Thursday, December 27, 2012

Let us join hands


I am angry.

I don't want people telling me I should think twice before visiting Delhi because it is not safe for me.  I don't want to be 'cautious' and 'know how to protect myself' when I'm travelling alone at night.  Just because I am a girl.

And I don't really want to get into the Delhi vs rest of India debate.  Let us all agree that whether it is Delhi or Ahmedabad, no one should be raped.

And the rapists/sexual offenders deserve harshest of punishment.  I don't know how much faith I have in the judiciary, but the government of India has set up a committee for finding out ways to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishments.  They are taking in public comments by January 5. 

Twitter is full of angry comments asking for the severest punishments, ranging from public beheading to castration to stranger things like tattoo on forehead.  People rejoiced when they read that the criminals were fed poop in the jail by inmates. An eye for an eye? I don't know.

I am not sympathizing with the criminals, but I cannot desensitize myself completely.  While my prayers are with the victim (or the survivor or whatever alias you want to give her), I cannot stop myself from wondering what could be done about the whole incident, not just getting her justice, but for each one of us, who is at a risk of being sexually abused.  [I am not talking only about women here, women, men, children - what about marital rape? Are we ever going to recognise that as a crime at all?]

A friend suggested an online database of sexual offenders.  A quick search led me to this. It is the public website for registered sexual offenders in US. And no, we do not have that mechanism in place in India. Why not? I don't know.  The people who run the country are busy creating uproar in parliament.

Few questions came up while discussing the same with a few people I know.

Here are some views on the same.

How will an online registry help?

Well, it public access to the data, which includes the criminals' photograph and every other detail, it may act as a deterrent.  That such a publication of details may affect their current and future personal and professional relationships, may act as a deterrent.  People will be more alert and aware.

How to keep a track?

Unlike US, we do not have SSN that can be used to keep a track, but then, isn't here where the UID project comes useful? But if you go through the US website for offenders, you'll see you could also search on basis of first name and last name.  I guess the tracking with UID could be more useful for law enforcement agencies, but as civil citizens, something would be better than nothing. Keeping track is important to check whether the criminal is a repeat offender.  Because no matter how much we want all the rapists to be given the severest punishment of death, it is not going to happen. They will be released, and to ensure there is no relapse, there should be a regular tracking of such people.

What about the ones who are reformed and want to be rehabilitated? 

Yes, so the above list could be revised and such names could be removed.  Remember, this is a public listing, and not for law enforcement agencies.  Law enforcement agencies need to keep their record permanently, but, such names can be removed from public database to ensure social stigma doesn't affect them till the end of time.  [social boycott and other punishments, though seem proper, are not practicable. Severest punishment doesn't mean we stop treating other people as humans, even though their crime may be unpardonable.]

What about steps to prevent the crime?

A lot has been said about this. Pepper spray, self defense techniques, keeping people informed about your whereabouts, and being extra vigilant when travelling alone.  But what about catching the perpetrators before such crimes happen? I'm sure some sort of psychology goes through their minds when they choose to commit such crimes.  Why not profile the criminals and try and identify people who are more likely to commit crimes (not just rapists, but also murderers, paedophiles) and get them to seek help? How about we actually give mental illness the seriousness it deserves?  I don't know, I'm just throwing in ideas.

What about the criminals' family members? Why should they suffer?

No one should be punished for someone else's crime.  Hence, such list should exclude personal details about the person who is registered.  It will be unfair if the family has to suffer because of him/her.  It must be ensured that the details of other family members are not disclosed.

What about rehabilitation of the survivors?

Yes, so life changes for them and their family.  Coping mechanism should also include regular counselling.  Whether the incident attracts media glare or not, their life has been altered.  But nothing unconditional love and support cannot help them overcome.  But along with that, some kind of counselling to help them fight their fears instead of repressing the memories.  To ensure that they feel like survivor and not a victim.  To enable them to walk on the streets with their head held high and not feel ashamed or violated.  I'm sure there are some things in place, but why not publicise the measures so that those who have suffered, muster up enough courage to speak up? Unless a crime is reported, it cannot be curbed, and it wont be reported if the people who have suffered do not have faith in the system.

