With the Delhi gang rape case, pretty much dominating the collective consciousness of Indians, there is probably for the first time in my memory a national debate raging on how to fight crimes like rape in particular and crime against women in general.
The political class if previously came across as a bunch of incompetent dotards, they have not embellished that reputation with several of them playing a game of “victim blaming” and suggestions of “western influences” being responsible for the rising crime graph.
The outrage among the public is good, but I am a little disturbed by some of the ‘solutions’ that people want.
I am reproducing a Facebook update that became very popular.
“You sent her (rape victim) to Singapore for treatment,
now send the culprits (accused rapists) to Saudi Arabia for punishments!”
This comes form the idea that Saudi Arabia allows public beheading of rapists. Apparently they think it makes Saudi Arabia a lot safer for women. Ofcourse this idea of safety for women is mocked by Saudi laws which technically make even a one hour old baby eligible to be married off. Hundreds or thousands of child brides are abused. This legalization of child abuse is what that system has produced (source).
So what exactly are the solutions to crimes? Death penalty? Making tougher laws? or does the devil reside in the details.
Death Penalty = Victim is Dead
Okay, I am not really a supporter of the death penalty. But that discussion in another post at another time. I think it is only logical to have a “death penalty” applicable only if the victim is dead.
Some might argue that if rapes carry the death penalty, a rapist will think twice. That is an emotional argument and worse it is not thought out for the following reasons.
- This encourages a rapist to actually murder his victim. Why would a rapist, commit a crime and leave (very often) the sole witness alive to testify against him for a crime that carries the death penalty.
- In India, the death penalty is awarded only in the rarest of rare cases. That does not mean all murderers get hanged. Prosecutors might struggle to prove in the courts that rape cases are rarest of rare. How do you explain a murderer serving life sentence while a rapist put on death roll?
Finally, a death sentence to rapists indirectly tells the victim that her life is over. No it is not. We should encourage such women to come out and live without shame. We should celebrate them as survivors. Let the shame of rape stay with the rapists for all their lives and not their victims.
Tougher Laws = Impossible Implementation
The politicians favour usually passing a tougher laws to fight crime. Yes, laws need to be tougher but only if the current ones are weak. Last time I checked, India has pretty tough laws against crimes of every nature. But what India does lack is a system that applies this law. This is the police and honestly there is very little a tougher law can do to remedy that.
Law and order is a local problem, except maybe in the case of terrorist attacks and certain economic offences. This means the local police forces from the city level have to be independent and empowered. Yes they have to be also accountable but again possibly to the local representatives rather than national or state representatives.
Remember some of our states have more people than the most populated countries in Europe.
Tougher laws are again a emotional response. It is like a country collectively saying we are tough, do not mess with us to criminals. But crime continues and after another major incident, we want still more tougher laws.
May be the devil is in the details
There is a concept called “Broken Windows“. It is a theory that is gaining acceptance in fighting crime. The theory suggests that small amount of public disorder actually motivates people to commit bigger crimes. This is actually seems very true for crimes like rape atleast.
A higher likelihood of getting arrested for something like harassing a girl will automatically create an impression that it would be very risky to commit an act of rape.
An interesting study took place in Massachusetts, USA where the police enforced public order based on the “Broken Windows theory” in certain areas and the crime rate dropped drastically. More importantly the crime rates of adjoining areas did not go up. That means two things
- The crime rate falls when smaller crimes are dealt with stringently and systematically.
- The criminals are not moving into other areas because one place has too much order.
This basically means making the police system “RESPONSIVE”. That means changing certain laws, like allowing police to take any accident victim to any hospital which is nearest (public or private should not matter). Or maybe something even more basic like not having someone calling the emergency number and be put on hold for two minutes (incident).
What about society?
Yes, we need social changes. India needs to change its attitude towards treating women equally. In stopping victim blaming when occurrences of rape happen. But social change happens over years and sometimes decades.
Controlling crimes against women might make them feel safer but a lot more will have to be done to make them feel like equals.