Friday, January 20, 2012

Rape and Civil Society


The Ministry of Women and Child development has finally proposed an amendment to law in that the definition of rape be broadened in order to make the law more comprehensive and gender neutral. Dr. Ramesh Grandhi explores how civil society continues to sweep the real issues behind rape under the carpet.

Rape is a crime where more often than not the perpetrator goes scot free, if I were to hazard an educated guess I would say that even in these modern times rape victims prefer to suffer silently rather go through a media circus in trying to have the offender punished. The stigma attached to rape still exists and it is perhaps a sad comment on our society.

Rape of Europa - Painting by Rubens

It is slightly heartening to note that governments all of the world are waking up to this crime against humanity and making sure the definition of rape becomes even more inclusive, it is imperative that the definition should not allow wriggle room for the rapist. The 1998 International Criminal Tribunal defined Rape as “a physical invasion of a sexual nature committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive”. This definition does seem to give enough latitude to prosecutors to bring down the force of law on rapists.

The US government recently announced that it was expanding its definition of rape to include men and also rapes of women other than by physical force. The Obama administration and especially Joe Biden, the Vice President, should be congratulated for this. I don’t really know whether the stats mentioned are true but according to them one in five women are rape victims, a fact that should make all human beings bow their heads in shame!


Another article the same day mentioned that in Delhi nearly all rapes are by relatives and neighbors, shockingly 98% of the offenders were known to the victim. Though stats were provided indicating a decline in incidence per lakh of population, social workers have long contested these stats, their argument being a majority of cases are not even brought to the notice of the authorities.

I am more concerned with the trauma the victim goes through, sometimes to the extent of complete depersonalization or dissociation. Mood swings, nightmares, reliving the assault repeatedly, further sinking into depression and even desolation, and even attempting suicide.

Society sometimes compounds its own mistakes by indulging in victim blaming, subtly indicating that perhaps the victim brought this on herself by either flirtatious behavior or dressing ‘indecently’. This is just a cop out and should not be given any credence whatsoever; the perpetrator will have committed the crime due to either anger, a need to impose himself, sadism, or gratification. Evolutionary pressures have also been listed as a factor, I guess the rapist wants to ‘evolve’ to the stage of his evolutionary forefathers, the Great Apes of Tarzan, even Kerchak was better behaved than these human beasts!

Civil society should do whatever it can to prevent these assaults, and even in India we are noticing that the authorities have slowly woken up to the problem. However, Civil Society has a greater responsibility in making sure victims of sexual assault don’t end up paying for crimes that were committed against them. Society as a whole should move in concert against the stigma attached to rape. Victims and in fact everyone should be educated that being raped is not the end of the world. Psychiatrists and psychologists will know better than me that perhaps with changes in societal thinking the stigma attached to rape can be slowly obliterated.

This is no easy task as these mores have been built into our society from times immemorial, stories of rape, suicide, and how such incidents have been used to achieve political ends have been well documented—the Lucretia legend is a fine example. After reading her travails one is moved, but I was left wondering if instead of committing suicide would she not have served womankind better if she had taken up cudgels herself and brought the perpetrator to book? Why should the victim need to commit suicide?

It is my earnest hope that society for once sits up and acts, acts before innocence gets trampled by brutish louts.

1 comment:

  1. Goood read and very courageous to take up such a strong topic!

    ReplyDelete

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