The sentencing to death of Four men accused of raping a 23 year old Physiotherapy student (an incident from which she later died from fatal injuries she sustained) as she returned home with her boyfriend last December 16th in New Delhi, came as no surprise to many, especially to many protesters angling for stiffer penalties (to serve as deterrent to others) and for the security agents/agencies especially the police to be more proactive.
Though Four of the rapists were sentenced on the 10th of September, 2013 (last week) to death, they were however six of them who were initially arrested. One was considered a minor (as he was 17 at the time the crime was committed), while the other (the driver of the vehicle) committed suicide (not a version members of his family agree with) in his cell while the trial was ongoing.
It must be borne in mind that this case was unusually fast-tracked as allover Indian jails it is not unusual to find many prisoners whose cases are still being heard in court many years after they committed the crimes, while some others are awaiting trials.
The fast-tracking of this case may not be unrelated to the unprecedented attention the media paid to this particular rape incident. The pressure from protesters also played an important role in shaping the direction and pace of the trial, as well as influencing the modification of the RAPE LAWS in India.
Unfortunately, while it may be claimed that Justice may have been done in this case (at least for the time being, pending an appeal, with the possibility of the commuting of the sentences), other cases prior to this and indeed after this have not received the kind of attention this case has.
The world has in recent times been inundated with news of rapes and gang rapes emanating from India. Many have attributed this to increased awareness occasioned by an increase in reported cases in contrast to the past when rape cases were swept under, with families of victims and victims themselves unwilling to divulge information that’ll lead to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.
Others maintain that it was easy for this case to go to trial because of the status of the suspects, while holding that it would’ve being different had the suspects been from well off families with political connections.
They point to incidences of rape involving powerful individuals, including members of the security forces, where justice is routinely denied the victims as examples.
I am not Indian and hence cannot claim to know why there’s been a surge in the cases of rape in recent times (even affecting tourists and foreign journalists) in India. However, I’ve heard many commentators point accusing fingers at the media, where women are mostly portrayed as objects of ‘enjoyment’ and the likes.
I’ve seen lots of Bollywood movies where the hero announces his presence by saving a female victim from hoodlums intending to rape her. It’s so cliche that you begin to wonder if there’s nothing else they can think of as a grand entry for the hero of the movie.
The social levels of the rapists too is also a pointer to how poverty can draw people into engaging in heinous crimes (one of them had just come to Delhi, jobless and uneducated). The economic growth India has recorded over the years has done very little to impact in the lives of the many, not with the level of corruption that’s made what should be showers of blessings to the people become drizzles.
Rapes occur everywhere in the world however it’s the political will to tackle these crimes that seem to be lacking amongst the criminal justice system in India. This is what must change if we are to see any difference or a drastic reduction in the incidence of rape.
Indians mustn’t now rest on their oars just because these ones have been condemned to death. India has executed only 50 death row inmates since independence. Most times sentences are commuted and when that fails, the Prime Minister may also commute sentences or pardon convicts if they appeal to him.
Therefore, it is pertinent that relevant authorities and stakeholders should build on the gains made in widening the scope of what includes rape (as passed by the legislature), and change the cultural perception associated with rape, so that more victims can now come forward, more perpetrators brought to book with efforts redoubled at rehabilitating the victims.
The time for India to ACT is now!