Rape has been an extensively used weapon in the history of India whether it be in the context of territorial wars in ancient India, the partition of 1947, or even communal violence post independence. Today, rape has become a regular occurrence in the ‘civilised’ society of India, with a new Nirbhaya incident happening every day, so much so that news channels and newspapers are filled with instances of this heinous crime.
The unfortunate story of Nirbhaya was widely publicized and spread much needed awareness about the brutality of this crime and the severity with which it must be treated. Needless to say, it instilled a sense of courage among the fearful to break their silence and report cases of sexual abuse. A steady increase in the number of rape cases in India reflects on possibly two important points. The first is that the rape situation in India is deteriorating for the worse with every passing day rather than improving (due to poor laws). The second possibility is that in a patriarchal and conservative society like India, where rape was earlier considered to be a sensitive issue for the victim’s family (and remained unreported and unrecorded to save the family from embarrassment and disgrace), has now been removed of this stigma. People have begun to realise not only the intensity and severity of this crime, but also the need to extend justice to the unfortunate victims.
The majority of traditions, values and customs in India are patriarchal and glorify men. As per the norms of Indian society, the man has been entrusted with the responsibility of being the primary bread earner of the house, by virtue of which he is endowed with extreme liberty and authority. Men belonging to these patriarchal and illiterate parts of society may believe that it is their birthright to demand intercourse from a woman, regardless of whether or not she consents. The burden of changing this mindset and making the country a safe place for both men and women lies on the government. Laws create a sense of fear in man making it the best cure or solution after the crime has been committed. But, more importantly, the government also needs to focus on punitive measures which would serve as deterrents to rape, thereby reducing the incidents of rape and gradually reducing the crime rate. Against the backdrop of the Indian society as mentioned above, the responsibility to induce an improvement in the ethical and moral standards and thought process of the population lies squarely on the government. The brutality, intensity and impacts of this crime must not be allowed to spread to every household.
Empirical data testifies to the fact that the nature of punishments a rapist was subjected to varied in terms of severity across the ancient empires, and was influenced by a number of factors. One of these factors was the location where the crime was committed; others included the race, marital status, class, caste of the victim or the familial background of the accused. While punishments varied in terms of barbaric creativity, some civilisations, in the name of punishment, allowed the victim’s father to rape the guilty’s wife. In some cases, rape committed within the boundary walls of the city was not recognized as rape, due to the justification that the victim could have managed to seek help in the hustle bustle of the busy city. Some rulers hanged the rapists till death whereas some empires never considered rape too bad a criminal offence, for women according to them were mere objects.
Punishments declared against rape continue to vary. But against the backdrop of the contemporary world, it varies majorly from nation to nation and in some places within nations themselves. The government of Afghanistan punishes rapists by shooting them in the head within four days of them being convicted of the crime. The Chinese government issues a death sentence and in some cases mutilates rapists’ genitals. In Egypt, rapists are hanged in public, while in Greece they are incarcerated. In Iran, rapists are either shot in the head, given 100 lashes or life imprisonment. Israel sentences rapists to a minimum of 4 years and a maximum of 16 years in jail. In Russia, the damage done to the woman determines the degree of the punishment of the rapist, and is anywhere between 4 and 20 years of imprisonment. In UAE, rapists are hanged till death. In USA, rapists, as per federal law, are sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment. The Saudi Arabian government executes rapists in public. In India, an ordinance was passed in April, 2018 which stated that in the event that the victim be below or of 12 years of age, the convicted rapist would be given a death sentence; else, the degree of damage done to the victim and the brutality of the crime would determine the number of years the rapist would spend behind bars.
Although rape should be treated by mankind in its totality, it sadly isn’t. Not only do the punishments for crimes like rape differ from country to country, but so does the definition. For society to truly develop, barbaric crimes such as rape should be given global importance and consideration. Time and again, rape has proven to be a major obstacle to a woman’s right to live a life of security, dignity and liberty. Universal laws, definitions and punishments could, perhaps, help improve this situation and eradicate regional biases showcased in the judgement of rape cases. No act as heinous as rape can be justified or defended on grounds of race, religion, age, sex or caste.
Picture Credits: Chase Carter/EverydayFeminism.com