Two stories related to rape have made headlines the past week. One was sparked off by the documentary India’s Daughter on the December 16, 2012 Delhi gangrape. A second was the lynching of a man who was dragged out of jail and killed by a mob in Nagaland for allegedly raping a local girl. The responses to these two incidents have shown the many shades of hatred that are muddying India’s quest for justice.
The Delhi gangrape was a horrendous crime, and the interview of the rapist, Mukesh Singh, showed him to be unrepentant. He and his lawyers broadcast their prejudices against women with a seeming belief that they were right.
The documentary and the ban on it has triggered a storm, with one set of people saying it had exposed the sick mindset of Indian men, and another saying it was tarring the whole country for the crimes of a few.
National Crime Records Bureau data shows there were 24,915 rape cases reported in India in 2012. The 2011 Census had put the country’s male population at 623.7 million. It is therefore a fair estimate that less than 0.00005 per cent of the country’s male population might be accused in rape cases.
The UN published a crime trends survey in 2010 that measured number of rapes per 100,000 population in countries around the world. This was called the “rape rate”. The data was somewhat uneven as some countries gave data for 2002, others for 2006, or for any year in between. The survey found that the highest rape rate was in South Africa, followed by Australia and Swaziland. All of them had rape rates above 75 per 100,000. India, which had submitted data from 2006, ranked below the lowest quartile with a rape rate of 1.7 per 100,000 population. The US had a rape rate of 30.2 per 100,000.
The NCRB data also said that the complainants and accused knew each other in 98.2 per cent of the cases. More recently, Mumbai Police commissioner Rakesh Maria said in November 2014 that of the cases registered till October that year, 71.9 per cent were cases where the complainant had alleged rape after consensual sex that did not lead to marriage. They claimed they had been lured into sex on promise of marriage, and this therefore led to rape cases being filed.
These are all bits of an incomplete picture. We don’t know for sure how many cases go unreported. There is also a serious problem with ensuring justice in many cases that are reported. However, the converse also applies.
Who can really prove or disprove whether a man promised marriage to a woman or not? Unless there are reliable witnesses or documentary evidence, it’s one person’s word against another.
According to basic principles of justice, all people are supposed to be treated as equals before the law. It is therefore unfortunate that a woman is immediately labelled “victim” the moment she accuses a man of rape. The man is immediately labelled “rapist”. He is presumed guilty. He may then spend the next few years in jail, or embroiled in court cases. He would certainly lose his reputation and his job.
If he is unlucky, he may be lynched, as happened in Nagaland.
It is increasingly clear that the allegation of rape that led to the lynching of Syed Sharif Khan in Nagaland was a somewhat odd one. The complainant and Khan had gone out for a drive and ended up in a hotel room together. The superintendent of police of Dimapur, who has now been suspended, told reporters that CCTV footage showed both of them entering and leaving the hotel together. The complainant later alleged she had been raped twice that day – once before they walked into the hotel.
She clearly did not try to escape from her alleged rapist after the first rape. Nor did she raise any alarm.
However, the story went out that a local Naga girl had been raped by an ‘illegal immigrant’ from Bangladesh, and this was what the local media reported.
It turns out that Khan was very much an Indian. His father served the Indian Air Force, and his brothers are soldiers in the Indian Army. One of them fought in Kargil.
Who will bear responsibility for Khan’s death?
Was he responsible, because he had probably had sex with the girl?
Was it the lynch mob mentality that is encouraged every day on TV and Twitter? Or was it the false narrative of India being the “rape capital” of the world?
The article first appeared in The Asian Age.