There is much to shudder at the revelation that rape is the ‘fastest growing’ crime in India. Rape has always been the crime least reported, most stigmatised and seldom punished. It won’t be incorrect to say that the rape of a student of a Delhi medical college in broad daylight in one of the busiest parts of the city rattled the media and the middle-classes enough to make them sit up. The perpetrator was remorseless, even as his father claimed that the ‘class divide’ had ensured that his son was punished while men with ‘power and pelf’ got away. The truth is those in positions of power do easily evade the law. Orissa’s senior police officer B.B. Mohanty has only just surrendered, after absconding for months in a bid to save his son, convicted for raping a German tourist in Alwar.
It is an ordeal simply to file a police report, and the investigations thereafter have been stories of apathy and downright humiliation meted out to the victims. Where convicted, punishments have ranged from capital punishment to a day in jail. So the National Crime Records Bureau report that concludes that rape is rampant should not shock us. But what does it really show? The State’s apathy. Almost affirming this is the Centre’s decision to meet and discuss with state government the safety of women tourists in the aftermath of a series of reports on foreign women travellers being sexually attacked in India. This concern stems from the fear that such incidents will impact India’s image. When in November 2007, a tourist from West Bengal on a visit to Orissa was teased at Puri’s Sun Temple, then followed and dragged out of her bus by four men and raped, there wasn’t even a murmur. Double standards? Yes.
The silver lining to this report is that rape is, finally, commanding legitimate attention. More and more women are gathering the courage to report cases of rape and sexual violence. The corollary to this is that despite the trauma, women, across all classes, are reporting rape and do not feel helpless or abandoned by family or society as was the prevalent case before. Society is changing. The government, often using ‘society’s mindset’ as an escape clause, has no excuses any more.