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Déjà vu: Dr. Priyanka Reddy

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The day a woman can walk freely on the roads, that day we can say that India achieved independence. So said Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. But sadly, the day India attained independence, the women of India lost their freedom. Seventy-two years of independent rule in India brought no relief or promise to women of India. Rape remains the fourth most common crime against women in India. What is disgusting more than that, the conviction rate for rape has fallen gradually from 44.3% in 1973 to 27.1% in 2013, despite the fact that forensic science has advanced and DNA evidence was introduced into the court rooms. This is an indication of laxity of the law enforcement and a judicial system that is not effective. India has only 14 judges per one million people, a very low number among nations. Under such circumstances, the so called Fast Track Courts are nothing but an eyewash. 


On December 16, 2012 whole India woke up to the news of Nirbhaya incident of New Delhi, when a young paramedical professional was gang-raped and brutally murdered in a moving bus. The whole world reacted to the brutality of the incident and pulsated with the emotional reaction of the people of India. Everyone thought it was the beginning of a new chapter in the life of women in India. Politicians and the government responded with new laws to curb such heinous crimes against women. Police and law enforcement were revamped. The perpetrators were brought to justice in a record time. Everyone thought that the worst was over and is a history only. But, not so soon. There were at least five such incidents that gripped the nation since then, excluding the current victim Dr. Priyanka Reddy. There seems to be no relief to women in the land of Goddess Durga or Saraswati or Lakshmi, who are worshipped all over the country on many occasions throughout the year. What is wrong with India or Indians? Let us dissect this problem a little bit more and search for a solution.

First, it should be noted that for every incident of rape that hits the national headlines, there are a number of others that never produce a blip on the radar screen, even locally, or never reported to the police. In fact, rapes by strangers, which are the ones brutal and violent hitting national news, constitute a minor proportion of all forms of rape in India (please see the graph). 

As shown in the graph, a vast majority of rapes are: rape by a relative, breach of promise to marry, rape by acquaintance or consensual sex criminalized by parents. These are not reported often and they rarely reach the headline news. It is those small number of rapes that are associated with brutality and murder that shake up the nation, and attract the attention of the foreign media. Yet, all victims of rape suffer in one way or other. So, the problem of rape in India is like an iceberg, for which only the tip is visible above the sea level. 

Now coming to the brutal and violent incidents of rapes that hit the national headlines and shake up the people across the country, there are a few disgusting stereotypic things that should be condemned by all in strongest words. 

First, the politicians and those in the power are taken off guard and react in a negative way. They invariably point their fingers at the victim first, just to cover up their failures, and to divert the heat targeted at them. For instance, in the Nirbhaya case they questioned why she was out late in the night?  In the case of Dr. Priyanka Reddy, a responsible minister said that despite her education she did not call the police hotline, and called her family. First, let me ask the simple question: What could be the reaction of these politicians if the victim was their own daughter? No question, they will fire the police chief immediately. Second, who are these people to question the freedom of a woman to go out in the night? If every woman who felt insecure calls the police hotline, then they will say that women are abusing the police hotline and the police may even scold them for calling without a real danger. Or, police may stop responding to such calls assuming that they are not real emergencies. It has been reported that when the family members of Dr. Priyanka Reddy tried to call the police, they were told that she might have eloped with her boyfriend (sick minds) or they have no jurisdiction in that area (callous response). Let me tell you one thing clearly. India needs a system comparable to the 911 in the United States, which has no jurisdiction and staffed by highly trained and sensible people with presence of mind and who are willing to go beyond their call of duty. Even if the 911 dispatchers or responding police make as simple mistake, they may lose their jobs or reprimanded or sued by the victim’s family in a court. I will give an example from my own experience to illustrate how careful they are. Once I was calling a number in New Delhi. I inadvertently dialed 91-1 without first dialing the international access code 011. The call was received by the 911 emergency dispatcher. I politely apologized for dialing the number inadvertently. The dispatcher asked me if everything was OK. I said, yes. The call ended. But, just less than 5 min later, a police officer knocked on our front door. He said he wanted to check around as a matter of caution. He went around our house and after making sure that my family was safe and was not under seize by bad guys who might have prevented me from talking with the 911 dispatcher at gun point. India needs that level of sensible and sensitive protection of its people by the law enforcement. All those police officers who respond with sick minds or callousness should be trained and sensitized or terminated if found sick and callous again. Such people have no place in law enforcement. There is no point in having highly decorated, intelligent, sensible and sensitive IPS officers at higher levels while the system is handled by sick minds and callous staff at the ground level. Period. No excuse, the system of hotline in India has to be revamped immediately to match the 911 system in the United States. 

