BY ADEWALE KUPOLUYI
THE recent case of gang rape in India brings to the fore the highest level of cruelty, wickedness of man against humanity, violence against women as well as the failure of the State to protect its citizens from abuse and danger.
On that fateful day, a gang of men had attacked an Indian woman who later died from her horrific injuries aboard a private bus carrying six men on a drunken joy ride.
The attackers allegedly repeatedly raped the young woman and brutalised her with an iron rod as they murmured, ‘maar do ise’ (meaning ‘kill her’). The victim was said to have tried as hard as she could to fight-off her attackers by biting and kicking the men as they raped her on a bus in Delhi.
The trainee physiotherapist was flown to the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, almost two weeks after the incident where she died. Her body has since been cremated.
This woman, though unnamed, has become a symbol of all that Indian women had suffered for so long with no respite, which has energised them to demand greater protection for women from sexual violence with series of mass demonstrations, candle-lit vigils, street protests with placards, chants and road blocks.
This assault has increased the call for speedy trial of the five men charged for the alleged murder as Indian rape cases could drag on in courts for years, with hearings repeatedly postponed, which rape survivors say prolong their ordeals.
Just like the story of the Bandit Queen, Phoolan Devi, who was also publicly gang-raped and allegedly held captive for three weeks by higher-caste Hindus.
To avenge the trauma, she became a bandit and was eventually able to exact some measure of revenge against her gang-rapists. At the end, Devi served eleven years in jail and was thereafter, elected into the Parliament from Utter Pradesh, the same region where the latest victim came from.
Rape, a form of Gender Base Violence (GBV) against women, according to the Beijing Declaration, is defined as violence against women that results into or is likely to lead to physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.
In 1995, and for the first time in history, the United Nations-convened the Hague Tribunal which attempted to prosecute rape as a war crime – which was accorded such – but could still not stop the rape atrocities in Iran, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Kosovo, Congo, Rwanda and Sudan.
For now, India imposes death penalty only in the ‘rarest of rare cases’, although, it recently executed a man convicted in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
Again, public sexual harassment of girls and women is commonly known as ‘eve-teasing’ and these still happen in countries like Pakistan and Algeria whereby roving gangs of up to one thousand men often fall upon any girl or woman they can find – whether she is veiled or unveiled – and summarily considered as ‘infidels’ or ‘prostitutes’.
The assault has globally assumed wide proportions and dubbed as a ploy at ‘gender cleansing’ – going by what happened in Bangladesh in 1971 – when the Pakistani army allegedly raped between 200,000 and 400,000 girls and women.
Hindus and Sikhs in India are said to embark on honour-killing as they commit gruesome murders mainly of young women and young men, usually for daring to date or marry outside of their own caste or for choosing a spouse who is too closely related to them in terms of caste.
Like Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs also perpetrate torturous elimination of those who violate this taboo. Recently, an Indian father in Utter Pradesh publicly beheaded his daughter for dating the ‘wrong’ man inasmuch there have been series of ‘retaliatory’ gang rapes.
To stem this tide, government has been calling for stronger laws against these cases of intimate, familial, human sacrifice – which are often ordered by the religious councils – to settle one religious or cultural score or the other.
According to the American Medical Association (1995), sexual violence, and rape in particular, is considered the most under-reported violent crime and contrary to myth, rapes are perpetrated by someone familiar to the victim: neighbours, family members, co-workers, on dates, in college dormitories, in one’s own building. The stranger rape is less common – except where gang-rape is involved.
The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting rapes are the belief that it is a personal or private matter, and that for fear of reprisal from the assailant as estimates from research suggest that between 75 and 95 per cent of rape crimes are never reported to the police in many countries.
In the same vein, advocacy groups have argued for the preservation of the victim’s privacy during the legal process; it is standard practice among mainstream American media not to divulge the names of alleged rape victims in news reports, although this practice is becoming increasingly controversial due to well publicised cases of false rape accusations.
In India, rape victims cannot be named in any circumstances under section 228-A of its Penal Code.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports over the years consistently put the number of “unfounded” rape accusations around 8 per cent.
The FBI’s largest study, published in 2005, was based on 2,643 sexual assault cases and found 3 per cent of false reports while one in three of the 4,000 women questioned by the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency said they had been raped in the past year.
South Africa has some of the highest incidences of child and baby rape in the world in which school-children are said to be involved in ‘jack rolling’ (gang rape).
The humanitarian news organisation, IRIN claims that an estimated 500,000 rapes are committed annually in South Africa as more than 67,000 cases of rape and sexual assaults against children were reported in 2000 alone.
An unfounded belief that is common to South Africans is that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure a man of HIV/AIDS; no wonder, the country is known to have the highest number of HIV-positive citizens in the world!
*Mr. Kupoluyi wrote from Federal Varsity of Agric., Abeokuta, Ogun State.