My Head Mistress in school used to often tell us – “the most endangered of all species in the world are human beings, we only have ‘homo-sapiens’ in abundance.” The recent gang rape in Delhi on a 23 year old unfortunate girl has only reinforced my faith in my teacher’s words. It seems like many men, have still a long way to go in the process of evolution to human beings. They are, in fact, behaving worse than other primitive animals.

Perhaps, we men can never understand what our women go through every single day. We can at best sympathize with them, but not empathize in the true sense. Imagine – those awkward whistles while walking on the pavements; the ‘oye mere bul bul’ comments by the street urchins; the intentional touches and nudges in crowded trains, buses; the cheap stares that they encounter on a minute to minute to basis at schools, colleges, work places, shopping malls; the apprehension with which they get into an auto rickshaw; the fear with which they go out for an evening walk; the trepidation that they face when out for dinner with a friend – well, the list is never ending. How can I not mention the frightful tension that parents of girls face every single day, every single minute when their kids are out?   So, to sum it up in one line – we men have made lives a living hell for our women folk.

And women live in this hell everyday and yet strive to make our lives happier – even at the cost of sacrificing their own self interests many a times. All of us want women in our lives – as a loving mother, a caring sister, a beautiful girlfriend, a devoted wife, an affectionate grandmother – yet, we do not give them the same love, care and respect that we expect from them. In fact, the very word ‘women’ suggests that there can be no ‘men’ without ‘women’. But we kill them even when they are barely a month old fetus, molest them when they are growing up and rape them to satiate our animalistic carnal desires. And we call ourselves as proud inheritors of a 5000 year old vibrant ‘civilization’. We are doing injustice to the very word -‘civilization’- by calling ourselves civilized, when in reality we have not come far from our barbaric selves. What else can one say when a 5 year old girl is raped or when, like in the Delhi case, a girl is brutally gang raped?

The Delhi rape case has rudely stirred and questioned the moral conscience of the country. Protests have erupted across the country today and people are seething in anger at the laxity of law enforcement authorities in not just preventing such crimes but also in bringing the perpetrators to book. The fundamental principle of jurisprudence on which the legitimate authority of a state rests is on the fear of retribution by the state. When we do not have laws which prescribe deterrent punishments and a judicial system which effectively brings the perpetrators to justice, this fear of retribution dissipates. As a consequence – criminals strut around fearlessly, crimes go unpunished, fear rules everywhere and the state loses its legitimate authority in the eyes of the people. This is precisely what has happened in our country today.

True, measures have to be taken immediately to fix these loopholes in the system. We need to build a criminal justice system where justice is delivered without unreasonable delay. The fast track courts in our country are doing injustice to even their name. We need stronger laws and more importantly, vigilant mechanisms to enforce them. It is equally important to train our law enforcement and prosecution agencies in scientific methods of investigation – a step that will go a long way in building a water tight prosecution case- something that is most essential for getting a conviction in a court of law.

Apart from these, one other suggestion that can be proposed is to make the law related to ‘attempt’ much clearer and tougher. Every crime has four steps. First, an intention to commit a crime, followed by preparation, the next stage is attempt and finally the commission of the crime. Our statutes have punishments for ‘attempt to commit’ and the ‘actual commission’ of a crime. However, I was horrified when I read cases, where the accused were acquitted on flimsy grounds when charged with an attempt to commit rape. The contention the accused generally take in such cases is that their acts amount to mere preparation and not attempt. Law punishes attempt and not preparation.

I remember reading a case wherein a man forcefully pulled a girl towards a bush at twilight, undressed himself, mounted on the girl and tried to rape her. However, he was unsuccessful in the act as he failed to get an erection. Luckily, the girl was saved. But strangely and horrifyingly, he managed to walk free by convincing the court to believe that his act amounted to only preparation and not attempt. What acts amount to attempt and what amount to only preparation can be highly subjective and wholly depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. There are a large number of precedents available which manifestly show us that this vacuum in the statute has been abused repeatedly by offenders.  In order to prevent this abuse, the Law Commission of England in its report on Inchoate Offences, recommended the British Parliament to make even ‘criminal preparation’ a punishable offence. We need to take a cue from them and make even ‘preparation’ to rape a punishable offence.

Yes, we need better preventive mechanisms, stricter laws, competent prosecution agencies and efficient courts. But do they suffice? Can we have a policeman at every street corner? Can the government place a constable in every bus or public transport at all times? These measures can at best, help to reduce the likelihood of the occurrence of such crimes to a certain extent and nothing more. A large responsibility rests on the society as well. People, in general, need to be more vigilant. Incidents like eve- teasing have to be condemned and immediately brought to the notice of the concerned authorities. Nothing can substitute a sound education in morals and values. Youngsters, right from high schools and colleges, need to be taught to respect women. Every college goer must understand that objectification of women is not ‘cool’. In addition to this, at the cost of sounding chauvinistic, I would say that a significant responsibility rests on women too. Though it is true that the government must put adequate security measures in place, it is always safe to take reasonable care and pre-caution.

Lastly, the society must stop stigmatizing the unfortunate victims of rape. While the perpetrator of the crime gets acquitted and struts around in the society freely, the victim suffers a life term punishment of trauma and shame. The responsibility is on the society to ensure that the victims come out of their trauma and join the mainstream again. It is also important for the family – be it the victim’s parents, relatives, boyfriend or friends to stand by them in those tough times. This will not only embolden the victims to fearlessly report such crimes to the police, but will also help them lead a peaceful and happy life, forgetting the unfortunate ordeal.

But are all these measures enough? My friend asked me last night – “You can make laws to prevent sexual harassment and rape, but of what help will they be when a cheap ass tailor touches you with base intentions when you go to get your dress stitched, or when some person makes a contemptuous comment at you while on the street, or when someone purposively nudges you in a crowded train or a bus? Can these tough laws come to our rescue then? Will they prevent us from facing such embarrassment and humiliation every single day?” Her questions were persuasive and pertinent. They were also hard to answer.

Later in the night, I sent her a text message – Yes, laws cannot help as they cannot cure a disease of the mind. But we need not lose hope. We see hope on the streets of our towns and cities where thousands of youngsters have poured onto to express their outrage against rape. We see hope in the hundreds of tweets and facebook statuses of our youngsters condemning the objectification of women. We need not worry, for this new generation is making the independence movement meet its true ends – don’t you remember the Mahatma’s words? “Our nation will have achieved true independence and freedom only when a woman can walk in the midnight all alone and feel safe”

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Tejasvi Surya