Saturday, September 28, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L


How a rapist should be punished
Khushwant Singh

SOME weeks ago India Today had a lead story on rape. The cover page highlighted the gory detail that in India a woman is raped every 54 minutes. "Sexual crimes are on the rise in our cities." As a matter of fact, the incidence of rape and crimes against women are much higher, and increasing by the day both in urban and rural areas. A majority of cases do not get reported as common people have no confidence in the police or criminal courts and do not wish to expose victims of such crimes to publicity. The magazineís team of researchers also revealed that 75 per cent of rapists are married men, a substantial proportion of them relatives or friends of the victimís family. This does not cover incidents of gang rape. Besides adducing data on sex-related crimes, the researchers had little to offer by way of solutions. They quoted R.S. Gupta, Delhiís Commissioner of Police, to the effect that if girls dressed moderately and did not expose too much of their bodies, incidence of rape would be reduced by half. This is as silly a statement as I have ever heard. And even sillier the Deputy Prime Ministerís statement that rapists should be sentenced to death. In most advanced countries, even murderers are no longer executed; to hang rapists would be a retrograde step.

We need not indulge ourselves in horrendous results on the lives of victims of rape. Pinki Viraniís story about Aruna, a nurse in Bombay who is still in coma after a quarter of a century of being raped, while her rapist ó having served the sentence of imprisonment ó is scot-free is enough to keep you awake for many nights. We have to take a common-sense approach to the problem.

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Rape and molestation of women take place all over the world; their incidence is much higher in male-dominated societies than in societies where women matter as much as men. India is still a male-dominated patriarchal society in which women are regarded as lower than second-class citizens. The situation in Pakistan is much worse; there violence against women is more prevalent than in India. Only recently an innocent woman was gang-raped with the sanction of a tribal council. We too have had cases of caste panchayats which are behind the rape of women belonging to another caste to settle old scores. It will take time for the man-woman power equation to be balanced.

In advanced societies, rapists are treated as psychopaths needing medical treatment. In backward societies like ours, they are more often normal people who suddenly feel the urge to expend their lust on unwilling females. Lust can be an expression of love; it can also be an expression of hate, revenge or misdirected masculinity. Whatever be the motivating factors, it is a heinous offence against the dignity of women and deserves suitable punishment.

First we must see that it is the offender and not the victim who is exposed to publicity and public disgrace; with us it is the other way round. Victims of rape get much more unwelcome and often unsympathetic media attention. This has to be reversed.

Another necessary step is to legalise prostitution ó carried out in brothels or by call-girls ó provided the sex workers are adults and have not been forced into the trade. The more you try to put down prostitution, the higher will be the incidence of crime against innocent women. You may find the idea repulsive but ponder over it and you will realise there is substance in the argument.

A radical change must be brought about in the punishment for crimes against women. We have blindly followed laws which punish such crimes with imprisonment and fines. Neither are deterrent enough to prevent men from committing them. We should re-introduce our age-old methods of exposing rapists to public disgrace before suitably punishing them. Courts should be empowered to order them to be taken to the localities in which they reside, be stripped and lashed. Nothing can knock the macho out of a man than to be humiliated in front of his friends and neighbours. And finally, the most appropriate punishment for a rapist is not being sent to jail for a long period or hanged (as Advani suggests), but to be deprived of his manhood. The sentence of castration should be made mandatory.

More to life than indulgence

One morning I was listening to kirtan relayed from the Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple). It was very melodious, the words of what I presumed to be Gurbani appealed to me; so I put them on a slip of paper. I could not identify who the composer was. I rang up Reema Anand whose translation of the Sikh evening prayer Rehras was published by Penguin last year.

The next day she sent me the exact words with their meaning in Punjabi. It was not a composition of any of the Sikh Gurus or bhuktas enshrined in the Granth Sahib but of Bhai Gurdas, amanuensis to the earlier gurus. His theme was that human beings never tire of indulging their senses and cling on to life without understanding its purpose till they meet the right guru to guide them. He begins with the eyes: Akkheen veykh na rajjeean boh rang tamaashey (Eyes never tire of watching the colourful pageant of life); ustat nindaa kann sunn rovan tay hassey (Nor ears tire of listening to praise slander, crying and laughter); Saadee jeebh na rajjean kar bhog bilaasey (Then the tongue never has enough of tasting and relishing delicacies); Naq na rajaa vas lai durandh suvasey. (The nose never has its fill of fragrance and foul smells). He sums up Rajj naa koee jeevia koodey bharvaasey (No one ever says heís had enough of life, all on false hopes abide); Peer mureedaan pirhadee sacchee rehraasey (Only those take the right path who find the right guide).

I go along with Bhai Gurdas in believing that we spend our lives enjoying what we see, hear and taste (he left out touch, another sense) and never go beyond them to try and find if there is more to life than indulging in them. He was lucky in having gurus to show him what lies beyond. What can mortals like us do to find the right rehnuma (path-shower)? They are there in their dozens spouting pravachans (sermons) on our TV channels. I find their antics amusing but not one would inspire me to take the path indicated by them.

Only at night

I was director, Public Relations, Punjab, for some years. During that period I made contacts with mediapersons, editors and PR men in Central ministries. One afternoon while I was entertaining some mediapersons at Press Club of India, New Delhi, the clubís then president A.R. Wig entered the bar with a fellow who was introduced to me by him as Major so & so, PR man from Ministry of Defence. I stood up and greeted him and requested him to join us over drinks. While Wig obliged, the PR man from Ministry of Defence declined by saying: Dinay kadi cheri nee, rat nu kadi chaddi nee (At day time I do not touch it, at night I never miss it).

(Contributed by J. Puri, Jalandhar)

Medical prescription

There was an urgent call to the town doctor. When he received it, he found a woman complaining that her husband had swallowed a pen.

"Iíll be right there in a second", said the doctor.

Woman: "What am I to do in the meantime?"

"Use a pencil," came the immediate reply.

(Courtesy: Reeten Ganguly, Tezpur)

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