Does Encounter Stop Sexual Assault or Appease Public?


Seven years ago, Priyanka had no clue that something similar might happen to her. She was apprehensive of some impending doom on a fatal night as her last conversation with her sister bears testimony. Yet she couldn’t imagine the brutality she would be subjected to by her perpetrators neither could Jyoti Singh her ancestor. Who had imagined that a casual hangout would culminate into such a catastrophe? The spine-chilling and blood-curdling incidences of horror is no less than a beast devouring their prey. There is no single Nirbhaya, you name her and she becomes Jyoti, Asifa, Roja, Priyanka and many thousand unnamed who have kissed the ground even before being able to fight for self. Voices are smothered, suppressed only to linger as unheard muffled cries. An interesting resemblance in all such instances points to the fact that only women trying to claim the public space become the bone of contention. Dr Susmita Dasgupta, from JNU, addresses the very idea of assault as an “act of regression to animalism, which is nothing but a paradox of participatory democracy”. She explains that people gang up only to rough up soft targets vilifying and terrorizing them just for the sake of fun.

The democratic structure rests upon its pillars, judiciary being a crucial and independent one. It safeguards the fundamental rights of citizens ensuring justice. It is supposed to be impartial and the final hope for the grieved and distressed. However, the actions taken by the Cyberabad police officials has flabbergasted the public in general. The appreciations showered in favour of the commissioner should not be taken as an act of bravery, but a calculated step to exonerate themselves of their responsibility. Where were they when Priyanka was in dire need? Could they have not stopped Nirbhaya at the initial registers of crime? Why could they not find Asifa on the very day she went missing? Why could they not save Unnao rape survivor? Or will they encounter those who set her ablaze? Will justice be achieved?

In a country where women are deified and commodified simultaneously and sex education is still a taboo, the status of women seems inevitably at stake. Where lies such anomaly is no irresolvable mystery. But this owes largely to the hypocrisy intrinsic in human beings: the hypocrisy of not being able to come to terms with one’s own shortfalls. Although the problem appears skin deep it is actually deep-rooted in the psyche. If Freudian psychoanalysis is believed to hold true, then all individuals are restrained from indulging in any forms of discordant actions by the self-censor called the reality principle. The rejected rather repressed instincts find a place in the ‘unconscious’ finding expression only in particular outlets. Any form of violence may be seen as an expression of the forbidden self.  

These maps try to represent incidents of rape across the country. Where maximum cases were found in central Indian state both for the number of rape cases and the murder due to rape cases.

The underlying psychology

The idea of assault emanates from the unequivocal desire to possess, to enslave the women who is biologically ‘different’, in order to assert dominance. The ideology beneath lies in the consideration that women are in-equal, and the ‘other’ of the male self. In a patriarchal society, it is normative to consider women as subservient to men only to consent and conform to the accepted norms. Those transgressing are considered deviant. In the act of incarcerating them (the deviants) and imposing their will, they feel overpowered. The groans and tortures inflicted upon the victims induce a sadomasochistic pleasure among the perpetrators who take pride in having committed such a crime.

A denial becomes implausible and this triggers the several kinds of crime against such as rapes, murder and acid attacks. What bolsters the courage of the committers is the laxity of the punishments, the silence of the victims and self-justification of the offence. It is often seen that many accused get acquitted of their crimes with very slight or negligible punishments. The punishment for a crime against women is lenient more than required only in India. The punishment for rape is quite harsh in other countries. Who is to be blamed for it remains unanswered? Often the victim’s kith and kin run from pillar to post seeking justice and the accused get away bribing in case of powerful ones of manipulating evidence. The silence of victims is noticed more when offenders lay among the close ones and according to National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2015-16, an estimated 99.1% of sexual violence cases go unreported. Therefore, molesters in the garb of known faces, get away very easily after having their fill of fulfilment.  Women are even unaware of herself being raped when it happens out of wedlock by their own spouses. Fear of defamation, losing stability specifically financial independent, and parent’s pressure holds them back from voicing their grievances. The fact that they derive to be outraged has been internalized within the offender who considers it to be their birthright.

