“It is true, trust me,” says Bina Jain, as she recounts one of the many incest cases she encountered in three decades of running Bapun Ghar, a women’s shelter in central Delhi. “She is my fruit after all. So what if I tasted her?” was the justification the man gave to the gynecologist for impregnating his 16 year old daughter, says Jain.
Every year, she says, the shelter gets custody of roughly twenty girls and women abandoned by families. It is a grim reflection of the treatment given to rape victims who, in some cases, are described by the families as ‘dirty’ and ‘untouchable’.
Jain rattles off cases where the rapist is the father, brother, uncle, tutor, neighbour – men known to the victim. In more than 90 percent of the rape cases booked across the country, the perpetrators are men known to the victim, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.Lenient rape laws, pathetic policing, and politicians as rapists were discussed threadbare in the wake of the barbaric gangrape in the national capital past December. But the known devil, staring in the face of thousands of girls, was once again spared. And he always gets away with his crime as the girl is asked not to speak, for the family’s honour, for what the father owes her, for better future of her siblings, for the tradition of submission, for the sake of being an Indian girl.
The overall conviction rate in rape cases in 2011, as per NCRB, was an abysmal 26.4 percent. Soumya Bhaumik, legal consultant, Centre for Social Research, Delhi, says the pressure on the victim from her family is one of the primary reasons for the low conviction rate. “It is common in urban and rural settings. Therefore, it is extremely courageous when in such cases a girl testifies in court,” says Bhaumik, “As opposed to the cases when the family pressurises her or sweet talks her to withdraw the complaint.”
A girl in certain social set-ups in India does not have to go further than her home where an all-pervasive devaluing of the girl begins from the day she is born. “It begins with the news of the baby girl being born. Everything else follows. Throughout her upbringing, she is considered dispensable. This is why no one stands up to protect her when she is in trouble. Even the best of the people in the society follows this dominant trend,” says Akhila Sivadas, director, Centre for Advocacy & Research, Delhi.
As long as these dynamics will prevail, the victim will be expected to not only endure the crime but live in close proximity with the predator. The matter becomes a family secret. And the men in the garb of ‘family’ or ‘friend’ or ‘neighbour’ never feel guilty. In cases where the victims are firm about their decisions at the cost of ‘bringing shame to the family’, they face severe consequences. They are stigmatised. They are rejected. They are blamed for bringing disgrace to their families.
The decision whether to restore the victim to her family or not is often the biggest dilemma a practitioner of rehabilitation faces in such cases, says Dr Nimesh Desai, director, Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences, Delhi. “Ethically, we should bring the culprit to the book because we cannot become party to the cover- up. But there is always a hidden danger in convincing the victim to talk against the offender because ultimately the girl would go back the family and they might punish her for being courageous.”
There are various reasons why a rape victim in India cannot look for refuge outside the family. One is that fact that the very notion of a girl moving out of the home and thereby detaching herself from ‘relations’ has a negative connotation in the Indian milieu, writes Sudhir Kakar, novelist and psychoanalyst, in The Times of India. While Kakar is commenting on the women who have migrated to big cities to work or study, it applies just as well to rape victims.
Another problem faced by the victims of sexual abuse and rape in India is the lack of knowledge about governmental support or resources available for rape victims. “There is immense recognition of what she goes through, but no reactionary or proactive mechanism to address the causes of the same. We lack a coherent governance framework which can address the why and how of the problem,” says Sivadas.
For example, very few rape victims avail the compensation that they are entitled to from the state under the section 357A of the CrPC. Very few social welfare bodies are aware of the fact that the Centre has been delaying the implementation comprehensive rape victims’ relief scheme that was drafted following by the National Commission for Women following a Supreme Court writ petition in 1994. According to the draft of the scheme, a rape victim is entitled to financial support of upto Rs 3 lakh and vocational training, jobs from the government.
There are no easy answers to addressing a crime committed by a family member. And the answers that could have come to help aren’t out there known to people. There is no exposing of the great family cover- up anytime soon. And therefore continues a vicious cycle where the rape victim has no option other than to succumb to fate, tradition and family.