|Volume 7 | Issue 02 | February 2013 ||
Rape of India: Statistics,
The Delhi incident has shown that even justice is not enough -- vast, substantive changes need to be made, says IKHTIAR KAZI.
They beat her unconscious, gang raped her repeatedly, and threw her out naked, bleeding with severe damages to her internal organs; the ordeal on December 16 lasted two hours on a bus, in the streets of New Delhi. After the terrible incident ended, another series of crimes began.
The Delhi police officers, with their contradictory slogan, “Citizens First,” came onto the scene nearly an hour after the rape, not with the intent to exercise clear, precise decisions, but instead wasted time fighting about jurisdictional matters1 -- their concern, who will be in charge of the case?
As if that was not bad enough, they compounded the problem by taking the victims to a hospital further away2 for emergency care, allowing precious time to elapse. Imagine if the case were a heart attack, where seconds play a role between life and death, what would have happened?
So let us ask, who is in charge? Who is responsible? Who will be punished?
The doctors and nurses, product of the same broken system as the police officers, followed the similar pattern of apathy; they too victimised the victims, forgetting not only their Hippocratic Oath, but also the universal common code of decency. The doctors left the victims languishing on the hospital floor -- naked and bleeding. If doctors lack the judgment to provide sheets or clothing to cover a body, what does one expect from them when they have to perform complicated procedures?
If India is serious, and wants to make a real difference in the lives of the majority, who struggle on a daily basis, the country has to do more than just bring the rapists to justice.
Political leaders marched to the podium not to offer solutions, justice, hope, or even show some hint of remorse for their lack of leadership, which has contributed to the state of affairs. Rather, they made statements of ignorance, not outdoing their previous pattern of follies, errors and grave negligence of basic empathy.
After the gang rape, Congress Party MP, Abhijit Mukherjee, who is also the son of the President of India, mocked Delhi's women protesters as “dented and painted,”3 who visit discotheques and stage candle-light protest marches; suggesting they do it for theatrical show rather than genuine concern.
Deflection and lack of accountability of political leaders is the usual playbook, which they have masterfully used to get away from tackling issues. The leaders have contributed to the broken system that allows crimes to be committed without justice. An apology is a first step, but it is not enough; to break the pattern of failed results, a substantive change needs to be made.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, a party with the slogan, “the party with a difference,”4 and their cadres at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) made statements no different from their rivals at Congress. RSS Chief, Mohan Bhagwat commented that rapes happen in cities and not in villages, alluding to western lifestyle and value systems as the cause. They back their assertions without data or statistics, but worse, their words lack any sense of compassion. Their rancour is only good for divisive propaganda.
It turns out that the statistics for the ratio of rapes in cities versus rural India, does not match the rhetoric. According to Mrinal Satish, an associate professor of law at Delhi's National Law University, the data from his Yale Law School dissertation show rape cases are fairly proportionate between rural and urban population.5
Religious leaders, not to be left behind, too weighed in. Guru Asaram Bapu commented that “the girl was also responsible ... she should have called the culprits 'brothers' and begged them to stop.”6
He went on to blame “foreign culture which is dangerous to society.”7 The Guru, like politicians, understands the strategy of diversion, and has mastered the game of blaming external factors, which ironically is in contrast to his preaching of self-consciousness and transcendence.
In an interesting but not surprising move, Narendra Modi, BJP leader and chief minister of Gujarat, offered condolence and regret to the victim's family. One should not forget, it was Modi who was in charge, when the well-orchestrated 2002 Gujarat rioters systematically targeted and raped Muslim women.8 Fast-forward a decade; he is now the presumptive frontrunner for prime minister, not for a minor organisation, but for India's second largest political party. This is a feat even the most seasoned politician in Bangladesh would have a hard time getting away with.
Modi, who sees the world through a blurred lens of “foreign invaders” and “historical injustices,” caters to the prevailing sentiments of many corners of India. In an op-ed in Bloomberg, Shikha Dalmia9 writes a well-reasoned piece that highlights why this rape case has gotten so much more attention than the rapes that took place in Gujarat.
If public officials and community leaders are able to get away with crude, backward statements and hypocrisy and form a base of supporters as a result of it, what behaviour should one expect from police officers and others of society who are under less scrutiny?
