Inadequacies of laws

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Outrage and campaigns are not enough if sexual violence has to be tackled. Nor are amendments to laws or ordinances that push for stringent punishments for rapists. The issue of sexual violence is too rampant, too deep-rooted and far too grave to be treated in piece-meals. The country is in dire need of a holistic approach and multi-pronged strategies. Campaigns for justice and updating of laws are only small cogs in the wheel. Sexual violence needs to be understood as an act of masculine aggression that stems less from lust and more from desire to exercise power over bodies of women with a sense of entitlement. This sense of power is further enhanced when woman’s bodies become objects of collective honour of communities, enemies and opponents in situations of conflict. Caste oppression and majoritarian communalism further tilt the power equations against women victims. Bhanwari Devi case, the Unnao minor rape are classic examples of caste based oppression. Similar is the fate of victims and survivors of rapes during communal violence as in 1947, 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom and 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, etc. In militarized zones, similar power dynamics contribute to the vulnerability and oppression of women. A shocking and defining image from Manipur is one of a group of women coming out naked to protest in front of an army camp with the banner ‘Indian Army Come and Rape Us’. If sexual violence is wrong, all these different categories of rapes are also wrong and need to be opposed. An understanding of rapes should also be based on realistic assessment of the extent of the problem. The existing statistics are only an indication of a small fraction of existing rapes and cases of assault, majority of which are never reported due to lack of awareness, fear or societal stigma; often in rape cases of incest also family honour, the onus of protecting which also falls on the rape survivor. In fact the inadequacies of laws require a constant and periodic review of existing laws. Unfortunately, our state laws pertaining to sexual violence are not even at par with the country and the state has yet to bring in the laws related to sexual abuse of minors. Mere ordinances that bat for death penalty do precious little on various counts. At present 371 Indians convicted in various crimes are on death row and only 4 have been executed in 13 years, one being a rape accused. The larger point, however, is that death penalties are grossly inhuman and based on principle of revenge and not justice. Besides, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that death penalties can ensure deterrence. The concept is flawed and also overlooks the huge scale of rapes that remain hidden from public gaze and unheard of because they are under-reported. While laws should encourage women to come forward, the implementation of laws through efficient legal justice system at various levels should ensure building up of the confidence, a major problem in dealing with rapes is that the prosecution is extremely low because of inherent biases within the legal justice system right from the process of filing a complaint to the trial. Much of evidence is lost at the initial stage or deliberately botched, as was evident in recent cases. The medical examination is conducted by ill-trained practitioners who have neither been sensitized nor trained adequately enough. Also the societal response to the rapes is conditioned by traditional stereo-typing of women, seen from the lens of stigma and often use of identities of victims and perpetrators promote theories of denial, even defence of rape accused. Looking at these several lacunae, to deal with sexual violence work is required on a war footing at four different levels. One is fostering an understanding of rape and accepting its phenomenally high scale. Second is framing of adequate laws without the temptation of foolishly suggesting death penalties or other inhuman methods of vindictive punishments that have no evidence of deterrence. Third is the implementation of laws and gearing up the legal justice systems that can deliver speedy justice. Fourth is spreading awareness and working towards changing societal attitudes and changing the very concept of patriarchy that promotes sexual violence.