Saturday, December 22, 2012

Crime and Punishment: A Rape in Delhi

Today the Delhi police arrested and blasted with water cannons those protesting the brutal gang-rape that sparked protests and social-media outrage. There are pictures too—of a young jean-clad woman being dragged away by cops. And of signs exhorting the death penalty for rape. And multitudes of young people protesting apathy or outright police and politician collusion with criminals in India’s capital.

This has been a media and social media sensation: the awful terrifying details of the rape, the petitions to make death penalty the punishment for the crime, the updates on the condition of the ICU-bound victim. No…not victim. The survivor. She was left for dead. She survived. She is no victim. A victim does not fight. She fought to live.

And that is why I am against the death penalty for rape crowd. Rape is an awful, terrible, horrific crime but it is not the same as murder. Anyone who is raped, , anyone who has been brutalized and lives is a survivor. If they do not, then by all means apply the penalty for murder. First figure out what rape is, what it really means before you start applying penalties. Penalties, which seem to equate rape with death. Rape is one of the most horrific things to happen to a woman. But it is not the worst. Not surviving a rape is the worst. No matter how much she suffers, dying is still worse. Because until there is life there is a promise of a future. And women do not need to be told that being raped is the end of everything good in their lives. That is giving too much power to the rapist, the men who feel like men only when they take by force what was not theirs to take. Equating rape to death makes women eternally suffering victims.

For too long has rape been akin to murder and to do so is to diminish the survivor. It feeds into the motivations between honor killings, as in the destruction and besmirching of some man's property.As if the one raped is forever tainted by being forced to have something that mimics sex. Being raped is not the burden of the survivor. The only one dishonored is the perpetrator. Being raped does not make a woman less a woman. It does not make her less alive. It does not make her less in control of her future.

Remember those old movies where the raped woman had only two options: to kill herself or to become a prostitute? That is how Indian society has viewed raped women. If you are a good girl, recognize your dishonor and kill yourself. If not, then recognize that the forced violation of your body has left you with only one recourse, to become a slut and a vehicle for men’s lust. 


The best revenge a survivor has is to go on with her life. The only way is to go forward, to testify, to face her assailants and gain the courage to take her life back. Rape is a crime and it needs to be punished. But is death penalty the solution? Why?

The severity of the punishment is not the solution. Some kind of punishment is the solution. India has the lowest conviction rates around. Where is the outrage against that? Why is there no outrage that there are really no forensics or scientific evidence given in Indian courts? Even rape cases become a he said-she said scenario with eyewitness accounts and other archaic tools. So then if a survivor is left paralyzed or unable to speak how do her assailants get prosecuted?

If a rapist (as in this case) is from a lower socio-economic class he might get sentenced. This is still the Indian justice system right? Where the police catch a hold of the first poor person, beat the hell out of him and force him to confess to a crime even if the perpetrator was someone else—especially if that someone is rich of well-connected. This is also the India where cops believe that a woman who drinks or who has consensual sex has no business complaining about rape. It is also the India where the “what was she wearing to bring it on,” is still used successfully in court an where judges take moralistic stances against those who are raped and advise them to get married to their rapists.

So it doesn’t matter if rape gets the death penalty. Or if at the point of death we cut the man down, whip him and string him up again ten times. It doesn’t matter because the conviction rates for any crime are so low. It doesn’t matter because as a nation we still don’t agree on what rape is.

I’ll tell you what it’s not. Rape is not about sex. What is it about? It is about control. And violence. And rage. And domination. It is about inflicting physical, emotional and psychological damage. The fact that it takes on the parody of a sex act is incidental. Sex is about pleasure. And it is about mutual choice and consent. Rape is about pain and the lack of choice and the steamrolling of consent.

We might ask why Indian men have so much anger against Indian women? So much anger that makes them leer and touch and molest and assault openly. Rage that makes them rape and attack? What lets them worship a goddess and kill his female fetus or his already born daughter? There is something, something that is making our male-female ratio plunge to alarming numbers. Something that makes them want to annihilate women. Not all men and not all women but enough to make me wonder. Why? And how can we reverse this trend. Can we? Can Indian women get justice? True justice, not reactionary, bandaid justice.

So the Delhi Police might blast away protestors—men and women—but they cannot blast away the truth. Rape is an act of violence. And it needs an appropriate punishment. What that punishment is can be debated later. What we need are profound changes so that survivors can live with their heads held high and perpetrators get appropriate sentences and the justice system is indeed about that most elusive thing of all—justice.


Discovery Journeys India said...

Fascinating post and very informative.
Thanks for this.

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judith bussey said...

You're speaking truth to reality. Go Girl. I shared your words on this very important issue.