Yet another law on rape

Published: February 2, 2013

The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar [email protected]

India’s cabinet approved the death penalty for rapists; it was reported on February 2. Does India have a rape problem?

No, it doesn’t. This is according to a report in The Indian Express, “Its official: India 3rd worst offender in rape cases” (December 9, 2008). The person filing the report didn’t understand the data, which actually proves the opposite. It said in the first nine months of that year, there had been 18,359 rapes registered in India, behind only the United States (93,934) and South Africa (54,926).

“Altogether 44,159 cases of different sex offences were registered across India,” the report said, “in such cases, too, India stands third after Britain (62,100) and Germany (47,070).”

India’s population is more than three times that of the United States and more than 12 times that of Britain or Germany. The data indicates that rape in India per million of population, the true indicator of crime levels, is probably among the lowest in the world.

Are things getting worse? No. The annualised number for 2008 in The Indian Express report would be 24,478. There were 24,206 rapes registered in India in 2011 and 22,172 in 2010, according to a report in Mint, published four years after the Express report, (December 19, 2012) titled, “Every hour, two women are raped in India, data shows”.

Anyone who thinks of the United States, England and Germany as more unsafe for women than other nations has no experience of the world.

It’s true that as a tribal society whose women possess something called ‘honour’ which can be ‘lost’, the reporting of rape cases in India is much lower than in more civilised nations. And it’s also true that India’s laws are not sympathetic to the victim on what specific act constitutes rape. But if we were to account for 100 per cent or 200 per cent or even 1,000 per cent under-reporting, India is still no more dangerous for women than even European nations, forget the rest of the Third World.

But to read and watch the media in India, we are surrounded by rapists. Our panic and hysteria about safety in our cities has infected others. In recent weeks, even The New York Times and The Guardian have run pieces reporting how unsafe Indian cities have become, though their reporters should have known better. Only one report, I think it was a journal in CNN, said the female reporter faced no problems in her travels in India.

So what is the reason the cabinet is now seeking death for some rapists (whose victims die or remain in a “persistent vegetative state”)? It isn’t raising crime, as the data shows, or even a general problem. It is bullying by the media, a high moral dudgeon which seems to have possessed all of us in the past couple of years and the fantastic idea that legislation can solve our problems. This disappoints me as I have always thought of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as being wise enough to recognise that writing more laws won’t bring any change. And here, he’s legislating even where there is no evidence of an India-specific problem. Perhaps, he’s doing this just to shut the media up. This is fine, but disappoints me still. The solution will produce more problems.

I’m against the death penalty generally and don’t think the state should be taking life. But I’m making an argument in favour of the victim here.

The clearest reason not to have the death penalty is that it gives the rapist the incentive to kill the victim after the act to clear the evidence. If he’s going to get death anyway, he may as well make sure he’s not identified.

We should think about that.

There are some good changes in the new law — for instance, rejecting cross-examination of a woman’s ‘moral character’ and making irrelevant her previous sexual experience. Also, expanding the definition of rape. These are things that should not have been in practice in any case. And these are not changes that will reduce crimes against women, though they will certainly help in getting more cases registered. Strangely, this rise may then be seen as the law ‘failing’.

And then, perhaps, we shall have yet another law.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2013.

Reader Comments (21)

  • BlackJack
    Feb 2, 2013 - 11:33PM

    The usual twisted logic. First of all, rape is the most under-reported crime, and the skew is far higher in third world countries like ours. Rape cases in India have doubled between 1990 and 2008 – did our collective libido just spike during this period? No – it is just that with increasing urbanization and education levels, the number of rapes being reported has increased. The role that media is playing today is to prevent the subject from disappearing from the radar due to our notoriously small attention span – we have a problem, which is in part because of the way women are perceived in our society. This cannot just be fixed by amending rape laws, but by continuing to sensitize society while also putting fear of God in rapists. Currently the death penalty is only used in the rarest of the rare cases even for homicide, so I don’t buy your argument that rapists will kill the victim just to prevent a trip to the gallows – but they may think twice before having their way with her.

