Can legislation actually curb rape?
Anup Kumar Biswas
Can the recognition of 'Country's Daughter' protect females from further humiliation and restore their graceful status in the society? Talking about the recent heinous and shameful rape story of a female physiotherapy intern who was beaten along with her male friend and gang raped inside a running bus by six criminals in Delhi on December 16, 2012. She was moved to Singapore for further treatment but unfortunately died on 29th December. Massive protests had already been raised after the gang rape and there had been an emotional outburst and agitation throughout India. The violent protest rose to such a height that the Honourable Prime Minister along with other ministers had to come forward to control the deteriorated situation with lots of positive and compensatory initiatives. The victim has been declared 'India's Daughter' and given solemn respect. This unfortunate incident has set a perfect example that how a tragedy can sometimes seize a nation's attention and stir the conscience of the whole community. From ancient period, rape has been regarded as a way of gratifying inhuman instinct of males upon females. During war-time, rape is regarded as a trophy of war. Even in peace time and in many independent countries where women's right and female security is given utmost priority, we have to witness the brutal consequences of rape frequently. But physical abuse of women can no longer be an acceptable aspect of a civilized nation.
Brief situational analysis in Bangladesh
Our sweet country Bangladesh is not also free from this evil curse. We cannot find a single day when rape has not been committed. The new year 2013 has welcomed us with four reported incidents of brutal rape including female child inside our country. According to a report of 'ODHIKAR' (A Human Rights Organization), about 760 women and children were raped between January and November in 2012 while the number was 711 in 2011, 559 in 2010, 456 in 2009 and 454 in 2008. Of the 760 victims in the year 2012, 188 were gang raped while 69 were killed after rape. It is quite alarming that the more the consciousness is rising, the more the ratio of rape is increasing. There is deep anxiety about the security of females in the country nowadays. We cannot condole ourselves that even in far developed and most civilised countries like France, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Japan, rape takes place or the percentage of rape is quite high in other countries comparing to ours. But if we consider implementation of laws, inflicting punishment, treatment and rehabilitation of the victim, compensation to the victim and social security of victim's family, our country is lagging far behind. It is sometimes quite surprising and embarrassing that rape victim receives lashes instead of justice in our country.
Challenges in controlling rape in Bangladesh
It is quite impossible to uproot rape from Bangladesh overnight. Factors behind such frequent occurrences of rape in Bangladesh are:
-Indifferent attitude of the society is seen towards this heinous criminal act. None except some individuals and women rights activitists protests against such crime and discrimination against women.
-A series of reaction and protest is covered by the electronic and press media but which fizzles out in a few days bearing no aftermath consequences.
-Most of the criminal cases against rape languish in the Courts for months.
-In most cases, police are reported to be negligent in receiving complaints and conducting investigation. Legal complaints aren't followed up by suitable inquiries or arrests.
-There remains continuous pressure on victims of rape and her family members in order to discourage legal complaints.
-Lack of strict implementation of the existing legal provisions.
Prevailing legal remedies against rape in the country
In Bangladesh, the maximum punishment for committing rape, under 'The Penal Code, 1860' is imprisonment for life. The usual punishment for rape under 'The Prevention of Repression against Women and Children (Amendment) Act, 2003' is life imprisonment but if the victim later dies or the rape is committed by more than one man (i.e. gang rape), then the maximum punishment is death penalty. Besides, under this Act, the case must be completed within 180 days and the investigation should be completed within 60 days of the order by a magistrate or filing of the case. The said Act also provides that State shall bear all the necessary expenses of a child born out of rape or a rapist will have to pay for the up-keeping and up-bringing of a child born as consequence of rape.
Conventional recommendations for reforms
Legal reforms: Though highest punishment has been provided by our criminal laws for those committing rape, it should be made more harsh and deterrent. Death penalty does not agonise an offender since it allows very little time to the miscreant to repent for his misdeeds. A continuous period of rigorous imprisonment for more than twenty years may be imposed. In India, it is now proposed and waiting for consideration that the sex organ of the rapist shall be made inactive permanently by chemical injection. Imprisonment of thirty years has also been proposed there.
Establishment of separate judicial inquiry commission: Reported rape cases should derive more acute attention besides regular criminal trial process. A separate judicial inquiry commission headed by a retired judge of the High Court Division should be established to look into every rape cases. The commission will submit its report within one month and such report will be tabled in the Parliament along with action taken by the government.
Speedy and separate trial: Court must ensure speedy and separate trial in rape cases. Most rape cases filed in ordinary criminal Courts languish in the Courts for months. Although, according to the provisions of 'Prevention of Suppression against Women and Children (Amendment) Act, 2003', such cases must be tried within 180 days, the rape cases being more sensitive, should be tried more expeditiously and if possible, in less than 180days.
Reforms in the Police department: Upgrading the police personnel and increasing the number of technologically advanced police forces should be a priority issue. Rape cases must be investigated by special units within the police force. The statement of the victim should be taken in private and each police station should have a 'trauma room' for this purpose.
No lawful wedlock with the rapist: It is sometimes an established practice in our country that the rape victim is compelled to marry the rapist since it is taught to her that no man will marry her. Such illogical and inconsistent practice is prevalent in mostly rural areas during dispute settlement or conciliation by village head-man. It must be stopped immediately because it will accelerate rape instead of reducing it. A common philosophy will be established that: “If you fail to marry a woman, rape her first and then she will automatically be compelled to marry you.”
Public emergency helpline: An emergency 24-hour public telephone helpline for women in distress operated by Home Ministry may be launched and it will be connected with all the police stations across the country in which rape victim or anyone on her behalf can easily and directly report such incident either before or after the occurrence.
Compensation: In majority rape cases in our country, neither the victim nor the victim's family receives any compensation from the rapist or from the government. It is recommended that the government should provide compensation for the purpose of survival and social rehabilitation of both the victim and the victim's family. It needs to mention here that the Delhi government has awarded a compensation of Rs. 15 lakh to the family of the gang rape victim recently.
Changing attitude of people towards women: Attitude of the people and the society towards the women should be changed. We must possess a positive outlook for women that they are human beings having equal status like men. Their emotions should be considered, their performances should be evaluated and they also deserve dignity and status.
Spreading religious norms and ethical values: Religious norms and ethical values should be imparted to the children from their childhood by their parents or near relations either inside or outside the family.
Including 'Gender Studies' in the text book: In the text book of secondary level, a separate chapter on 'Gender Studies' containing rules and regulations against rape, eve-teasing and sexual harassment may be recommended for inclusion.
Massive protests: One another important step to be taken against such heinous act is to speak up. People from all spheres of life must come forward and raise strong voice against the criminals what actually has been done recently in Delhi. Both electronic and press media have to play a key role in this respect in order to raise awareness among the common people against rape and sexual aggressions.
It can clearly be said that legislation alone cannot reduce the occurrences of rape. No nation can derive psychological and intellectual satisfaction without showing profound respect and ensuring highest security to its womenfolk. Perhaps, it is high time we undertook adequate steps towards protecting female sanctity. The leaders of the country are to set up a standard to face the existing challenges rising from rape and other inhuman, degrading treatment to females. Finally, if the leaders fail to do something in this regard, can't we, the common people and civil society, do anything for our daughters, sisters and mothers? Should we remain silent?
The writer is an Assistant Professor of Law, Premier University, Chittagong, Bangladesh.