Rapists parade around, heads held high after their heinous deeds, while their victims cower as though they are the ones who are the criminals.

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, “the law is a ass — a idiot.” Dickens made one of his characters mouth this in Oliver Twist, and he was not far wrong! Especially in today’s scenario when self-styled Khap panchayats in Haryana make irresponsible statements, intoxicated with an unhealthy dose of male chauvinism, making one wonder if the 21 century is in regression, all set to scurry into the Middle Ages.

Sube Singh, a Khap member, kicked up a storm when he said: “I think that girls should be married at the age of 16 to curb the instances of rape in the State.” According to him, girls themselves were responsible for their rapes, and adding insult to injury, he blamed television and movies for the incidents. “Boys and girls should be married by the time they turn 16, so that they do not stray... this will decrease the incidents of rape.”

The former Chief Minister, Om Prakash Chautala, echoed similar sentiments when he suggested that the marriageable age of girls should be lowered to 16 to ward off crime against them. Sadly, no one has any suggestion to turn negatives into positives, to try to change the mindset of these men. They try to mask misdeeds by offering a shoddy, downright stupid solution — one which goes against the philosophy of an ancient culture which looked upon women with reverence.

Just imagine the plight of a young girl, who has been brought up like a flower by her adoring parents and who suddenly gets married off to a strange man, who, by the rule of wedlock, vows to protect and take care of her. She is obviously not yet ready for marriage, and if she has to give in to her new husband against her wishes, isn’t that ‘sanctioned rape’? Is that how our girls are to be protected?

The spate of gang rapes in Haryana over the past one month has provoked National Commission for Protection of Child Rights Chairperson Shanta Sinha to demand exemplary punishment for the rapists, after a teenaged Dalit girl immolated herself following rape. “There should also be a fear amongst those who indulge in such activities. They should be punished so that the girls are safe.”

Aye, that’s the rub! Murder and robbery are law and order problems. Rape, apparently, is not. So rapists parade around, heads held high after their heinous deeds, while their victims cower, faces covered, self-confidence shattered as though they are the ones who are the criminals, a travesty of justice? Why does a victim have to prove her victimisation? Hasn’t she suffered enough, both physically and mentally? Especially when a local party head from Haryana, Dharambir Goyat, tells reporters that 90% of rape cases are a case of consensual sex between the boy and the girl.

The solution lies in the hands of these girls, who will later be women. It lies in the hands of all parents who have daughters, and need to instil strength in them by teaching them to protect themselves from an early age. Self-defence classes should be made a must in every school, along with the three Rs and mental strength and fortitude imparted to them in their curriculum.

Parents of boys have an even tougher role. They need to rid themselves of age-old prejudices and bring up their boys to treat the opposite sex with respect and care. The day women stop being the weaker sex and learn to defend themselves, society will start looking at them with new eyes. And the law might just stop being an ass!

(deepsmenon_7@yahoo.com)

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