It is no wonder that rape cases in India go severely underreported.10
Even if the officials and leaders were righteous in speech and action, there is the sheer bandwidth and efficiency issues that must be addressed -- 30 million11 cases are pending in the Indian courts today; approximately 8.5 million for over five years.12 In the capital city, one estimate is that it will take nearly 500 years13to get through the backlog of cases. Each day, the number of crimes and cases are increasing -- there is a rape in India every 20 minutes.14
Why the backlog? One factor is the ratio of judges to the population. Some may find it surprising, but undemocratic and more populated China has a ratio of judges that is 10 times more than the world's largest democracy, India.15
The data for crime and punishment is equally staggering -- of 600 rapes reported in 2012 in Delhi, only one led to a conviction16 -- just one! Of the 95,000 pending rape cases in 2011 across India, only 15% made it to trial.17 Adjust the odds after considering the number of rape cases that go unreported -- it is a criminal's paradise.
The odds are skewed in favour of perpetrators by such lopsided statistics, what incentive do they have, not to commit the crime?
At the centre of any rape is the asymmetric power between the perpetrator and the victim. Among many factors, this asymmetry in India shows its ugly face often through caste and religious dynamics. What will a lower caste, landless maid do if she is raped by the Brahmin landlord babu?
The probabilities are a known-known -- she knows her odds of justice as much as the criminal knows his chance of conviction.
The National Commission for Women has documented a pattern of gang rape and sexual humiliation of lower caste women in rural India.
The lawyer for the defence, who has an obligation and duty to defend the rapists, perhaps moulded by cultural prejudice, misogyny or extreme class bias, in a statement proclaimed that “respected”18 women in India are not raped. He is free to have his opinion, but the All India Bar Association is also obliged to uphold the “code of professional conduct, discipline and etiquette”19 among its members.
In a recent article in The Hindu, activist Ruchira Gupta (winner of the Clinton Global Citizen Award) wrote, “In the case of Muslim and Dalit women, the rate of conviction is almost nil. Three Dalit women are raped daily in some part of our country. When Bhanwari Devi was raped in a Rajasthan village, the judge asked, 'How can a Dalit woman be raped?' Most women say they wouldn't even think of telling the police about an attack for fear the cops would ignore them or worse blame them and abuse them.”20
On December 16, at every level, the victim was let down and victimised by the entire system -- from those who are entrusted to defend and protect, to ordinary citizens who just walked by the victims thinking someone else will stop to help. The culture of apathy needs to be tackled at the most formative years; it begins with kids in schools taught how to be responsible citizens.
Public officials who are known to have committed grave crimes should not be allowed to represent the world's largest democracy -- regardless of the vision of economic miracle they promise to deliver. It says just as much about a nation that turns a blind eye to them as much as the crime says about the perpetrators.
Protection and concern of basic human rights is borderless. Everyone in society has a role to play if change is to be achieved.
Undoubtedly, with the world's attention, this case will be fast-tracked, and receive attention that other similar crimes do not. The accused have already been rounded up, and it is likely the case will move through the long-winded bureaucracy at an unfamiliar rapid speed. India will reluctantly have to shine a light on an issue that is more common than many people realise or want to realise.
However, holding the rapist, an individual police officer or a doctor responsible is only part of the solution. To re-gut a broken system, the entire chain of command, the reporting structure, all the way to the top must be held responsible. They must answer to their failures, and be reprimanded. This is the only way for civil societies to extract results. Without incentives to perform, without holding people accountable at every level, without solving problems at the roots, the outcome will be the failed demonstrated track record.
This rape incident and issues surrounding it are not an “Indian problem,” although some peculiarities are indeed Indian.
On December 29, the 23-year-old who had aspirations of making a better life for herself, who worked at a call centre to pay tuition for school, with hopes to one day practice physiotherapy,21 died of gruesome internal injuries, in Singapore. This rape may have killed one individual, but it brought to the surface the unheard voices of countless victims of the same crime -- this time the victim represented something more, for better or for worse, she represented the Rape of India.
Lastly, I cannot help observe, that India with its staggering $50 billion22 annual budget for defence, keen on protecting its citizens from “radical” Pakistan, communist China, or even diminutive23 Bangladesh, did not have the domestic know-how in their capital city to treat the victim, but had to rely on the city-nation of Singapore. Perhaps it is time for India to rethink and refocus; spend less on precision bombs and laser guided missiles, and more on domestic matters, that impact the daily lives of ordinary citizens.24 Then one day, “Incredible India” and “India Shining”25 will mean something more than an overused slogan to the neglected majority.
1. NY Daily News and DNA India :http://www.nydailynews.com/ news/crime/male-friend-india-rape-victim-describes-attack-article-1.1233676 and http://www.dnaindia.com/india/ report_activists-slam-delhi-police-response-in-gang-rape-case_1785899
Ikhtiar Kazi is an economist and capital markets professional, residing in New York City. He was educated at the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His contact information and articles can be found on his blog http://strategyandexecution.wordpress.com.
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