SHOULD THERE BE DEATH PENALTY FOR RAPE?
As the nation turns 51, there’s someone else who turns 51 too. Aruna Shanbaug. That’s all there is to her now; her name. Nothing changes in Aruna’s life. Except the calendar which will record the 51st year of her birth. And the 25th year since being raped so savagely that all she is capable of now are howls, like those of a grievously wounded animal. Twenty-four hours a day for twenty-four years, her battered body has been racked by its own conflicts. Her mind is imprisoned. Somewhere in her heart is a tightly-locked core in which a male voice and a male touch – strikes such a shaft of terror that her screams bounce off the walls. On November 27, 1973, before rape, Sohanlal Bhartha wound the dog’s chain so tightly around her slender neck, that he also cut off the oxygen supply to her brain. The savagery of that twist of the chain coupled with the viciousness of the rape; not a single feat of medical science, with all its progress, has been able to undo the result.
(Sohanlal was sent to jail for a maximum of seven years and was released after completing his sentence).
Baghpat (a village near U.P.) and Maya Tyagi are synonymous with the shame of a nation. On June 18, 1980 she, a 6 months pregnant, was beaten up with slippers and lathis, stripped, paraded naked and dragged to the police station. There, led by inspector-in-charge, she was assaulted and raped by three policemen. A lathi was pushed up her vagina, tearing it so badly that it required four stitches, there were 25 other injuries on her person. She has still to recover from the nightmare of Baghpat.
(The three policemen were acquitted due to lack of evidence by the Court).
These are the replays of the rapes of Aruna Shanbaug and Maya Tyagi not because their tragedies are to be examined and exploited like some medical specimen but to reveal the mental agony faced by victims of rape and where actual culprits were acquitted, bailed or punished with minor imprisonments. It may be the much infamous Mathura’s rape case where the honourable Supreme Court could not convict the accused as the victim was admittedly proved to be a consenting party to what in reality was a gang-rape or the slightly different Julna Sheri’s case who was studying in third standard at that time. She is now 19 years old, and having lost her virginity she still remains unmarried, undergoing the untold agony of the traumatic experience and the deathless shame inflicted on her. Evidently, the victim is under the impression that there is no monsoon season in her life and that her future chances of getting married and settling down in a respectable family are completely marred.
As writer Germaine Greer sarcastically puts: “There is no female Leonardo da Vinci, no female Jitan or Michaelangelo. The reason does not lie in the fact that women have wombs, that they can have babies, that their brains are smaller, that they lack vigour, that they are not sensual. The reason simply is that you can’t make great artists out of egos that have been damaged.” Not damaged simply but killed, murdered rather butchered mercilessly. Can we expect Aruna, Maya, Julna or Mathura to do something creative? Majority of the victims are not bold enough to take up weapons and become Phoolan Devi or prove their worth by escaping like Manish who could jump from a running DTC bus and could save her modesty.
One rape every 54 minutes. (As reported in a section of the Press). So the news barely titillates. We see, we read, we hear and we forget. No emotion, no pain and no guilt. And everyone knows that what gets reported in the media is just a fraction of what gets reported to the law enforcement authorities and what’s reported to them is the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
“God made the woman for man”. All these men appear to be taking these words to their hearts and so are thinking only of making “use” of her for their “needs”. Nobody is concerned at what cost! But these very men seem to have turned a blind eye to the next stanza in Alfred Tennyson’s poem “… and for the good of the world”.
It is the woman who starts feeding the man before life begins for him. It is the woman who rocks the man while in the cradle. It is the woman who teaches a man how to stand on his own legs and subsequently take a step. In addition to all these, the woman has also proved that whatever a man can do to make a livelihood, she can do as well and in a better way. Still, this male-dominated society fails to respect her as a “woman”. Why she remains mere a ‘mast-mast cheez’ once outside the four walls of her house?
Today, eve-teasing is a phenomenon which all of us take for granted. But rape is such a barbaric and inhuman act which sends shivers down everybody’s spine. An offence in which the victim has to suffer for a crime for the rest of her life where she is totally an innocent party. In which she may die or commit suicide after the act. Still worse, she is sent to kothas or so-called body-business centres and dies a death everyday. Those lucky enough to escape from the hell live a low profile life at some unknown place as her family and the society refuse to accept her as a normal member. No sympathy words for her except shouting and slogans by some NGOs or Human Rights activists. An exercise which may give pleasure to some but which is painful for the victim and that too, physically, psychologically and socially as well.
