WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
What is the unmistakeable sign of a developed and civilized society? It has become important not to be carried away by per capita incomes and allied parameters of development that can be very misleading about true development and a level of civilization that indicates true development. One encouraging trend is that a country’s per capita income has ceased to be the measure of its development. These days there are several other far more reliable indicators of development such as literacy rate, the level of empowerment of women, indicators of proper health care and so on that are assessed together to arrive at a much more dependable picture of the level of a country’s development. And one of the important parameters that is also considered is the level of crime in a country.
When it comes to crime, we have to admit with bowed heads that the crime rate in India is very high. And what makes the scenario much worse is that most of the crimes committed in India are sexual crimes often committed against minors. A recent analysis done by Child Rights and You (CRY) has revealed that crimes against minors have increased in India by 500 per cent over the last 10 years. CRY has done a cumulative analysis that revealed an increase of sexual crimes against children to 106,958 in 2016 as against 18,967 in 2006. According to a CRY statement, “More than 50 per cent of crimes against children have been recorded in just five States: Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and West Bengal.” The CRY analysis has also revealed that while Uttar Pradesh has topped the list with 15 per cent of recorded crimes against children, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh come close at 14 and 13 per cent respectively. “It is also a matter of grave concern that in 11 out of 36 States and Union Territories (UTs), more than 50 per cent of the offences against children are sexual offences and in 25 out of 36 States and UTs more than one-third of the crimes against children are sex crimes,” it added. Even the National crime Records Bureau data of 2016 suggests that crimes against children in India have increased by 14 per cent from 2015. According to a 2016 analysis of crimes under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, sexual offences accounted for one-third of all crimes against children in India. According to it, a sexual offence is committed against a child in India every 15 minutes.
In other words, we live in a country where it is no longer safe for a child or a woman to walk alone after sunset. Is this the free India that our predecessors strove to create for us? Is this the kind of India that we wish to leave for our future generations? The questions assume special significance in view of the very large number of crimes against women and children that are being committed in States like Assam as well. What is both intriguing and saddening is that in talking about the crimes against women and children in India, people providing the data and the statistics seem to have left out Assam and the Northeast entirely. It is extremely shocking to learn that in Assam alone there have been 3,009 cases of rape in just two years. On an average, there are 17 cases of rape committed in Assam every week. And we are talking only about rape cases that get reported. There could well be many more cases of rape that go unreported because once the identity of the victims becomes known, it becomes well-nigh impossible for them to get married. Quite a few of the cases of gang rape of small girls have been followed with murder of the rape victim. There has been a lot of justified anger following the gang-rape and subsequent murder of an eight-year-old girl in the Kathua district of Jammu & Kashmir recently. But there have been similar gang-rapes of minor girls in Assam as well. Surprisingly, the so-called national press has missed out much of what has been happening in places like Dhubri, Dhing, Lanka and Bongaigaon of Assam. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently appealed to the nation not to do politics with the Kathua incident. But correct reporting of such incidents of rape (especially gang-rape of minors followed by murder) make attempts to conceal such incidents much more difficult. And actually the politicization of such crimes often takes place mainly due to the attempts to conceal them in order to protect someone. The records of rape cases often reveal that the criminals involved were people known to politicians. There have even been instances of politicians themselves being involved in rape cases when the efforts to hush up such cases have been all the more frenetic and desperate. As such, the politicization of crimes like rape generally stems from attempts to hush up such cases rather than through factual reports of the crimes committed. As such, the initiatives made by the government to ensure that the media does not reveal the identities of rape victims are laudable. However, even responsible sections of the media have failed to ensure that the identity of rape victims is protected at all times.
Apparently, there are 13 listed types of rape, and rape happens to be the fourth common crime against women in India. It is perhaps pointless to split hairs of definition in respect of one of the most heinous crimes against women and even minor girls. It is a crime that degrades one of the most beautiful and cherished human bondings that bind a man and woman together. But it is the kind of bonding that remains beautiful and cherished only when there is mutual consent between the two individuals. There is also the natural expectation that the bonding is sanctified by the ceremony of marriage in most cases and in most human societies. But things have changed a lot especially in the Western world, where marriage is not regarded as an essential prerequisite for intercourse between two adults. The key factors in such relationships outside the ties of matrimony are love and deep concern for each other’s well being. When love and concern underpin any human relationship, consent generally becomes axiomatic. But the determining factor that can turn a beautiful and cherished human act of bonding into something too ugly for words and totally repugnant to everyone except hardened criminals is the lack of consent. It is the lack of consent that turns lovemaking into a criminal act. In fact, the law is not seriously worried about whether the two individuals engaged in sexual intercourse are married or not. The crucial issue is whether there was consent between the two adults. In any case, the use of force that degrades lovemaking to rape is the most vital factor when we accuse someone of the crime.
There are not too many civilized countries in the world that still have capital punishment in their laws. India is one of the countries that has retained capital punishment. The question that arises is, therefore, related to what crimes deserve capital punishment. Should capital punishment be reserved only for murder? Is there no other crime that is as heinous as murder? There are many who rightly regard rape as being no less heinous a crime than murder. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the demand for the death penalty for rapists should be gaining a very large number of supporters. And a State that has been witness to 3,009 cases of rape in just two years should naturally be far more concerned about combating the heinous crime of rape than it seems to be now.
An ordinance to award the death penalty to those convicted of raping a child up to 12 years of age was due to have come up before the Union Cabinet yesterday. This is, at best, a half-hearted initiative considering the number of rape cases even in a State like Assam. If we are to have an ordinance instead of a permanent law, let it be one that awards the death penalty to those convicted of raping a minor and not just a child up to the age of 12 years. And let us have an ordinance that also ensures speedy trials of those accused of rape. So far, we have had 3,009 cases of rape in Assam within a period of just two years. There have also been over 1,700 arrests. [We do not understand why everyone charged of rape has not been arrested.] What we fail to understand is why none of the accused in rape cases have been punished so far. Are the police and the judicial authorities anxious to convince us that rape is not such a major offence? Why do the custodians of the law and the judiciary not realize that swift and exemplary punishment alone can reduce such heinous crimes in our society? Our politicians also have a lot to explain to the public why they have totally failed the people in the matter of ensuring exemplary punishment for rapists.