Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My views on recent protest in New Delhi

According to 2011 census in India1, there are 586469174 women in India, i.e. 48.46% of India's population and 8.38% of total world's population (which is roughly around the total number of English and Spanish speaking people in the world).

Out of these only 65.46% are literate2 (as compared to 82.14% literacy rate in males), with the definition of literacy being very narrow.

Crimes against women3 include rape (20737 cases in the year 2007), dowry deaths (8093 cases), molestation (38734 cases), sexual harassment (10950 cases) and cruelty by husbands/relatives (75930 cases). To add to that, there is human trafficking (for sexual slavery or domestic servitude), female infanticide, discrimination, acid attacks, lack of health care and forced marriage. The number of rape cases has increased by 80% in 7 years from 2000 and is still increasing. In the year 2011, 26000 rapes were reported4 throughout India; in fact it is the fastest growing crime in India. According to Thomas Reuters Foundation5, India is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women behind Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan.

According to many, there are three main reasons behind this:
1. Social taboo:
We Indians (including me) are hypocrites when it comes to dealing with rape survivors6. They are outcasted to protect family's so-called honor and hence most of the rape cases aren't reported or are dropped. Also, in event of such crimes, most of us prefer not to intervene and help the victim (be it eve-teasing, dowry, rape, etc) and her family. This indifference in our attitude provides additional incentives to the rapist to commit such heinous crime.

2. Severity of punishment:
An unenforced law means nothing however stringent they are. So, I don't think severity of punishment acts as a deterrent to rapists. In fact, considering how our law enforcement agencies (both judicial and policing) are, the rapists might not be wrong to think they won't be apprehended at all. With such an alarming increase in rape cases, one might think it's reasonable to support increasing severity in special circumstances7 and especially for repeat offenders. But, the point to note is, in India, rape is punishable up to life imprisonment9 which I think is severe enough. The main problem is that it doesn't get enforced or it takes way too long.

3. Lack of speedy and fair trials with severe punishment to rape shield violators:
There already are provisions for speedy trials10 and rape shields11, but don't get executed due to lack of resources and infrastructure. First, there are 26.3 million pending cases8. Then there aren't enough women officers (I believe there should be an option for the victim to talk directly to women officers in every police chowky, for reporting rape, molestation, etc). Lastly, even though India has one of the strongest rape shield laws, Chaudhry11 says they are routinely violated or reduced to technicality in practice. It is imperative to punish any authority that violates the rape shield.

Let me reiterate my point: an unenforced law will solve nothing. I see the protestors (which btw I salute for their efforts, barring the ones that are doing it for political gains and media attention/ratings) are focusing on the wrong issue: asking for death penalty law for rape.

Why ? Researchers have shown again and again12, certainty and not severity of punishment proves to be true deterrent for the crime. In fact, increasing severity can turn to be counterproductive (i.e. may lead to more false negatives).

Sure, increasing severity might help us, as the society, deal with the shock, but it will do nothing to help improve the safety of women. The law will be passed, authorities will keep on violating rape shield, there will still be little or no resources to handle the case quickly and we shall go to living our life once again forgetting this incident ever happened and at the same time congratulating ourselves for the job well done. If you do truly care about the situation, let's forget the quick fix and do a more difficult thing: Take a step back and dispassionately think how we can solve this problem once and for all. Here is what I could think of:
- Punishment or/and suspension of authority breaking rape shield (or discouraging victims for registering complaints).
- Increase in forensic and judiciary budgets to expedite trials.
- More women cops and psychological experts to help deal with the trauma. Also, create a special department for dealing with these crimes or train existing police officers to deal with such scenarios.
- Incentive programs for improving the female literacy rate.
- Standing up for the crimes against women when we see it, while still keeping our paternal instinct in check so that every women gets to enjoy her liberty.

It took me half a day to write this blogpost and I humbly admit I am missing lot of points. But, I am sure a more experienced panel can come up with better solution if they are not sidelined by politics or their own self-interest.

1. Census of India: http://www.censusindia.gov.in/
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_census_of_India
3. National Crime Records Bureau: http://ncrb.nic.in/cii2007/cii-2007/1953-2007.pdf
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_in_India
5. http://www.trust.org/documents/womens-rights/resources/2011WomenPollResults.pdf
6. http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/determined-not-to-hide-her-identity-rape-survivor-bravely-tells-her-story/259248
7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Delhi_gang_rape_case
8. http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/india/Nearly-30-million-cases-pending-in-courts/Article1-224578.aspx
9. http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1279834/
10. http://defensewiki.ibj.org/index.php/Right_to_a_Speedy_Trial#India
11. http://www.firstpost.com/living/gurgaon-gang-rape-let-me-tell-you-all-about-this-girl-242185.html
12. http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/deterrence%20briefing%20.pdf