Saturday, January 30, 2016

Rape is simply unacceptable

Is rape acceptable? No, and it has never been. However, if you look at the statistics around the world, you would draw the conclusion that rape crimes are growing everywhere. For our purpose here, let’s focus on South Asia.

Rape is becoming more like an epidemic in India. According to India's National Crime Record Bureau, crimes against women have increased by 7.1 percent since 2010. The number of rapes reported has also risen.  Nearly one in three rape victims in India is under the age of 18.  One in 10 is under 14. Every 20 minutes in India, a woman is raped. That is a huge number for a country that has been socially conservative!
Many of the culprits, sadly, are policemen and members of the armed forces, i.e., people in authority with guns - the very people that are supposed to come to the aid of or defend victims.

Last week on Thursday, in Chhattisgarh, a 21-year-old woman, who was gang raped over a period of six months by two police constables and a doctor, committed suicide at her home in Bhilai. Her suicide note suggested she did not think she would get justice, police said.

A case had been filed in January 2015 against doctor Gautam Pandit and constables Saurabh Bhakta and Chadraprakash Pandey for allegedly gang raping the woman on multiple occasions. The police had, at the time, filed an FIR under sections of rape and arrested the two constables, while the doctor had surrendered. The three are currently in jail.

The incident first came to light in January 2015, six months after the woman was gang raped when she was admitted to Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital in Supela. “The woman, a college student at the time, had gone for treatment for her face in June 2014. She was allegedly administered a drug and raped by the three accused over a period of days. They allegedly filmed the act and blackmailed her even after she left the hospital, gang raping her on several other occasions,” a senior police officer said. Last Thursday morning, the victim was found hanging in a room at her home when policemen arrived to deliver summons in the case. The next hearing was on February 2. 

A month ago, a 14-year-old girl, a resident of Dumdum of Kolkata in India setting out to meet her Facebook friend without informing her parents, was raped by three Army men in Amritsar-bound Howrah Amritsar Express on December 28, 2015, Monday morning. The class nine girl (equivalent to a freshman student in high school in the USA) had boarded the train at Howrah at 1.50 pm on Sunday.

Police arrested an Army man, Mandrish Tripathi, who had allegedly forced the girl to take alcohol and then raped her with her other colleagues. The victim told the police that she was raped six times after being threatened.

Even the toddlers are vulnerable being attacked by rapists. Three months ago, a toddler and a five-year-old girl were gang raped in separate attacks in India’s capital city of Delhi. The toddler - a two-and-a-half year old girl - was abducted in west Delhi on Friday night, October 16, 2015, by two men. She was sexually assaulted before being dumped in a park near her home. According to police reports, she was bleeding profusely when she was found. Tests showed she had been raped at least once. In a separate incident, a five-year-old girl was gang-raped by three men in the east of the city. Police say she was lured to a neighbor's house where she was repeatedly raped.

Those rape incidents came a week after a four-year-old girl was allegedly raped before being abandoned near a railway track in the capital. The girl, who was found near her home in a poor neighborhood in the north of the city, had been slashed with a sharp object and had severe internal injuries. 

You may also recall the much publicized news coverage on the rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student ‘Jyoti’ on December 16, 2012 who died of horrific injuries two weeks after being assaulted by six men as she travelled home from the cinema with a male friend. Jyoti and her friend were thrown naked and bleeding from the moving bus and 13 days of extensive medical treatment could not save her.

In an interview from the prison with the BBC, Mukesh Singh, one of the rapists, who claims he was driving the bus during the incident, referred to the Jyoti’s murder as “an accident” caused by her being out at night. “A decent girl won't roam around at nine o'clock at night,” he said. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boys and girls are not equal.” He criticized Jyoti for resisting her attackers, saying: “When being raped, she shouldn't fight back.” “She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they'd have dropped her off after doing her and only hit the boy.”

Singh was sentenced to death by hanging for Jyoti’s rape and murder, along with four others. Singh claimed that executing him and the other convicted rapists would endanger future rape victims. “Now when they rape, they won't leave the girl like we did - they will kill her,” he said.

As to the rape of disadvantaged minorities – economic or religious, the least said the better! Indian military has often used rape as a weapon of war against the Kashmiris who desire self-rule in their occupied territories. When a member of a lower caste, e.g., Dalit, dares to marry or elope with a member of the higher caste, often times the family members of the Dalit must pay very dearly for such ‘audacious crimes.’ Based on the rulings of the village elders, the home of the ‘offender’ can get burned down or ransacked, the Dalit women members of the family raped and paraded naked before being lynched to death. It is worth noting here that India’s Supreme Court has ruled that the village court’s decrees are not legally binding, but that hasn’t fully eliminated the ‘revenge rape’ system that is prevalent in many parts of Hindu caste-ridden India.

According to an Amnesty International report of last year, “Revenge rape” is traditionally seen as a way to ruin a family’s worth, by tarnishing its honor and ruining a daughter’s chances for marriage. In 2014, a 22-year-old woman was left in critical condition after village elders ordered 13 men to rape her as punishment for her relationship with a man outside the community. 