Discursive moves

Every abominable incident which is well planned and executed is followed by a series of discursive moves. While some people even those in power put the blame upon the victims rather than chasing the accused. On the other hand, some are compelled to take up such instances as the epicentre of disseminating violence and polarization. The presence of a name belonging to a particular community instigates rumour mongers in blowing the whistle. Just as the length of a dress cannot determine the intentions of a woman, faith cannot be a parameter for categorizing the culprits. One who is culpable remains so no matter what. No faith or believe whatsoever endorses any form of deliberate violence and such contentions attempt at trivializing the gravity of such crimes.   

What this nation undergoes is strangely not only unacceptable but highly problematic. Those to be punished gets away with little or no remorse and those to be supported are made to wreathe in groans leave aside the psycho-pathological haemorrhage caused to them by the insensitivity of public. There is a failure to empathize with the discarded soul laying “Like a patient etherized upon a table”. What is offered instead is sympathy, death threats if alive or even worse offers of a cheap compromise staking the integrity of a being.

What in the name of justice?

Justice is a loaded word which becomes a wild goose chase when it comes to offering to the victims of such heinous crimes. The question is, can there be a complete justice? Never. “What is done cannot be undone”. The problem of offering an unbiased justice also becomes a problematic affair given the fact that this nation is a democratic republic. The administration becomes so engrossed in executing the judgement in a non-partisan manner that it so nonchalantly. The outlook lies in not violating human rights, especially for offenders. In the course of doing so, we forget that a lot has already been violated in case of the victims never to be reimbursed. Interestingly in certain instances, it is often noticed that if the culpable is a minor his punishment is waived no matter how horrendous his act may be. Even after lowering the age limit there has been not much difference. But if it is another way round is the same measure adopted? The answer is a big no at least in case of Asifa.

The failure lies in the entire system which has still not been able to address the grievances. In almost all cases the victims take their last breath a few hours after the mishap and their relatives strive to achieve justice for the rest of their lives. Such leniency only adds impetus to the potential offenders who gain their self-confidence with every passing day. The burgeoning trend in the number of rapes with aggravated crudity testifies this fact.

The form of judgement offered that too after a lapse of several years of trial reduces the very urgency of the issue. The verdict no longer remains an exemplary one. Therefore, the proceedings should be prompt, keeping in view the urgency of the issue and punishment stringent enough to scare the potential culprit latent in them. However, the extra-judicial killing cannot be appreciated as a means to mitigate the issues of women assault nor does it serve as a substitute. It rather takes from the public the very right to decide their fate. The police should intervene before the apprehensions of such instances.  Instead of brushing aside its responsibilities under the carpet it should admit it lapses and do the necessary. In the very first place, there must be prevention so that there is no need for a cure. 

Is there a remedy?

When a nation outlines particular roles to be performed by gender such offensive crimes become inevitable. Schemes and campaigns to protect women make them more fragile and vulnerable. The sense that she needs to be protected only by the other supposedly stronger “sex” is socially conditioned and transmitted across generations. Research Scholar from A.M.U, Samsad Parween argues “Since childhood, only girls are taught lessons on how to move or how to dress with strict time limitations of movement but the same is not done for men. There is a need for a campaign that would discipline men from the beginning on behavioural aspects with regard to women.” The onus lies on all of us even, women who are also instrumental in the perpetuation of patriarchy. There is a need to address the elephant within us and confront it head-on. The idea of idolizing women becomes incommensurate with the act of commodifying her as an object of perverted desire. Therefore, the panacea for these ill lies in realizing that transgressing the thresholds of civility is blasphemous enough to be denounced. 

(The author is a PhD scholar in the department of English literature, Aligarh Muslim University, India. She has been engaged in interdisciplinary research that brings together literature and social-science methods and materials.)

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