By: Afiya Shehrbano
Sex crimes – dare we compare?In both the Shakti Mills gang-rape cases, the Mumbai police and crime branch were committed to what Agnes et al call ‘meticulous investigation’. A high-profile public prosecutor who handles terrorist cases was assigned the rape cases. The crime branch solicited information from the public in order to invoke a wider involvement and to enable the maximum punishment for repeat offenders (since some of the rapists in both cases were the same).
In both cases, the single mothers of the assaulted women played a crucial supportive role. In the less eminent case of ‘Suman’, the mother of the survivor was a security guard. She was unaware of the rape and had reported her daughter missing since she had gone into hiding after her rape – in order to deal with her trauma.
When ‘Suman’ returned home they went to the police station only to close the ‘missing’ case. There, a female police officer, rather than mechanically closing the case, probed why ‘Suman’ had gone into hiding. When ‘Suman’ revealed the rape, despite the law that recommends women should not be retained in police stations at night (as in Pakistan), they were encouraged and assisted in filing an immediate FIR in the early morning hours to begin the process of justice.
In both cases, the role of NGOs/activists is also instructive. The long-term support required in these cases is not just about funding, as we complain in Pakistan. The Indian activists are effective largely because the state, rather than being morally suspicious of NGOs, accepts and even encourages the cooperation and assistance of these rights-based organisations.
In the ‘Simran’ case, she would attend court proceedings in a burqa for anonymity along with 10 women constables who accompanied her, also in burqas, in order to protect her identity. It is to such an extent that the state was willing to extend its sensitivity to protocol for such (albeit high-profile) trials.
The courts decided the cases within six quick months. Here, things become controversial. Due to the ‘repeat offenders’ amendment to the rape laws (376E, IPC), three of the gang rapists (indicted in both cases) have been awarded the death penalty in the ‘Simran’ case. This has become a matter of debate in India. A second broader point of concern is that even Agnes et al as activists, make arguments along the “mitigating circumstances” of the poverty-stricken background of the rapists.
More importantly, though, for us the lesson clearly lies in the third case recounted by Agnes et al. This ‘ordinary’ case of a teenage girl raped in the same area, resulted in acquittal due to poor investigation, inefficient NGO assistance, a wary judge and the compromises on the part of her male family members.
These are all familiar features in Pakistan. As interested citizens we need to rethink the value of strong, determined women who see themselves as survivors not victims, with supportive mothers/families and organised and committed activists, along with a state invested on the side of justice and a criminal justice system supported by every medical forensic method available.
Between January 2013 and February 2014, some 1848 cases of sexual assault were reported in Mumbai and of these 1675 offenders have been arrested. Given the recent judicial precedents and the factors listed above, it is highly likely that more and more rapists will be indicted.
Does this mean India is going to be ‘safer’ for women? No. But does it show that they are dealing with the issue of sexual assault as an offence far more urgently compared to us…?
Concluded: The writer is a sociologist based in Karachi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org