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Delhi gang rape verdict: Will it make a difference?

Last updated on: September 10, 2013 19:12 IST

I cannot agree with the sentiment that hanging rapists will make sexual harassment and assault, and other forms of violence against women, magically disappear. Misogyny has stained our culture for far too long for merely judicial recourse to be able to wash it away, says Paloma Sharma.

On the night of the December 16 last year, six men in a bus in New Delhi brutally gang-raped a 23-year-old physiotherapy student; and beat her and her friend within an inch of their lives before throwing them out of bus while it was still moving. The girl had, had an iron rod thrust inside her; her intestines were torn, her internal organs damaged, she had a blood infection and was suffering from brain damage. Thirteen days after the assault, she died.

Though we need to remember her, we cannot afford to forget these six -- Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, and the man only known as the juvenile.

The juvenile’s name remains undisclosed, due to his age. Since he was 17 years and 6 months old at the time of committing the gruesome crime, he got off with as little as three years in a remand home (inclusive of the eight months he’d already spent in police custody). The man is 18 years old now. His sentence is a joke.

A Delhi court found the other five rapists, including the now-deceased Ram Singh, guilty of “attempt to murder, unnatural offences, dacoity, destruction of evidence, conspiracy, kidnapping or abducting in order to murder”. The court will read out their sentences on Friday and it is expected that they will hang until dead. I can only wish that the juvenile would have hung with them. It gives me a sense of perverse pleasure to know that these men will have paid for their sins. Yet, even if they are sentenced to hang, I cannot help but ask myself that while it would be true justice, will it make a difference?

When a man in a jam-packed general compartment of a train leans out to make kissy noises at my friends and I, and not one of the other men in that same compartment as much as voice an objection, I really do wonder if hanging the above mentioned men will matter too much.

When abuse is glorified as love in popular culture -- be it the saas-bahu television serials, or films like Aashiqui 2 and the Twilight series -- can hanging/torturing/murdering a handful of men who were thankfully caught, really change anything?

As a friend rightly pointed out, if you open your Facebook home page, you will find an underlying trend among the wall posts of your Facebook friends -- there will be posts of the black dot of shame, posts demanding for the castration of rapists and stricter laws. Though you may or may not agree with them, you may feel a sense of pride among your fellow citizens, for they have arisen for a just cause.

Then, as if to cancel out their impact, there will be posts (posts that you and I usually create ourselves) making sandwich jokes; casually educating us about what kind of woman is a ‘slut’ or a ‘bitch’ or a ‘hoe’; telling us what kind of woman to date and what kind to marry; making all sorts of assumptions about women based on their dress, their body types, their choice of partner and their lifestyles; and lets admit it, all of us have laughed and agreed with these posts, and carried on with our petty little lives two seconds later.

But now we’re all standing here, up in arms, conveniently forgetting our self-appointed positions as foot-soldiers of an oppressive patriarchy, praying for a hanging we’ve all been dying to see. Maybe, hopefully, if these four are awarded the death penalty, it will scare other potential rapists and act as a deterrent. Or maybe sexual assault will go the same way that other crimes with capital punishment, like murder and kidnapping, have gone -- up, up, up.

No, I am not opposed to the death penalty; not even for the juvenile. But I cannot agree with the sentiment that hanging rapists will make sexual harassment and assault, and other forms of violence against women, magically disappear. Misogyny has stained our culture for far too long for merely judicial recourse to be able to wash it away.

We cannot simply ignore popular media as an influence on our everyday behaviour and while we may criticise it to our heart’s content, we often forget that we are the one’s that provide it with an audience. We’re the ones who provide rapist political and spiritual leaders with enough support to let them get away with crimes like kidnapping, human trafficking, gang rape, sexual harassment and paedophilia.

Our agenda for the 2014 general elections contains but two points -- development and economy. Meanwhile, over 53 percent of the children in our country face sexual abuse and 68 percent women face domestic abuse. So, go ahead and take your best guess on what’s the national crisis? Five marks for the correct answer.

So on Wednesday, if the court does sentence the four rapists to hang by death, I will be relieved. These men will no longer hold a place in civil society (if we can still call ourselves that). But I will not kid myself by thinking that the next time I step out of my home, I will not be whistled at, winked at, stalked and groped; because even though we’ve come such a long way from the night of December 16, has it really made a difference?

Paloma Sharma