Friday the thirteenth of this month brought bad news to the four Indian men who were sentenced to death by hanging, following their decision to brutally gang-rape and murder a 23 year old woman on a bus in Delhi last December. Marking the end of an intense seven month trial period, the outcome of this high-profile attack could play an integral role in sculpting the world’s perception of the Indian judiciary, and also in the ongoing battle to achieve equal rights for women in India.
The court’s verdict determined a less-than-ideal fate for the four young attackers – Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta – by condemning them all to the death penalty, whilst the people of India rejoiced heartily and cried out (somewhat bloodthirstily) for public execution. Eight months of pent-up public anger exploded messily into national elation, as the victim’s family exclaimed that “true justice” had been served. Perhaps a response such as this is to be expected following such a horrendous act of evil, yet somehow this public celebration raises a number of concerns.
Firstly, the death penalty. It’s difficult to associate such obvious celebration of human death with national progression. Especially in a country whose most widely respected and admired leader, Mahatma Gandhi, preached for the people of India to practice non-violence in all situations. How do we distinguish the fine line between murder and organised execution? Will leaving four men to dangle from the rafters achieve anything constructive, or just satisfy the hatred of a nation?
Secondly, it seems to me that public focus has shifted rather unhealthily; shouldn’t our concern be placed on protecting a potential victim’s life, rather than securing the criminals’ death? The true issue which needs to be addressed, and which I fear is being lost amidst a sea of hatred, is the prevention of sexual abuse, rape and brutality towards women in India. Whilst Judge Yogesh Khanna claims that the attack last December falls into the “rarest of rare” crime category, there is plenty of evidence to support the contrary – that gang rape remains rife and unchallenged in India. Only last month was a separate reported rape causally explained away, and the blame placed upon “female promiscuity”. It’s a joke, right? Oh, except it’s not fucking funny.
On a slightly more positive note, since the December attack the number of reported rape cases has doubled to exceed 1100 separate incidents. Not only does this indicate a willingness in females to speak out against episodes of sexual abuse, but also suggests a reaffirmed faith in the Indian judiciary. Both extremely positive changes, but there is much more that can be done for the women of India.
Whilst the media frenzy surrounding the attack on December 16th has played a vital role by casting this issue into the limelight on the global stage, it is essential that India engages with this tragedy constructively, to allow for better protection of their women in future years. Perhaps the answer to this extensive issue within India’s society is not hot-blooded revenge? Maybe we need to look further than extinguishing the lives of rapists, for other rapists will be born into society. Perhaps what is reallyneeded is for the people of India to embrace a positive shift in culture, and to take the educated path that paves the way to gender equality and heightened mutual respect between men and women. Women need to know their rights in order to demand ownership over their own bodies. If this human right is exploited, then national support must surround them, empower them and unconditionally protect them. As we watch the situation in India develop, we can only hope that the Indian government prioritises the safety of innocent civilians over the bloodshed of its convicts, and decides to focus on prevention of abuse, as opposed to delivering more crowd-pleasing demonstrations of capital punishment.