With the tally of daily reported cases of rape creeping up, a news report that the Delhi NCR tops the world wide list of porn watchers on the internet assumes significance. For over four months now, the four-letter word, rape, has dominated all forms of media and social discourse like never before. The official statistics show a steep rise in rape cases during this period, indicating that earlier they were either not being reported, or else, they were not being registered. Fortunately the enactment of recent amendments to the law and a more heightened awareness may have emboldened some of the victims to come forward and seek legal redressal and social protection. While this is a positive, is enough being done to prevent the occurrence of rapes? Though the police have been at the receiving end, the level of response to the preventive side or the proactive aspect of policing at the ground level or vis-à-vis media coverage appears to be inadequate.
Not long ago, the problem of crimes against women in general and cases of rape, in particular, was attempted to be handled in a systematic and scientific manner. A large number of social scientists and experts were involved in this exercise. Their conclusion was that the dominance of the patriarchal system was one of the major factors contributing to the prevailing negative environment against women. Some of the contributory factors identified through this analysis were the weakening of community and neighbourhood ties, lack of privacy in slum clusters, migration, breakdown of the joint family system and dilution of parental authority, availability and exposure to pornography, etc.
Data on accused was analysed to develop the most likely profile of a potential accused. The counter strategy that was developed involved identification of a target area, potential victims and potential accused. It sought to give police personnel the right type of orientation. The target area was more or less saturated with women beat constables who were involved in a door-to-door campaign of counselling and distribution of leaflets. Pantomimes and 'nukkad nataks' for sensitisation of the community were found to be immensely popular. Importantly, school children were sensitised. In addition, an intensive and focused campaign for empowering women through self-defence programmes was launched. The efforts showed a statistical as well as an actual decline in cases of rape and crimes against women, and further helped bring positivity to police community relations and a general atmosphere of goodwill for the police. The time is ripe and we should now look forward to the second and improved edition of that unique police community relation exercise known as Parivartan.
We must also think simultaneously in terms of a long-term strategy to improve the general environment so that women feel psychologically secure. Besides a multi-media campaign, a multi-disciplinary approach would also be essential.
Adolescents are among the most vulnerable and the most impressionable of the age groups. The basics of Indian culture coupled with the ethics of society and inculcation of moral values are essential at their age. Education should not end with targeting admission to a prestigious college. A certain degree of control on the internet and elsewhere is essential. Besides regulating access to pornography, suggestive advertisements also need to be classified. The basic idea is to ensure that the woman should not be depicted as a commodity. Some of the suggested measures will go a long way in helping to develop correct and healthy attitudes among the younger and vulnerable age groups.
Now that the law has been given more teeth, it is essential that complementary efforts are made at various other levels to engineer a healthy and positive social environment for women. Though the real impact on deterrence would be visible only when the convictions begin to be handed out under the new law, we must realise that the crime of rape is a product of a depraved mind with an uncontrolled sexual urge. Its motivation and perpetration are vastly different from conventional crimes and hence preventive measures would also need a different and a more innovative strategy.
KK Paul is a former commissioner of police, New Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal