If strengthening the rape laws were the solution to New Delhi's rape crisis, why are we again looking at the gang rape of a Danish woman, even though the rape laws have been strengthened after the infamous Nirbhaya gang rape?
The recent gang rape of a Danish tourist has once again brought India in international spotlight. The gang rape and murder of a para-medical student in New Delhi in December 2012 resulted in international outrage and nationwide protests. The Indian government subsequently strengthened its rape laws in an (failed) attempt to ensure the safety of women. Once again, the rape of the Danish tourist has led to demands for even tougher laws to protect women. It is time India realizes that beneath the seemingly righteous idea of strengthening rape laws, lurks a perfect recipe for a total miscarriage of justice on a regular, recurring, basis.
The Indian society’s view of women as goddesses and men as protectors of women (illustrated by festivals such as Raksha Bandhan, meaning “the bond of protection”) was suddenly jolted by the brutality of the Delhi Gang Rape. This has led to a kind of hysteria, manifesting itself in emotion charged street protests for tougher rape laws, predominantly by youth who empathize with the victim as one of their own. Many of the young protestors I interacted with were very vocal in their demand for death penalty for rapists, however, were not familiar even with terms like 'proof beyond reasonable doubt'. What such protesters have been too naive to realize is that the perceived benefits of stronger rape laws is deceiving. Protests for stronger rape laws are a welcome sign of societal awareness about the physical and psychological trauma a rape victim undergoes. On the other hand, it is also an indication of lack of awareness about India’s archaic rape laws and the equally severe trauma that a person falsely accused of rape undergoes.
Globalization has modernized India into a more liberal country where homosexuality, live-in relationships, pre-marital sex and “love marriages” have found social acceptance. Despite changing mores, Indian rape laws are based on the notion that a false accusation of rape is an impossibility, hence a mere claim by a woman to have been raped (or even refusing to marry a woman after consensual sex!) is typically considered sufficient for purposes of convicting a man of the crime. However, the assumption about false accusation is simply not true. Just a month after the Delhi gang rape another medical professional in the north Indian city of Bathinda claimed to have been gang raped. This gang rape claim, however, turned out in reality to be a well-planned conspiracy, for purposes of settling a score. This is not an isolated incident but merely the tip of the iceberg. A senior police officer reported that a significant part of his force’s time was wasted on false complaints by women trying to take advantage of the current hypersensitivity towards rape. With the wide prevalence of false rape accusations—in combination with the almost automatic presumption of guilt—it is a virtual certainty that many of those accused of rape are in fact guilty only of being male in present-day India.
There is no actual evidence that weakness in the existing rape laws is what has encouraged rapists. Most rapists simply do not expect to be caught or commit the crime impulsively. It is widely believed that the widespread incidence of rape entails tougher rape laws. However, according to UNDOC (the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), the incidence of rape in India is significantly lower than many other developed countries. The number of reported rapes in the US, for example, is a whopping 15 times greater than India, 27.3 as compared to a mere 1.8 per 100,000 persons. In a kind of knee-jerk reaction, the Indian government has passed a bill strengthening rape law and criminalized a slew of other actions to the extent that almost any interaction with a woman can land a man behind bars, effectively ruining him for life.
It is no surprise that less than a month after the new laws took effect, various Indian courts have expressed concerns about the increase in the number of false rape accusations.
The law to prevent dowry harassment of women is so rampantly misused that the Supreme Court of India has termed the misuse of this law as “legal terrorism.”
It is very likely that in the days immediately ahead, the newly enacted rape laws will become another tool for legal terrorism but only act as placebos to prevent rape.
The universally respected Blackstone formulation—“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”—
articulates the common-sense idea that government and the courts should err on the side of innocence, specifically by honoring the presumption of innocence in criminal trials. It is most unfortunate that this principle has been missed by Indian law makers, in their zeal to respond to popular outcries.The gang-rape of the Danish tourist, soon after India strengthened its rape laws clearly questions the effectiveness of strengthening rape laws to combat rape. It is time for India to break the vicious cycle of rapes, protests and tougher laws followed by more rapes and by false accusations.
So what does India really need? India needs an efficient and effective law enforcement system that has earned the trust of the common man. Involving the average Joe in policing, such as the Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) in the United States, will not only help improve the police citizen ration but also create a friendly police citizen interface. Should India shed its last strand of conservatism and legalize prostitution?Maybe. There is some scientific evidence (such as "Sex Crimes and Prostituion") that prostitution and rape are correlated. However, the most important change that India really needs is a change in society’s perception of women, a change that involves viewing women as equals to men, neither goddesses nor sex objects. Nothing more and nothing less.
Ash MoorthyThe author is a software engineer at Google and has an interest in criminal justice. The views expressed in this article are his personal views. You can view other posts by this author at http://theidiot.quora.com/
Neither I nor the male and female readers that have up-voted this post condone rape. There are two ways someone could be a raped, physically by a rapist or legally by a false accuser. Those who truly believe in gender equality, understand that "equality" is a two way street and would like to put an end to both types of rape instead of making a failed attempt to decrease one and end up increasing the other.
Many readers have expressed skepticism about fase rape allegations. Here are some examples :I appreciate the blog moderator/owner for accepting my post, despite it being misconstruable as against the very theme of this blog.