Lock up women. Lynch the accused. Blame alcohol and mobile phones (and also the victim). The tell-tale responses from lawmakers, politicians and police officers following the brutal rape and murder of a veterinary doctor on her way home from work in Hyderabad have done everything but answer the burning question on everyone's minds - how to make women safe in India?
Two days since the charred body of the 26-year-old was found in Hyderabad after four men gang-raped and murdered her, national outrage, reminiscent of the one that followed the infamous 2012 Delhi rape case, has been on the boil. Politicians and lawmakers have been put on the spot. And yet, a familiar cycle of blame-game, ridiculous solutions and victim shaming has played out on national media. It seems that those in charge of ascertaining the safety and security of women in the country have no idea what they are talking about.
'Lynch the Rapists'
In the Parliament on Monday, Rajya Sabha member and former actress Jaya Bachchan called for 'lynching' of the accused in full public view. BJP MP and former actress Roopa Ganguly supported the demand and called for "public hangings" of rapists, saying that it should be made a spectacle.
Yes, our lawmakers really recommended that a crime as heinous as lynching in response to a crime is the way to go. Instead of arguing for police reforms, better security measures, plugging gaps in implementation and seeking gender sensitisation, the MPs bade for blood while standing in the most hallowed temple of Indian republic.
This especially when mob violence is one of India's biggest challenges. According to a report in Quint, there have been 113 cases of mob lynchings in India since 2016.
While the anger against the accused in this case is more than justified, it appears a little tone-deaf for a Member of Parliament and a person of influence to call for more violence in response to violence.
Incidentally, the last couple of years have also seen the "trend" of "WhatsApp lynchings" - mob violence caused by rumours and fake messages spread on platforms like WhatsApp against alleged child abductors.
Who is to say that such a call will not lead to further persecution of innocents at the hands of violent and often misinformed mobs?
Retributive justice can be satiating but to mistake it for a full-proof solution to crime is infantile and inefficient. To put things in perspective, the last public hanging in the United States took place in 1860 before being abolished for life.
Lock up the Women
Perhaps even more outrageous has been the response of Telangana government under Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao. The CM called for an 8 pm curfew for women in Telangana’s transport department and sought an end to women working night shifts in order to prevent women from getting raped and burnt, while the police department issued 14 safety tips to be followed by women while outside, essentially putting the onus of their safety entirely on them.
The steps include “shouting and running towards crowded areas” and always being ready to dial 100. Because that’s how women should live in our country. This after it has emerged that the police had initially refused to register the FIR by the vet’s sister shows a remarkable arrogance.
The response is juvenile and a knee-jerk at best. Not just because it impedes of various fundamental rights constitutionally guaranteed to women as equal citizens of the country but it also undermines the agency, independence, freedom and emancipation of women (it does).
Preventing women from stepping out is in no way a proven deterrent to rape. According to the most recent data on rape released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), as 32,559 rapes were reported in India in 2017 and in 93.1% of the cases, the accused were known to the victims.
Of 30,299 such cases, the accused were members of the victim’s family in 3,155 cases. As many as 16,591 rape cases were against “family friends”, employers, neighbours or other known persons. In 10,553 cases, the accused were friends, online friends, live-in partners or separated husbands of the victims.
And yet, potential rapists can roam free.
Coralling women up like sheep and asking them not to go out after sundown goes against the very grain of gender equality. Especially when coming in response to a brutal incident of violence that was the state's responsibility to prevent in the first place.
Liquor, Muslims, Internet and Victim to blame
While the recommended solutions to reduce rape appear symptomatic, the responses to why the rape occurred in the first place are insightful in understanding the responses.
Telangana Home Minister Mohammed Mahmood Ali upon hearing the news brushed aside the failure of the state in protecting a citizen by claiming the victim should have "dialled 100". The minister expressed his anger at why the "educated" doctor called her sister and not the police when she perceived a threat, claiming she could have been saved (if only not for her own stupidity).
Congress's Nalamada Reddy said one of the main reasons for the brutal rape-murder was the indiscriminate sale of liquor in Telangana. Because when men drink, they turn into depraved, raping, murdering animals. (wonder what the #NotAllMen movement would say to that?)
Rajasthan's Minister of Energy and Water Resources B D Kalla blamed the internet and mobile usage for rape and murder. He demanded the union government put censorship on pornographic content on the Internet.
And of course, Muslims. Many politicians such as Goshamahal BJP MLA Raja Singh saw the opportunity to do some communal bashing by claiming that the rapist was someone called Mohammad and that the incident occurred in a "Muslim dominated" area. Never mind that three of the four accused were not Muslims and religion had no role to play in the commission of the crime.
Real problems overlooked
Yet no one seems to be questioning the police delay that went into the investigation. The victim was reported missing by her family several hours before her charred remains were found dumped near a toll booth in Hyderabad. The victim's family has alleged that when they first approached the cops to look for the victim, they were told that she must have "eloped".
Reports also claim that the police ignored concerns against two possible suspects raised by staff of a nearby petrol pump. The family claims that it was not the 'educated' victim's “stupidity” as TL's home minister would have you believe but the delay cops made to start the investigation that led to her death.
Other lapses such as the accused's vehicle being on road with an expired license, lack of patrolling police officers in the vicinity and lack of safe public transport for women were among things that did not find space in the eloquent speeches made by authorities.
While lawmakers currently discuss stricter laws for rape, it may be a good time to consider the fact that incidents of rape and violence against women have continued undeterred even in countries such as Saudi Arabia where rape is punishable by death and treated at par with terror.
In fact, experts and anti-death penalty activists repeatedly point out that hanging criminals for rape may result in a poorer rate of conviction.
A similar tightening of laws took place after the 2012 rape case whose brutality shocked the nation. The legal definition of rape was changed and rape laws amended in the IPC. Fast track courts were set up to investigate rape cases and death penalty for rape of juveniles soon followed.
Despite the efforts, a Reuters Foundation survey in 2018 names India as one of the most unsafe places in the world (the government denied it then, claiming the report was inaccurate and partisan). Several surveys on women have found that many feel increasingly unsafe.
For example, just nine percent of over 40,000 women who participated in a nationwide survey on road safety felt safe when travelling through public transport.
Additionally, despite strengthened rape laws especially against rape of minors under age 12, official crime data shows the number of reported rapes of minors actually increased from 8,541 in 2012 to 19,765 in 2016.
Instead of symptomatic treatment of the issue, India currently needs to dig deeper into what causes violence against women in the country. On the one hand, the country wants its women to shine, to go to space, to go to school. And it never fails to romanticise misogyny violence against women be in blockbuster films (read Kabir Singh), shame women for being out at night (remember Nirbhaya?), defend those publicly accused of harassment and blaming their stupidity for causing their own rape and murder before locking them up.