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  • BlackJack
    Feb 2, 2013 - 11:35PM

    But if we were to account for 100 per cent or 200 per cent or even 1,000 per cent under-reporting, India is still no more dangerous for women than even European nations, forget the rest of the Third World.
    It is this approach which is most deplorable, where the crime is reduced to a percentage, with the pathetic argument that even if thousands more were getting raped, our numbers would still look good.

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  • SM
    Feb 2, 2013 - 11:54PM

    Generally I like whatever Aakar Patel writes, I see logic and deep understanding of India’s socio economic situation even if I sometimes disagree with his analysis. However, Mr. Patel this is absolutely incorrect reading of the situation. India does have a rape problem and it needs to be highlighted, heck shouted down from a tall building if one has to. In India women has to face daily discrimination even in family where people are fairly liberal. This is how change happens in a society happen and I am quite glad that womens right has become a national narrative no matter what any international media organization feel about. I would not like my daughter to grow up in a India where I saw among women of my general a constant fear of the dark. No women in India should have to think about going out, drinking, smoking because somehow that will make it legitimate for others to rape her. Women has equal right to be moral or morally corrupt as long as its her choice just like a man. Rapes are indeed under reported in India. Going to police is often the last resort, and these reported numbers are no where near reality. Therefore, I think whatever progressive laws the government is making is welcome, in fact there is a need for more policing and overhaul of the justice system and the actions proposed till now are simply not enough.

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  • Sinclair
    Feb 2, 2013 - 11:57PM

    Very poor article, written in a hurry I presume.

    There are so many things wrong with thinking like this. Reducing crimes to per million statistics does not improve anything in India. We have to reduce the numbers, there is just no way we can remain complacent about this. More than actual rape, it is the phenomenon called eve-teasing which really has to be curbed. There is just no basic teaching about how to treat girls and women in our country. Even more infuriating is the fact there is so little fight-back when there are people who do become witness to such things. That is just criminal.

    You arguments against the ordinance (not a new law) do not hold up because of conditions which you mention yourself in the article (whose victims die or remain in a “persistent vegetative state”) – without bothering to think about them.

    Finally, and I do not mean to be rude, but your construction of this argument reminded me so much about justifications from countries of the third-world of their misery through blaming colonialism/imperialism/zionism/capitalism/hinduism ad nauseam. Pathetic waste of life.

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  • John B
    Feb 3, 2013 - 1:35AM

    Rape is an universal Crime and it especially has become a problem as mega metropolis emerge. No city in the world, either west or east is immune from it and there is always a maximum threshold level of rape crimes, like any other crimes, in any country and India is no exception. The incidence of rape as reported in NY city or Chicago is as similar as in Delhi and effective policing has not reduced the rape rate in NY but nevertheless it streamlined the process of justice and social support to the victim.

    The emphasis should be placed on the victim and not on the rapist.

    Fear of incarceration or death has not prevented or reduced the crime rate in any societies since ancient times and this is the weak point of criminal justice. Modern day criminal justice operates on apprehending criminals and secluding them from society, which is no different than ancient societies where the criminals were shunned outside the village limits forever or for a time period.

    Thus, effective policing is the only way and this may reduce the chance of occurrence of a crime but It will not eliminate the criminal itself.

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  • Sudheer
    Feb 3, 2013 - 4:27AM

    Mr.Patel’s above thoughts are fair indeed, I had similar kind of views on the issue even before and after the Delhi incident. There is no doubt that the Delhi rape incident is most gruesome and deservedly highlighted by the Indian media, particularly, the electronic one. But, they and the foreign based news agencies, seems to have gone berserk and projecting India as a place where every woman on the street is prone to rape. That is absolutely nonsense. India is no better or worse than any other country of the world, when it comes to the safety of a woman’s modesty and dignity. I spent my prime 15 years of my life in the tourism industry and met, interacted with innumerable foreign women, who never complained of being harassed sexually on any of their per-arranged trips involving mindbogglingly different kind of locations, purposes and intents of their visit to this land. Like any other country, India too has its own share of rapists, robbers, murderers, thieves etc.. But, getting hysteric about just one issue, is not the right thing, as we are no better or worse from the rest of the world, at least, when it comes to to the animal like instincts.
    But, one thing that is making me increasing proud about my country is the increasing assertiveness of the new generation, who are now dead set against accepting the norms, hitherto, accepted by the society as a bequeathed fate, that augurs well for the future of the country.

