Unfortunately, there is little discussion in the media about how we need to do more to support survivors and to implement existing laws. Instead, if on the one hand existing laws are being trashed as ‘draconian’ and an invitation for ‘false complaints,’ on the other hand, there is a shrill cry for new and more severe laws to ‘deter’ rape.
The Central Government and the Delhi Government have been pushing for lowering the age of juvenility in rape cases, and for the media too, 16 December is an occasion to project the juvenile convict who will soon be released, as the symbol of dangers to women on the streets. The Central Government is also proposing a ‘sex offenders registry’ in the wake of this case.
There are many reasons why such proposals are dangerous and misguided – though they of course suit Governments that wish to divert attention from their abdication of the responsibility to support survivors and implement existing laws.
There is no evidence in India that any significant number of those convicted for sexual crimes go on to commit more such crimes. There is no evidence either, that juvenile offenders form a large percentage of rape offenders in India. It is well known that a large number of juveniles accused of rape have actually been accused by parents of girl-friends with whom they have had consensual relationships.
How, then, will locking up juveniles in adult jails make women safer? Should we not instead seek to make better systems of reform and rehabilitation for both juvenile and adult offenders – to create ropeways to help convicted offenders turn their lives around and away from gender violence?
More importantly – where do boys and teenage men learn rape and impunity? Every time we fail to punish an adult offender (as cited in all the cases named in the previous section – Muzaffarnagar rape/riot cases, Bhagana rapes, Asaram, Tejpal cases – for instance) are we not giving them lessons in getting away with rape? Timely trials and surety of punishment in most cases, and a total end to victim blaming and excuses for rape, would be a much better deterrent than severity of punishment in one or two cases.
Justice Verma Committee felt humbled by the maturity of women’s groups that rejected the demand for lowering JJ age. Wish media, politicians would show less arrogance, and more humility and maturity on the issue now!
The Justice Verma report had noted, quoting extensively from studies of international experience:
“We have heard experts on the question of reduction of the age of a juvenile from 18 to 16 for the purpose of being tried for offences under various laws of the country. We must confess that the degree of maturity displayed by all the women’s organisations, the academics and a large body of thinking people have viewed this incident both in the criminological as well as societal perspective humbles us….We are of the view that the material before is sufficient for us to reach the conclusion that the age of ‘juveniles’ ought not to be reduced to 16 years.”
The author is a famous activist and Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association. Views expressed here are the author’s own