It should be noted that unlike during the Nirbhaya incident in 2012, this time in the case of Dr. Priyanka Reddy, the people, especially the youth, have shown signs of loss of patience. They pelted stones at the police vehicles transporting the suspected criminals. People also gathered in thousands around the police station where the suspected criminals were locked up and demanded the police to handover them for “instant justice”. Although one can understand the anguish of the masses, especially the youth, nevertheless, people trying to take the law into their hands is not a healthy development in a democratic India. It is a wakeup call to politicians, elected leaders, law enforcement and judiciary to act and reform themselves for a better India.  

Second anomaly we encounter immediately after a brutal rape incident is trying to find an easy target to blame. These are often, alcohol consumption, drug usage, bad movies, or tempting women dresses etc. This is often due to the mindset that people do not want to admit that the inherent values have deteriorated and they want to show that it was just an external influence that resulted in the unfortunate incident. The problem with such attempts to find an easy external target to blame is, we will miss the real solution. Alcohol, drugs, movies and women dresses are common to many countries, where such brutal rapes do not happen. The real issues to address are: (i) developing a national culture that prevents this type of brutal incidents; (ii) establishing a strong and functional law enforcement; (iii) building a judicial system that swiftly brings the culprits to justice and locks them up for life or awards death penalty without mercy for their age (a person who commits rape is no more a minor); (iv) instituting a national database of sex offenders (and linking it to Aadhar card), similar to the one in the United States. Once a person is registered as a sex offender in the national database, his/her future is sealed. They may not find good jobs or apartments to live etc. Fear of social boycott is a deterrent for many sex offenders. This should include those who throw acid on women or physically assault them due to failed love affairs or other causes. 

Coming to the less serious offences against women, such as harassment or eve teasing, they should be punished by making them to perform community service, such as cleaning the public offices, including toilets, for a certain number of hours. This practice, which is prevalent in the United States, is a strong deterrent against repeated offences and saves taxpayers’ money in locking up such people. In addition, there should be another national registry for people who harass or tease girls or women. Colleges and universities should check these registries while giving admissions to higher studies to applicants and deny admission to those whose names appear in the database. Linking the future of young people to their tendency to harass or tease girls will become a strong deterrent and eventually eliminate these bad practices. 

Finally, starting from the primary school, boys should be educated and coached to respect girls and treat them as their own sisters. This is required in addition to the parental coaching at home or to ensure that boys get coaching in the school if they miss it at home. Any aberration in the behavior of the boys should be corrected immediately in the budding stage, if necessary by psychological counseling, so that by the time the boys reach the college, they are well-groomed and well-behaved. It is possible to implement these.  Girls should also receive training in the schools on how to protect themselves from bad guys or predators. They should be coached in defensive techniques, advised to carry pepper sprays with them and how to use them effectively. They should also be instructed to never trust strange men and be alone with them or go with them etc. Bad guys or predators often look for easy targets. 

By following the above, it is possible to build an India free from harassment and atrocities against girls and women, and that is safe for them. This is the way to make the dream of Mahatma a reality. 

Contributed by: Bellamkonda K. Kishore, M.D., Ph.D., MBA


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