By Amla Pisharody
On Monday, 25th July 2016, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief, Raj Thackeray, demanded Sharia-like laws to deal with rapists. He said that the hands and legs of those who molest and kill children and women should be cut off. This was in response to the rape of a minor in Ahmednagar.
This is of course not the first time a politician has asked for extreme and violent measures to deal with rapists. In 2013, in a public meeting, former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said that a more permanent solution to stopping incidents of rape can be achieved if the genitals of rapists are cut off. His opinion seems to be supported by a Madras High Court Order on considering castration as a form of punishment for child rapists. The judge in the order said that, “Suggestion of castration looks barbaric, but barbaric crimes should definitely attract barbaric model of punishment […] Court is sure that additional punishment of castration of child rapists would fetch magical results in preventing and containing child abuses.” In the past, politicians like Sushma Swaraj, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Sushil Kumar Shinde have all favoured capital punishment for rapists.
There’s no evidence to indicate that capital punishment deters any crime, including rape, which is why country after country is abolishing capital punishment.
According to a National Crime Records Bureau report of 2014, of the 37,413 cases reported, in 32,187 of those cases, the rapist was known to the woman or they were in close proximity to them. This could mean that the reporting is already tough because of the close proximity of relationship, as women will be faced with reporting their fathers, uncles, friends, colleagues, brothers, neighbours etc. Add to this the fear that what awaits is chemical castration or hanging. Chances that both victim and other members of the family (who might perhaps support her) will report the case are likely to reduce.
In this context it’s interesting to note that if you look up countries that use capital punishment for rape vs. those countries that have not criminalised marital rape, the list has more or less the same names. For example, countries such as Egypt, Bangladesh, Brunei, China, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Vietnam, and UAE, all have both capital punishment for rape and no recognition for marital rape. These are all countries that assume that the ‘rapist is out there’.
The machismo of ‘hang them, hack them’ drowns out the conversation on steps that should be taken to ensure safety of children and women, and to improve conviction of the rapes. Further, the threat of capital punishment could lead to rapists killing the victim after committing rape, as murder and rape would have the same punishment.
The two recent cases, one of a Dalit student being gang-raped for the second time and one of a 14-year-Dalit girl being raped and tortured to death by her rapist out on bail, show that for the case to go to court alone is a struggle: once it is in court awaiting hearing dates, the bigger issues are trying to fight off threats from the accused and the lack of security provided by the State to survivors of rape. The question of punishment is much further down the lane. Read this account of one of the Shakti Mills rape survivors and you encounter moments from the legal proceedings such as this: “Here is the routine of the identification parade that Megha is told to follow. There are separate line-ups of seven men, and the survivor has to pick the accused by touching him on the arm. She then has to go to a corner of the room, and announce loudly what the suspect did to her. And this is what Megha does on 4 September, in a room full of men that include her attackers, without any women officers present to aid her. She touches the men on the arm to identify them, and then says, Isne mera balatkaar kiya (He sexually assaulted me). She repeats this four times over.”
Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association and Polit Bureau member of the Communist Part of India (Marxist), once said in an interview that the question we need to ask is not whether the laws are severe enough, but whether they are gender-just. What is the point of having laws that castrate or hang rapists, when marital rape is still not recognised, when AFSPA still exists to perpetuate sexual violence on women, and when women are basically denied equal rights?
Hanging men also does not address the other issues that women face on daily basis — like eve teasing, moral policing, molestation etc. Politicians have in fact only supported this environment, by saying women must not be adventurous (former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit), or that women must be careful about what they wear and at what time they go out. Their body language must not draw the attention of potential rapists lurking around on the streets (National Congress Party leader Asha Mirje).
When politicians make noisy bombastic statements about killing rapists, it’s a neat little diversion from work. How do you create environments in which women can report rape, be safe after reporting, stay secure and strong during trials, and create conditions in which rape trials can be sensitive? All of this is hard work and requires more effort than simply hanging someone. It requires challenging existing laws that are biased against women; it requires making changes in the educational system by introducing sex education and sensitising young adults and children; it requires us, and especially politicians, to stop moral policing women, a task that requires a little more than gruesome solutions such as “cutting the hands and legs of rapists”.
So if you don’t mind, Raj Thackeray and the rest of you, don’t give speeches and demand blood in our names. Call us after you’ve done some work.
Co-published with Firstpost.