PUCL strongly condemns the brutal, bestial and savage sexual assault of a 23 year old girl in a moving Delhi bus on 16th December leaving her battling for life. We also condemn the unprovoked, unacceptable, unlawful and brutal attack launched by the Delhi police on 23rd December, on thousands of citizens, protesting against state inaction in the rape incident in and near India Gate and the continuing attempts by state police to crush the growing agitation by young people.
The response of the Union Home Minister, Chief Minister of Delhi and the Prime Minister, has been both belated as also insensitive, mechanical and sometimes even farcical as when the Union Home Minister used the Maoists as an alibi for not meeting and addressing the agitators. The political executive has failed to understand that the agitation is not in respect of this one incident alone. The agitation is symbolic of the loss of trust and confidence of people of this country in the criminal justice institutions and the people managing them. For decades now, every single institution without exception has been manipulated and subverted with impunity and citizens are no longer willing to trust persons in power – whether ministers, bureaucrats or police officials.
The agitation has also to be seen in the context of increasing incidents of aggravated sexual assaults on young girls, some as young as 5-8 years old across the country. The situation of rape and sexual violence is particularly severe in rural areas where on a daily basis, there are reports of women from Dalit, minority and economically vulnerable sections suffering violence and sexual assault at the hands of men, on the streets, in work places and other social spaces. This apart, the sexual violence on sexual minorities, transvestites and others is also very worrisome. Most such cases never make it to national media and do not become subject of mass action in urban cities. While we welcome the mass outpouring of support to the Delhi sexual assault survivor we also urge concerned citizens nationwide to become continuously engaged with the larger issue of violence against women in each state, city and locality.
However the issue of sexual assault and violence against women cannot be addressed merely by better policing and more security for women. Very often it is the police and the security guards who become threats to women’s safety considering the current experience of sexual assaults on women and men within police stations and by armed forces. The issue is symptomatic of a much larger, complex social phenomenon. Rapes and sexual violence will have to be seen in the backdrop of rising male intolerance to assertion of independence, self reliance and empowerment of women, in the work arena, professional and social spheres. Questioning of patriarchal values of male superiority, domination and gender discriminative practices are amongst many other social and economic factors responsible for increasing sexual assaults.
PUCL strongly opposes the demand to introduce death sentence as a penalty for rape. Demanding death sentence for rapists is not going to solve the problem of increasingly brutal and bestial sexual violence. Worldwide, as also in India itself, there is no scientific evidence that death penalty acts as a deterrent. By the same token, neither are other measures such as castration of rapists useful or relevant as punishment, as put forward by a number of groups.
It is also pertinent here to point out that punishment is only the last link in the criminal justice system. Conviction and sentencing is dependent on the strength of the prosecution which is in turn dependent on proper investigation. So amending law to have harsher punishment is a non- starter when a large percentage of cases end in acquittal when investigation and prosecution are often compromised deliberately.
The subversion of law begins from the stage of registration of FIR, medical examination of survivors of sexual assault as also the perpetrators, forensic science reports, witness statements, identification of accused through `identification parades’, letting in evidence in court, threat and buying up of witnesses and trial proceedings. We should also not forget the collusion, indifference and inefficiency of `Public Prosecutors’ in the conduct of trials. This subversion is apart from inherent patriarchal attitudes and prejudices of investigators, prosecutors and judges alike. It is only cases which surmount these hurdles which results in conviction and punishment. Thus without addressing these systemic issues, merely demanding new, more stringent laws and harsher punishment is a simplistic approach and no solution.
PUCL firmly believes that apart from punishing perpetrators and providing support to the survivors there is a need for a national level debate on the issue of violence against women across a whole range of issues – starting from language and discourse and spanning social, economic, cultural and psychological factors resulting in the commission of crimes against women. There is an urgent need for men and women from all sections including scheduled castes, religious and sexual minorities to understand, analyse and find solutions to the issue of sexual violence on women. In the end, the ultimate aim should be prevention of crime against women and not just punishment.
Prof. Prabhakar Sinha, National President
Dr. V. Suresh National Gen. Secretary
Dr. V. Suresh National Gen. Secretary
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