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  • Spud
    Feb 3, 2013 - 6:04AM

    Yes India ranks third in number of rapes reported. In the western nations wives and girldfriends report if the sexual advance is against their will and the person who makes such advances can be jailed. Julian Assange of Wikileaks is one such person against whom there is warrent in Sweden. In order to avoid it he is holed up in Equadorean Embassy in London. In India wives do not report case against their husbands for forced sex and therefore the numbers of reported rapes in India and other similar nations is much less than reality. Rape is a forced sex against a person’s wish and should be punishable. It is therefore incumbent on the man or woman to be aware of the feelings of the other person. Violence is not an answer for problems encountered in any relationship.

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  • jagjit sidhoo.
    Feb 3, 2013 - 7:02AM

    18,359 rape cases and you do not think we have a rape problem you must be out of your mind .What the USA does with its 93934 and South Africa does with their 54926 is their problem but with 18359 REPORTED rapes cases we DO HAVE A PROBLEM

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  • Alan
    Feb 3, 2013 - 8:59AM

    It is not a race – the numbers are horrific enough. India (and South Asia) in general would be better off to wake up to it’s pathetic record on women’s rights in general. Talk to any woman who deal with the patriarchal attitudes in South Asian society and you will realize that all is not well.

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  • Pravakta
    Feb 3, 2013 - 9:13AM

    The author has made a valid point in this article. The same point has been argued from a criminal justice and sociological perspective in a paper at South Asia Analysis Group at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/node/1130 [Paper no 5362]. No matter how we look at the statistics, there is no evidence to prove that India is more unsafe for women than before, nor is there any data to show that India is more unsafe as compared to other developing nations around the world.

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  • Gratgy
    Feb 3, 2013 - 12:44PM

    Mr. Patel,

    Please give some credit to Indian citizens, we do not need the media or your skewed statistics to tell us that India has become more unsafe for women than earlier. We can see it all around us, we live here and can make informed judgements by ourself.

    Your whole idea that this is a media generated hysteria is quite pathetic. The protests in Delhi by the youth were spontaneous and this was the case of the society leading the meda than the reverse that you are trying to portray. You need to get out more.

    The clearest reason not to have the death penalty is that it gives the rapist the incentive to kill the victim after the act to clear the evidence

    I completely agree with you on this HOWEVER have you read the new proposal? The death penalty ONLY applies where the victim is Dead or in a vegetative state i.e. Rape AND Murder not just Rape Don’t you think this is a deterrent for the rapist to cause grievous injury to the victim?

    Please take some time and do some research before you post totally nonsensical articles

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  • gp65
    Feb 3, 2013 - 12:48PM

    That other countries may have a higher rate of rape is no reason to be complacent about rapes in India. The fact that things maybe reported out of context in a couple of WEstern countries does not worry me either. Their perceptions will eventually catch up with the reality. What I am hoping this uproar will have achieved – apart from some of the beneficial changes in law is that it has hopefully changed many mindsets. Many women may now be less tolerant to what is euphemistically called eve teasing and many men maybe more sensitised. The knock on effects maybe seen in a range of areas where there is a problem I.e.education beyon secondary school, labour participation rate, definition of honor and honor related crimes etc. since many of these issues are closely linked to overall safety of women.
    In my opinion, the lchanges that are more relevant compared to the increase in punishment are the ones that will lead to an increased prosecution rate. While in the shorter run, it may look like number of rapes has increased by reducing under reporting of rape, in the medium term it will reduce the actual number of rapes by putting the fear of law in men. It is also heartening that all manner of ‘eve teasing’ is also taken cognizance of in the law. None of these changes would have occurred without this uproar, so I am glad it occurred.

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  • Fact(Indian)
    Feb 3, 2013 - 2:40PM

    Akar Patel-Your secular friends in Pakistan are very few my dear friend the communal enemies of India are far greater than secular friends of you/India in Pakistan.

