For the past four months, a repulsive four-letter word, “rape,” has dominated the national discourse like never before. Official statistics show a steep increase in rape cases in this period. This may indicate that they were not being reported earlier, or were not being registered. Fortunately, the enactment of recent amendments to the law and heightened awareness through extensive media coverage may have emboldened some victims to seek legal redress and social protection. But the provisions in the new law appear to focus on how to deal with the crime after it has been committed. Questions remain about the efficacy of the new law as a deterrent.
Is enough being done to prevent rape?
Not so long ago, social scientists and experts from other fields got together in the national capital to analyse the issue. Their conclusion was that the patriarchal system and its values were major factors contributing to the prevailing negative environment against women. Cases of rape and molestation were analysed and interviews conducted in localities in Delhi. Factors such as weakened 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 emerged.
Data on the accused in each case was analysed to develop the most likely profile of a potential rapist. Such micro-level analysis helped in developing a counter strategy. This involved identification of a target area, potential victims and potential perpetrators. Next, police personnel were given special training. The target area was then saturated with these women beat constables who had been specially selected and sensitised. They went on a door-to-door campaign, counselling and distributing pictorial leaflets and posters. Along with the local community, they organised street plays and pantomimes to talk about the sensitive issue of how women were treated. These were immensely popular. Schoolchildren in the neighbourhood also became sensitised to the issue .
The programme was supervised by the district Deputy Commissioner of Police, Sagar Preet Hooda. In addition, there was also an intensive and focused campaign to empower women through self-defence programmes. The efforts yielded a statistical as well as an actual decline in cases of rape and crimes against women, helped bring in an element of positivity in police-community relations and fostered a general atmosphere of goodwill for the police. The procedures were systematised, and rewarded with the certification ISO 9001:2000 from the Standardisation Testing and Quality Certification (STQC) Directorate, Ministry of IT, Government of India; several international accolades followed, including the prestigious Webber Seavey Award.
It is time for a second and improved edition of this unique police-community relation exercise called Parivartan .
Focusing on adolescents
While I am sure the police must be undertaking some of the necessary steps, we must also think of a long-term strategy to improve the general environment to make women feel psychologically secure. Besides an imaginative multimedia campaign, a multidisciplinary approach will also be essential.
Adolescents are among the most vulnerable and impressionable of demographic groups. In most homes today, they spend far more time in school and with their friends than with their parents. Hence the importance of a sensitive school environment, curriculum and teachers. The basics of Indian culture together with ethics of society and an inculcation of moral values are essential at this age. Education is not about securing admission to a prestigious college after standard 12; there is much more to do and the sooner we realise this, the better for our children.
Exposure, proliferation and the easy availability of pornographic material to vulnerable age groups can wreak havoc. While liberal minds may be hostile to the idea, a certain degree of control over the net and elsewhere is essential. Besides regulating access to pornography, there needs to be a rethink on suggestive advertisements on television. The basic idea is to ensure that women should not be depicted as a commodity. A few years ago, some initiatives had been taken by advertisers, but these days they appear to have thrown caution to the wind. Whatever such suggestive advertisements may mean, an adolescent mind is bound to be curious and think about them long after the TV show is over.
Undoubtedly, the police have to remain in the forefront as they are duty-bound to prevent crimes. At the same time, now that the law has been given more teeth, it is also essential that complementary efforts are made at various other levels to ensure a healthy and positive social environment for women. Stringent laws alone may not be a sufficient deterrent. Though the real impact on deterrence will be visible only when convictions begin to be handed out under the new law, we must realise that the motivation for and perpetration of rape are vastly different from conventional crimes and hence preventive measures would also need a different and a more innovative strategy.
(K.K. Paul is a former Commissioner of Police, Delhi.)