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Rape and its Prevention

The announcement of life imprisonment as the quantum of punishment for the four accused in the gang rape of a woman trading in chillies has been met with much appreciation and hope from various quarters in the state. The appreciation factor stems from manner in which the case was taken up and handled with while the hope expressed is that the case would set a precedent in the state in terms of the manner in which investigations were carried out and the legal processes that followed. More hope hinges on the belief that such sentences would deter more rapes from happening.
The truth is more complex here as is evident from other states where rape cases have been taken up and rigorous sentences meted out, including death too but still more cases of rapes happen with more regularity and more brutality. This is not to say that cases of rape should be taken lightly but to point out that along with mechanisms for punishment, there needs to be ways and means to prevent rapes from happening in the first place.
The most integral aspect in the context of rape cases and others cases of sexual violence against women is to change mindsets for the majority of society including people in the law enforcement agencies and police and other community stakeholders take on the ‘blame the victim’ stand. There have been many instances where the reasons for rape has been given as arising out of what clothes women wear, where they are going, who they were/are with and ‘their behaviour’. One political leader went so far as to say that eating chowmein encouraged men to rape women while another likeminded enlightened one held the belief that women should not go out of their homes after sunset. In Manipur, a political leader who is described as an astute statesman and someone who is aware of the finer details of legal systems went on record to say that women should carry sharp scissors to ward off men who would try to violate their modesty. He went so far as to distribute the scissors to some women and in so doing like many others like him, putting the sole responsibility upon women to take care that they are not sexually attacked or violated. It is this attitude of women being foisted upon the sole responsibility of taking care of their own safety and being the recipient of the blame game on the behavior and morality of women that indirectly contributes in a very major way towards men getting the leeway in the circumstances. Reading between the lines of what decision makers have to say on the matter of rape, the inference is that men will be men and that women will have to stay ‘within their limits’ to ensure that they stay safe.

Historically too, rape has been used in the aftermath of war in almost all parts of the world. In recognition of this serious after effect, the United Nations has gone on record that rape is war crime. Rape as a tool to demean a particular society or community or nation defeated in war is a reality since women are still seen as the custodian of a society’s honour and self esteem. The stigma that is attached to rape and sexual violence is such that there have been many instances where families of affected women have looked at the option of rapists marrying the victims. One other common complaint is that police are not pro-active when it comes to taking action on cases of rape and sexual violence, starting from delay in taking down complaints. Validating this is the findings that emerged from an investigation by a National news magazine, which found that prejudice against rape victims is alarmingly common among policemen in Delhi. The report linked this unhelpful attitude of the police to the low rate of conviction in rape cases in the city (34.6%) . The alleged highhandedness of the police personnel of Mayang Imphal police station who were approached by two women to lodge a case of gang rape is proof that many still lack the sensitivity and pro-activeness that is needed to take up cases of sexual violence.  Meanwhile, a not so touched upon aspect of sexual violence is that though it is rare, men also face rape and other forms of sexual violence. Another reality is that transgenders are vulnerable to be raped but fear to call attention to what happens with them since their very existence in society is filled with stigma.

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