It is really sickening to see the prevalence of such gross crimes all across India, the so-called largest democracy on earth, where even a toddler can be sexually molested. It is shameful and must be stopped at any cost.

Sadly, Bangladesh is not impervious to such abuses either. I remember meeting a young 17 year old girl in Chittagong a couple of years ago who had narrowly escaped from being raped by a police officer. The girl was strolling with her boy friend - a class mate - in a public garden near Foy's Lake before sunset when they were picked up by a police officer-in-charge (O.C.) Mizan (posted in Kasbah). The boy was mercilessly beaten by him, and the girl locked up in a hotel room where he intended to rape her. The hotel manager knew about such crimes of the O.C. Mizan and had become a partner in crime by letting such criminal activities go unhindered without reporting to higher authorities. The girl's loud screams eventually helped her to be rescued and the police officer arrested. 

But as it happens too often in many parts of South Asia, the criminal O.C. was able to get bail in the court. Free on bail, he even beat up the girl's father for suing him in the court. Just imagine the audacity! He has since been posted in another town where he seemingly must be victimizing other women.

While Bangladesh is quite unique as a state where two women have ruled the country more than half its life, almost a quarter of a century (and may continue to do so for a foreseeable future), sadly, rape crimes have only been climbing up over the years! Power at the top has not translated into safety for the females.

Traditionally, South Asia has been quite conservative socially and thus, such horrendous crimes were quite rare. But not any more! With the advent of the Internet technology, hundreds of millions of people, mostly the youngsters, now have access to it. And some of these Internet sites are vulgar, sharing pornographic materials, which are confusing many and pushing some to the edges to commit horrendous crimes. To add salt to injury, many of the victims often find the judicial system more hostile to them than their violators.

As I have noted above, what is also very disturbing is that many of the rape crimes in South Asia are seemingly committed by people who have access to deadly weapons, e.g., members of the police and armed forces.  Even when they are caught, because of serious flaws within the entire judicial system, these criminals come out free and abuse their power or authority to prey upon vulnerable girls and women.

It is worth noting here that in spite of the fact that while every 20 minutes in India a woman is raped such criminal incidents are not unique to India. India only ranks third for the number of rapes reported each year. The USA ranks first. 

In India, a country of over 1.25 billion people, 24,206 rapes were reported in 2011.  The same year in the United States, a nation of 330 million, with roughly a quarter of India’s population, 83,425 rapes were reported. In the United Statesevery 6.2 minutes a woman is raped. Even if sexual assault in India is dramatically underreported, which most likely it is, especially in rural villages, where victims of rape are often subject to shaming and considered unfit for marriage  the statistical difference is still striking.

The encouraging fact is that while the U.S. still ranks first in the world for reported rapes, the number is declining here while statistics suggest India is moving in the other direction. In the U.S. the rate of reported rapes decreased by over 12 percent between 2002 and 2011 while it is climbing steeply in Narendra Modi's India. This is a very worrying sign for India to ponder upon! At this rate, it won’t take too long for India to lead the pack, superseding the USA.

Many raped victims in India (and other parts of South Asia) don’t report such matters to police for a plethora of reasons. They don’t trust the judicial system. The sad experience of other victims have taught them a bitter lesson that they may never see justice, and only tarnish their family’s honor and ruin any chance for marriage. In some rare cases, while reporting rape crimes, the victims were reportedly sexually violated by the very police who were supposed to create a FIR and investigate the crime. It’s really sad! And, when men in uniform are themselves involved in such gruesome crimes, the victim’s chance of getting a fair trial incriminating the perpetrator is rather very slim. In utter frustration, many raped victims are pushed to the edge to commit suicide so as to erase the pains and sufferings of their family members.

So, I am not surprised learning that the Chhattisgarh female student had committed suicide ending her life. It is sad, and could have been avoided, if the system around her had not failed and felt so hopeless, and promoted a culture in which the crimes against the weak – women, vulnerable minorities and lower caste Dalits are tolerated. [Studies have shown that rape feeds off other forms of prejudice.] She wouldn’t have probably killed herself if India had not perpetuated a culture of misogyny where people accepted the degradation of women and uncontrollable hyper-sexuality of men as the norm.

Violence against women is a global pandemic, which needs to be stopped. It is becoming an uphill battle though in our time where sex sells, and media promote women as sex symbols.

As much as the government has a major role to stop this crime by making sure that every one’s life and honor are safe and secure and not violated by anyone and that the criminals, if any, are given exemplary punishments, the society at large must exemplify moral teachings and ethics by ensuring that children are taught at a very early stage to respect and honor everyone, and ensuring zero-tolerance against gender-based violence. Just blaming the victim that she should not have gone out or roam around so late or wear ‘provocative’ clothes won’t stop this pandemic. Rather we should ask,  “What made the rapist think that rape is acceptable?” 

Let's stop this pandemic by every means possible.


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