What punishment does our system provide to the guilty? Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 says: “Whoever commits rape shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall be not less than 7 years but which may be for life or for a term which may extend to 10 years and shall also be liable to fine.”
Is this the proper justice and right approach to handle such a barbaric act? One who is the innocent party and victim has to suffer for the whole of her life while the guilty party and accused is acquitted after, say, 7, 10 or 14 years! Great justice to the already exploited section of the society.
Can we boast of entering the 21st century when our women have been deprived of the basic Human Rights and are subject to such inhuman and cruel acts?
They say we have laws. What do our laws do? Our good laws are on par with castrated bulls. Fierce to look at but ineffective when it matters. There are so many flaws in the existing laws that usually the culprit is bailed out exercising his powerful connections. They remain untouchables attired in Ujli Khadi or Van Heusen trousers, may be sporting a Titan on their unforgivable wrists. It is also a well recognised fact that bias, general inefficiency and corruption in the police force are responsible for the ineffectiveness of most criminal laws dealing with women. But along with all these, we forget that Indian Penal Code was framed in 1860, at a time, when the prevailing value system did not consider crimes against women a major phenomenon to understand and deal with. Nor were these rotten, morally decrepit characters and lost traditions so prominent at that time. Today age-old IPC has been proved to be an ineffective deterrent to this growing menace. Nothing less than a death penalty would work to check such kind of inhuman acts. It is very hard to transform such devils who are extreme psychic cases or professionals. Only fear of death may deter them from indulging in such heinous crimes.
There are various other factors also which add to such perversities. Obnoxious and deplorable portrayal of women on screen and in advertisements, coupled with almost uncensored exhibition of female anatomy, are few ingredients to it, thanks to satellite culture. Day by day increasing beauty contests have become ‘Body Numaish’ contests exciting the ordinary man. These prove to be the beginning to a dead end for most of the beauty queens except a few lucky Aishwaryas and Sushmitas. Some time ago a former Miss Calcutta was caught red handed while dealing with her customers in New Delhi. She was reportedly exploited by some producers who promised her some good roles in films. Who bothers that behind every Madhuri dancing to the tunes of Ek, do, teen…. or mera piya ghar aaya…. is one Munnibai or Heerabai who lost themselves in the dark and blind-ended streets of metros aspiring to be big models or actresses.
Undoubtedly, the battle will have to be fought in other fora as well. But still this does not mean that the law should not provide a comprehensive framework to prosecute the offenders, to give victims an instrument to fight their battles. There are cases where the complainant is made to feel most unwelcome and embarrassed by the police. She is dissuaded from starting upon the journey to justice. If she insists, the system victimises her and helps the offender. All such cases should be taken care of strictly and guilty must be punished with rigorous punishment.
Such an ill which has crept in to our institutions cannot be cured by medications alone. There is need to operate and cut away the damaged parts and malignant cancerous growth. Surely, the plight of millions of Mathuras in this country is as important as that of Golaknath and His Holiness Keshavananda Bharti challenging the validity of restriction on the right to property as a Fundamental Right. It is imperative therefore to amend the law and to sensitise it. Such offenders who are menace to the civilised society should be mercilessly and inexorably punished in the severest terms. They should suffer for their deeds. In ancient times also it was punishable with death.
Lenity proves to be producing terrible consequences. Therefore, Judges who bear the sword of Justice should not hesitate to use that sword with the utmost severity to the full and to the end because the gravity of the offence so demands. We also need streamlined remedial measures to ensure not only quick and effective access to justice but also fair and speedy results from courts. Legislation alone can’t solve social, psychological or political problems but it can be used as a weapon provided the hand that wields the weapon has the will, the power and the freedom to do so.
There must not be anything less than death penalty for the offender who leaves no celebrations for Aruna for 25 years or for Maya for 20 precious years of their lives. Moreover, future of judicial protection of Human Rights at grass root level in India at the turn of the century leaves us with no other and better alternative. No Mathura, Maya, Tulna or Aruna anymore!