“His remarks sexist, reinforce patriarchy”

A day after the death penalty was doled out to three convicts for the two gang rapes that took place at Shakti Mills in Mumbai last year, women’s groups on Saturday took issue with remarks that special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam made while seeking the death penalty for the repeat offenders. They felt Mr. Nikam’s comments were sexist and depicted women in a patriarchal light. Mr Nikam had said that rape was an attack not only on a woman’s body but also on her “mind, chastity, prestige and self-honour which cannot be healed unless the victim dies”. He also said that rape was another form of murder.

Objecting to the phraseology, women’s rights advocate Vrinda Grover said, “A woman does not want to be pitied by the system. She only wants the system to uphold her rights. By reinforcing the concept of chastity, she is being debilitated and not empowered to move on,” she said.

Sociologist Nandini Sardesai felt Mr. Nikam’s argument was reminiscent of the Victorian mindset. “Rape is a violation of human rights. The idea of a man deciding what is honour and avenging rape through death, smacks of patriarchy. It is in the name of honour that khap panchayats kill women,” she said.

Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women Association, said it was ironic that Mr. Nikam used patriarchal words while seeking to defend women’s rights.

“This case could have been used as a platform to raise larger issues like better reform mechanisms, gender-sensitive investigations and trial proceedings. Instead, it became a classic instance of patriarchy,” she said.

Change in terminology

Ms. Grover said women’s groups had been fighting to effect a change in terminology such that a woman who was raped would be called a “survivor” and not a “victim”.

Meanwhile, several groups have also been critical of the order awarding death penalty in this case. The lawyers defending the three convicts had asked for the intervention of lawyer Yug Mohit Choudhary, who has been opposing the death penalty.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Choudhary said: “For the new Section 376 E to be applied, the second offence has to be after the first conviction. The idea is that if a person has not improved after the first conviction, the second one has to be harsher. The legal principle is that the harshest punishment is awarded in the most extreme of cases of a particular type.”