Heba Ahmed

The promissory notes of yet another committee report are on the anvil. The Justice Verma Committee has enunciated far-reaching reforms to overhaul the deep-seated misogyny of the current dispensation. But the longest distance on the road to progress is between two points; and a baroque document, however salutary its recommendations may be, can hardly expect to create a notch in the edifice of prejudice which surrounds the discourse on rape.

Implementation challenges to the provisions of the JVC Report emanate from several quarters. The pathology of the rapist is crucial: the trend of ‘otherisation’ of the rapist must be superseded; we must acquiesce to the reality that he is one of us, only then will invisible crimes like marital rape be acknowledged. Appendix 8 of the Report entitled ‘Psychological Interventions in Sexual Assault/Rape’ discusses “relationship issues with the survivor’s partner or family” but this proposition confronts the hierarchy of a patrilineal society. Since the woman is perceived as the traditional carrier of ‘honour’, the stigma attached to a raped woman precludes conviction in many cases.

The JVC Report posits full compliance with the Supreme Court judgment in Prakash Singh & Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors (2006), for a radical reform and restructuring of the police machinery. Yet here again there is the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip. A recent sting operation undertaken by Tehelka in the National Capital Territory revealed the shocking callousness of the police which reduces increasing frequency of rapes to a question of the of the woman’s apparel. However, it is naïveté to assume judicial reform to be a panacea for the ills of the police and the army; considering the fact that it encounters a complex web of patriarchal norms interlaced with caste and other power equations. Patriarchy often invokes disingenuous images of the ‘modern’, ‘autonomous’ woman who must be made to toe the line, in a society which still problematises the dichotomy between tradition and modernity. But the rapes of women like Mathura and Soni Sori expose the duplicity of such perceptions. One can, in this light, apprehend the impediments to the review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The draconian hues of AFSPA have trapped ‘troubled’ areas like Kashmir and the North-east in a binary of dominance and subjugation.

The report also suggests the amendment of the Representation of People’s Act (1951) to countermand the election of law-breakers as law-makers. This proposal, however, faces a veritable Pandora’s Box: a wide swathe of politics infested with power. Chapter 14 of the report contains radical recommendations for prevention of stereotyping, recognition of discrimination, and introduction of sex education to offset current asymmetries of power between the sexes. The Criminal Law amendment Bill, 2012, should be further amended to include sexual assault of men as well as transgender and transsexual rape. These proposals have to take into account an insurmountable impediment: entrenched demarcation of the borders between masculinity and femininity which are guarded carefully so as to treat ‘misfits’ as little more than criminals.

The pages of our history are besmirched with the blood of countless rape victims. Only when each drop is reckoned for, will our fervent hope of a country for women see the light of day.

[divider] [notice_box]The views represented in this blog are those of the author. It does not represent the thoughts, intentions or plans of the Swaniti Initiative.[/notice_box]