eyeing boys below their caste.

Rape becomes particularly heinous when the mindset behind it calls for extraordinary cruelty as well. The gang that raped the girl in the Delhi bus was not satisfied with mere sex. Sadism was also at play, the gang inflicting unspeakable tortures on her, including pushing an iron rod inside her. News came from Indore last year of a man locking up his wife's private parts before he went to work every morning. He didn't do it by using a chastity belt, invented in the 15th century and available even today on-line. He preferred a device of his own which he fitted around his wife's vital areas by "drilling holes" on her body.

Such attitudes make it a dim picture for those who hope that court pronouncements would be a deterrent to criminals. As one defence lawyer put it, would killing rapists make streets safer for women? Will death penalty end crime? Logical questions. But sometimes it helps if logic makes way for emotion. A death sentence may on occasion provide badly needed relief for a public conscience wounded by inexplicable brutality. The right punishment would have been what Sri Krishna gave to Ashwatama -- roam about the earth for 3000 years, shunned by all and tormented by all diseases on earth. Perhaps the so-called juvenile who was the cruellest in the gang but escaped with only three years in a rehabilitation centre, will get something akin to that kind of just justice.