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  • Parvez
    Feb 3, 2013 - 2:43PM

    Its more the implimentation of the law than the laws themselves that should be stressed by the media.
    Somehow this write up does not sound right.Recommend

  • MSS
    Feb 3, 2013 - 3:38PM

    I agree with the author in at least one respect, that is that death penalty is not a solution. Death penalty will encourage deaths for the victims. Additionally, India does not carry out death penalty in the normal course. So it is a law only on statutes but not intended for implementation. If the nation begins hangings, HRW, Amnesty International etc. will be slating India.
    The media has started to be more alert and is reporting the worst cases. The main culprits here are the police who refuse to change their attitudes and investigational capabilities. No sympathy for the victims is shown especially if they are not from the affluent class. Then, they act only after the wheels of their machinery are ‘oiled’. More reporting is also a factor.
    But Mr Patel seems to be suggesting that there is no cause for concern. That is wher we let societies slip into chaos. One rape is one too many. And, the advice of idiots like Asaram Bapu must be fought against. They are ones who create this bias against the females in the first place through their utterings and nonexistent quotations from the scriptures.

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  • FactCheck
    Feb 3, 2013 - 5:55PM

    @BlackJack:

    Rape is the most under reported crime all over the world including US, UK, & Germany. It is exasperated by puritanical, misogynistic, outdated view towards sex, where women are looked as objects.

    No, covering women head to tow in black robe is not the answer. You have to realize that fact the western media has always exaggerates everything tag takes place everywhere else in the world especially, India and China. Both are on a trajectory to topple the western dominated power structure and this gives them nightmares. Both are large and strong enough to be treated like Mali where they can simply send in their troops.

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  • abhi
    Feb 3, 2013 - 7:08PM

    @SM
    “Generally I like whatever Aakar Patel writes, I see logic and deep understanding of India’s socio economic situation”

    Do we have to always praise for getting our comments published?

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  • gp65
    Feb 3, 2013 - 8:02PM

    @FactCheck:
    Certainly there can be no disagreement with your opinion that covering up women is not the solution. The solution needs to be part more policing, part better laws and part mindset change with more empowered women and more sensitized men. The uproar was effective in that it helped with2 out of 3 goals. Haven’t heard that there will be more police on the street which is also a budget issue.
    But it is unclear why you even brought that issue up (i menan of the burkha) in this post since no one has suggested any such thing in this OpEd least of all @BlackJack.

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  • Singh
    Feb 3, 2013 - 9:21PM

    RAPE,
    Even one is too much when it happen to your own.
    So please think before you stat number.

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  • John B
    Feb 3, 2013 - 11:03PM

    @Singh: Correction
    One is too much even if the victim is not your own

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  • Somebody
    Feb 5, 2013 - 4:26PM

    @FactCheck:
    That’s painting too rosy a picture of the actual situation. Yes, rape is far too common in western countries and while it is under reported there, that under reporting pales in comparison to the under reporting in most eastern countries. The stigma that follows and the way people handle it (officials, friends, family, etc) is COMPLETELY different.

    And assuming western countries exaggerate the situation elsewhere, “especially in China and India” because those two countries are on a track to topple their domination (side note about that: China, maybe, India? …….I think not. And no, I’m not a Pakistani in case that’s what you’re thinking) is making the situation seem less dire than it actually is by saying it’s exaggerated. That’s a huge disservice to your own country’s women. Ever asked them how they feel about it? It IS a much worse situation in eastern countries, not simply because the rape itself occurs as that unfortunately happens all over the world, but also because of what follows. Conservative societies, the victim is stigmatized, often shunned, usually blamed for it, and may never ever get justice (and while this is a non issue as it isn’t life threatening, how many women who are raped in eastern countries go on to get married? or even lead a normal single life?).
    I’m not saying it’s a rosy perfect picture in the western world either, but there is simply no comparison to the after effects. Survivors of rape here are not generally pushed to suicide because of how they’re treated by society and sometimes by their own families even. Personal depression as a result is another issue. But the fact that you were raped does not become your only identity in most western countries.

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