Rapists to pay ultimate price in India
“Hang them! Hang them!”
A 62-year-old grandmother, Arun Puri, scribbled the words on her dupatta, a traditional scarf, after hearing the fate of four men recently convicted in the brutal gang rape in India that eventually killed the 23-year-old victim.
From the moment it broke, the story of the victim dubbed “Nirbhaya,” or “Fearless,” awoke real rage in India and around the world.
India’s government was left with little choice but to react.
In an unprecedented ruling last week, celebrated countrywide by large gatherings, one of which Puri attended, India’s top court planted the seeds of equality with a death sentence by hanging.
The grandmother’s four words summed up the frustrations and abuse that women in that country have historically endured.
It’s a great moment for the women of India after violent years of oppression and abuse.
The death penalty will likely be seen as the significant turning point for India’s female population to be recognized as equals, and to be afforded basic protection.
Hoping for a ride home from a movie theatre last December, the victim and a male companion boarded a private bus, not realizing the six men aboard had been cruising Delhi in search of a victim.
After knocking her friend unconscious, they dragged her to the back of the bus and raped her, then penetrated her with a metal rod, inflicting grave internal injuries.
An hour later, they dumped her on the road naked and bleeding. She died two weeks later.
Enraged young men and women launched a joint grievance through social media; protests across the country erupted, demanding tougher laws and more effective policing.
“As a woman, and mother, I understand how protesters feel,” said Sonia Gandhi, India’s most powerful female politician and president of the governing Congress Party.
“Today we pledge that the victim will get justice.”
Another person, homemaker Rosy John, 62, said the death sentence is too humane.
“After death, they will get freedom,” she said. “They should be tortured and given shocks their whole life.”
Some of India’s most determined women’s rights advocates, according to the New York Times, greeted the verdict with skepticism, doubting the case will do nothing to stem violence against women.
“I think a lot of people were hugging each other because they thought this evil is localized, and will be wiped out, and that is not the case,” said Karuna Nundy, a lawyer who has argued before India’s Supreme Court.
“The sad truth is that it is not a deterrent.”
That remains to be seen.
New legislation is in the making. Yes, violence against women will continue, as it does in other countries. But India’s court has set a powerful deterrence — the death penalty — to punish such behaviour.
Other skeptics fairly question whether death sentences might sway people away from the root cause of sexual violence against Indian girls and women.
Most rapists are not strangers, Nilanjana S. Roy wrote in India’s publication The Hindu.
She said if convicted rapists were hanged consistently for a year, that would entail 10,000 neighbours, shopkeepers, tutors, grandfathers, fathers and brothers.
Her observations clearly illustrate the horrific circumstances Indian women have been have been enduring.
At the same time, major changes are rapidly taking place today.
Many of India’s women are now stepping forward. Reports of rape have skyrocketed.
In the first eight months of this year, Delhi’s police force registered 1,121 complaints — more than double the number from the same period in 2011. The number of reported molestations has increased six-fold over the same period.
In addition, the government has created a fast-track court for rape cases and introduced new laws, criminalizing acts like voyeurism and stalking. Brutal rapes (if there’s such a thing as a non-brutal rape) is now what they call “a capital crime.”
Analysts predict that it’s unlikely these four men will hang, instead having their sentence changed to life in prison.
But the seed has been planted. The women of India still face a long struggle to gain equality. But there’s a new sun on the horizon.
Unfortunately, it took a brutal murder for many to see that light.
Rick Zemanek is a retired Advocate editor.