How to go about getting things done? Or at least try our bit?

That is a good question.  I'm pretty much clueless.  I don't know what will work, but I'm pretty sure outraging over Twitter wont.  I'm not saying you should not outrage, but the hollow outrage is now making me kind of sick.  So, here's the thing, as I said above, the government has started committee, and has asked for public comments and suggestions.  Details here.  They've said we could send in our suggestions to justice.verma@nic.in.  So, I'm sending across the post I've written above, along with the suggestions I get in comments or you could mail me too.

I don't know how to take it further.  I'm also skeptical of online petitions.  If you were to write emails, who should you write to? How do you follow up? I also intend to send a copy of the mail to Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat. Again, I'm not sure how much further it would go.  Or should you just send the mails and wait for the government to take steps? I'm open to all ideas, and would be glad to give support if anyone has any better ideas.  Let us try and take things in our hands, for a change.

And one more thing, irrespective of the outcome of whatever I wrote above, there is one thing I am determined to do.  Next time I see anyone being abused, I am raising a voice.  I'll call in the cops and I'll create a ruckus.  I'm not being a silent bystander anymore. Before I ask others to act on something, I am going to promise myself I will do something that I strongly believe in.

Thank you for reading.

14 comments:

@nandiniv said...

I fully support the online registry idea.

Shiv said...

Great post, Genius.

chandrakant!!! said...

Appreciated...

Anonymous said...

Crap

Saloni said...

Glad to see constructive suggestions. May we also add to your list www.safecity.in where citizens become eyes and ears to each other and pin the creeps who harass us on the roads?
How will this information tracking help -
An individual can check what is a safe time of the day to goto a certain place eg. you are going to kandivili by train, you can always check if 7pm onwards the incidents around the station are more or less than other times of the day and make a decision. Say the station before kandivili is less prone to harassment, you could get off there and take the bus/ cab rather than get off at a high alert zone

Cops can monitor and decide at what time of the day and where more security is required

Anonymous said...

Its a great idea but one that is laden with pitfalls. What stops vigilantes from accessing the database and delivering their form of social justice? A database registry works if law enforcement that goes with it works. How would this have prevented a case such as Delhi Rape? To what end would such a registry help - to know that a sex offender lives in your neighborhood, then what? avoid him? socially outcast him? isn't it then better to just incarcerate that person because once you have served your crime you are supposedly not-guilty. isn't social registry another way of hanging a Scarlet letter on a person? Don't misunderstand me, I am not arguing for the criminals' rights here. All I am saying is such a sex offender registry will do little to prevent crimes of the type we saw in delhi. Money is better spent on educating young men about propriety, what constitues sexual harassment and what to do when they see such crimes occuring. And this education begins right at kindergarten and further reinforced at home. Police nation and social vigilantism will never solve the root cause of the problem - Basic lack of respect for women in the society.

Arun Sudhakar said...

..its a good idea,but for a country like INDIA implementation of the same may be difficult.(surely we need some kinda strict movements).

I truly appreciate your effort :)

SHADAB said...

It is a idea worth considering and i appreciate your concern and effort to put it together. Not to discourage you but on practical ground personally i dont feel its going to bring big changes but it doesnt mean its not worth pursuing it. It will have its own contribution and we should use all the way to stop such crime which we have. When i look at the data it feels very bad that everyyear thousands of rape happens. If this will reduce even a few of them and i woul be glad. We should use this registry to do another thing which is to let the public know that conviction rate is improving and one must report any such incident. Other thing government should do is that in place of increase the punishment it should increase the speed and success rate. Infact even if it takes to reduce punishment to increase conviction rate then government should do it. One of my friend said to me that making serious punishment is infact going to make the situation worst because then it will require more time, more proof and hence conviction rate will reduce. The more important thing to concentrate on the minimum punishment one get for such a crime. The minmum punishment should be improved. Given all these what i am trying to say is that go ahead and pursue your idea.
I dont know the legal issues behind such a registry, but i feel that one doesn't need a huge money or organisations for such a registry. One should start at local level run it for a few months and then expand by collaborating through various NGO. OBVIOUSLY, one has to spent a lot of time and energy on this. You might start by contacting some local ngo to start with and then you will ahve enough force for starting. And if it survive then their are many future options for such things

Nirwa Mehta said...

