POST TIME: 19 October, 2020 01:13:04 PM
Rape horrors continue unabated in India
UNB, Dhaka

Rape horrors continue unabated in India

Not just in Bangladesh, women are at risk everywhere. In neighbouring India, for instance, a woman is raped every 15 minutes. This is as per the official government data, asunder the many more such crimes that just go unreported due to the fear and stigma surrounding sexual violence.

In fact, nothing has changed even seven years after the brutal and fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student on a moving bus by six men in Delhi that shocked the nation and forced the country's government to frame stricter anti-rape laws, as Indian daughters continue to face sexual assaults.
In just the past month, a 19-year-old lower caste woman was raped in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh's Hathras district, 200 kms from the national capital, allegedly by four men from the upper caste. After fighting for her life for two weeks, she died at a hospital in Delhi. Her tormentors were arrested only after the case sparked protests across India. 
In 2014, shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, his government pledged a "zero tolerance" policy on violence against women. And indeed it introduced death penalty for child rapists, for the first time in this country, and even raised the minimum jail term for rapes against those above 12 years. 
However, activists say little has changed on the ground. "India still continues to be one of the world's most dangerous countries, where rapes and sexual violence are common. Last year alone, an average of 87 cases of rapes were reported daily, as per the National Crime Records Bureau," says Manisha Ranjan, a Delhi-based women rights activist.
Where lies the problem
In a patriarchal society like India, rape has always been a taboo and never a real issue to be discussed on public platform. After the 2012 Delhi gang rape, attempts were made to raise people's consciousness about the plight of the woman and the justice that's often delayed on "frivolous grounds".
"But the quest for justice is often marred by questions around the rape survivor's marriage or lack of it that she may have to suffer due to the trauma undergone. 'Who will marry her?' is the question that is of most concern in maximum cases instead of justice, if the rape survivor is unmarried," says Tripti Sharma, a lawyer.
What's worse is when a rapist comes forward to marry his prey. "This further delays the legal process, as the rape survivors in India are usually seen as outcast, a burden on her family. So, an offer of marriage -- irrespective of whether the woman is ready to marry the person who violated her -- is often accepted by the survivor's family," Sharma adds.
According to the lawyer, a rapist should never be allowed to escape punishment even if they try to broker a marriage deal with his target. "Delayed and lower conviction rate discourage many rape survivors to pursue cases against their perpetrators, who eventually secure bail from courts. As per statistics, one in four cases of rape in India end in conviction."
Sharma could not be more right. Even in the case of the Delhi gang rape, it took more than seven years before the convicts could be hanged despite having been sentenced to death in a fast-track.
"Legal remedies available to rapists, even after being convicted by trial courts, are more than enough to prolong a case in India. Appeals to a state high court and subsequently to the Supreme Court -- where one can file multiple review pleas -- and then finally filing a clemency petition before the President can delay penalties by a decade," the lawyer says.
India's delayed justice system even irked the country's President, who had last year said that there should be no provision of mercy pleas for child rapists. "Rape convicts under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act should not be allowed mercy petition," President Ram Nath Kovind had said at an event.
Ironically, India's first female President Pratibha Patil had granted a record 30 pardons in the last 28 months of her five-year tenure, and 22 of those were related to brutal crimes like  rapes and murders of children. Article 72 of the Indian Constitution gives the president absolute power to grant pardon or commute sentences, even to death row convicts.
What's the solution
Fast-tracking justice. "Justice delayed is justice denied. If justice is prompt, it will instill fear among sexual predators that they can't go scot-free by taking advantage of the country's long-drawn judicial system. Moreover, it will save the rape survivors from being haunted by flashbacks and nightmares," says Nayantara Ghosh, another women rights activist.
However, some activists believe that stricter punishment without addressing the root cause of the crimes against women may not be a strong deterrent.
“All too often lawmakers in India hold up the death penalty as a symbol of their resolve to tackle crime. But what is actually needed are effective, long-term solutions like prevention and protection mechanisms to reduce gender-based violence, improving investigations, prosecutions and support for victims’ families,” Avinash Kumar, the executive director of Amnesty India, said in a statement in March, six months before it halted India operations.