@ Nandini

Thank you so much! Do spread the word, would love to have more feedback on the same.

@ Shiv Mishra

:) Thank you! Please do spread the word!

@ Chandrakant

Thank you.

@ Anonymous

You have better ideas?

@ Saloni

That is a fantastic idea! :)

@ Anonymous

Thank you for the feedback. I agree, this may or may not prevent crimes, but do we really know what will? Online registry will probably help others dealing with culprits know who they're dealing with. Eg. - leasing out/selling homes/property, jobs, relationship (marriage prospects). Not to stigmatize the person, but to make general public at large aware of his past. Of course, as I said, the list should also be periodically revised so that the stigma doesn't follow the person to his/her grave.

@ Arun Sudhakar

Thank you, it may be difficult, but definitely not impossible.

@ Shadab

Thank you for the feedback. Yes, if severe punishments are given, it may worsen the scenario, and the perpetrator might just kill the victim for fear of identification. There is no one thing that can set things right. Will definitely look into the possibilities.

Yash said...

Rather than having a database of offenders, a list of of people who can be called in case of an emergency sorted area / citiwise would be more helpful.

This is because our police seems to be clueless against how to deal with them. I would put my number first on that list and would gather enough people in the city.

saleema said...

Really appreciate this effort of sharing ideas!though it has been 65 years since freedom, ashamed and bit shocked to know that we are still measuring different ways and ideas of protecting women from all these brutal crimes!

Lets teach women to defend themselves!

Nirwa said...

@ Yash

Thank you for the feedback, yes, that also seems like a practical suggestion. Thank you.

@ Saleema

Thank you, I'm sure things will get better in future. :)

Ketan said...

Nirwa,

First, I thank you and congratulate you simply for putting so much thought and verbalizing that all. It takes lot of effort and dedication.

Second, I want to highlight that though technically 'rape' is a single crime, it happens under quite disparate circumstances - physical coercion, threat, deception, by known perpetrator or unknown - or various combinations thereof. Meaning, rape as a crime is multifactorial, and its prevention would also require to be multi-pronged.

I do not see any harm with having an online directory, but why restrict it to just sex crimes?

However, I wish to highlight one more thing: there are mainly two categories of rapes - one's committed by strangers and others committed by acquaintances. Let me restrict my ideas to the first category (though, I am told they are actually less common of the two). I believe, for some reason or the other, those who commit crimes on strangers are anyway not afraid of the legal consequences. You look at anybody who indulges in serious crimes - are they afraid of the prospect of being even jailed? These are the kinds of people who indulge in extortion, burglaries, murders, conning people - as matter of their livelihood. Raping is just a bit of an aside for them. They're socioeconomically usually not even well off. I don't think such people would be much bothered about their name appearing in or other such database. Then there are others who also commit the crimes with the same impunity, but that is because they are well connected, perhaps they might be a bit deterred by maintenance of such a database.

How this database could perhaps help is that if one's name were to appear on it (using the UID), then they could be disqualified from government jobs? Perhaps, even private organizations would not want to employ such people? However, if a prospective rapist is willing to risk being jailed for days, months and years, surely they would not possess such foresight to be deterred. Except when extremely well planned, rape is perhaps an outcome of impulse, and deterrence works less likely for impulsive acts - is what I would like to believe.

What could possibly done most quickly is to increase the number of judges [from what I know, many many positions are lying vacant because of politicking by senior judges] and to make adjournments of hearings much less common. Likewise, the crime investigative staff needs to be increased. But the problem is: all of this needs money, which the government either does not have or is unwilling to spend.

For other kind of rapes (committed by acquaintances), sadly by way of law much cannot be done, except if conviction would be quick and punishment surer, which in turn could be facilitated by taboo not being associated with the rape victim. Though rape must affect the victim very badly (the seriousness of which I cannot completely understand), we must stop looking it as some kind of tragedy to brand the victim with. That is the only way the victim would feel more accepted in the society at large and more confident of herself.

Birva Parikh said...

This is what i call a constructive outrage. It has really made me think , how should we contribute to the whole crime and justice thing.