The recent extrajudicial killings of four men who were accused of the rape and murder of a woman in India should not be celebrated as justice. On the contrary, they are a dire warning of how law and order can breakdown when a democratic society fails to address its most serious social problems.
In this case, India’s inability to curb the prevalence of sexual violence against women has resulted in not only the denial of justice for a victim of rape and murder, but also the denial of due process for four Indian citizens, who however guilty they may be of the crime still have constitutional rights.
Now, I cannot blame people — especially Indian women — for being outraged by the crime these men are believed to have committed. As a resident of Hyderabad, where the charred remains of the victim were found, I commiserate with the sense of fury many of my fellow citizens experienced when the details of the case came to light: how the men saw the woman, a veterinarian in her mid-twenties, park her scooter near an empty toll plaza and punctured one of the vehicle's tires so she would be stranded when she returned to the parking lot; how she called her sister and asked her to stay on the phone because she was afraid; and how the men lured her with the pretext of fixing her scooter before forcibly taking her to an abandoned building, where they brutally assaulted her.
People across India identified with the plight of the victim and the pain of her family. This young woman could have been anyone’s daughter, wife, or mother.
The crime, so reminiscent of the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in New Delhi in 2012, enraged Members of Parliament. Some of them called for convicted rapists to be court-ordered to undergo chemical or surgical castration, while others suggested a no-clemency death penalty to be established for this kind of case. One member of the upper house of Parliament even said rapists should be lynched in public, which is dangerously close to what happened to the four men accused of the rape and murder in Hyderabad.
On Friday, Dec. 6, police in Hyderabad announced that the four suspects were killed during an “encounter” while reconstructing the scene of the crime. The news was received with praise by many Indians, including the victim’s family and Bollywood celebrities who hailed the police as heroes.
“I express my gratitude towards the police and government for this. My daughter’s soul must be at peace now,” the father of the victim told news outlets.
It may be tempting to believe that at least some form of justice, however unconstitutional, is better than no justice at all. After all, violent sexual crimes against women in India continue despite stringent laws — including fast-track courts to handle such cases — passed after the 2012 New Delhi rape. On average, over 100 rape cases are registered in Indian courts every day. Only one in four ends up in a conviction.
Yet while extrajudicial killings may provide an initial sense of catharsis, they fail to deliver justice in the long run.
“Justice must never ever take the form of revenge,” said the chief justice of India’s Supreme Court the day after police killed the four accused. “I believe justice loses its character of justice if it becomes revenge.”
If India actually wants to deal with its rape crisis, it must begin at the root of the problem: how women are viewed in society as a whole. Men need to learn from an early age to see women as equal and to respect them and their bodies. Sadly, India’s historical preference for male children has trained society to think otherwise.
For example, at many homes, girls are still considered a burden to be avoided if possible. This results in the abortion of an estimated 2,000 female fetuses every day. The practice of gender-selective abortion in India — which was banned in 1994 — has created one of the worst gender imbalances in the world. India has a surplus of 37 million men who will likely never marry. India’s gender imbalance has been linked to increased violent sex crimes against women.
India’s prudish attitude toward sex also plays a role in perpetuating male ignorance. Sex is a taboo subject in many homes, and sex education is rarely taught at public schools. It’s because of this lack of education that 23 million women drop out of school every year when they enter puberty.
Boys end up learning their lessons on manhood from men who have a distorted view on sex or from Bollywood films, which stereotypically depict women as sex objects to be conquered.
With Bollywood fantasies in their heads and a limited understanding of human sexuality, many men in India do not know what consent means. This is what Madhumita Pandey, a Ph.D. candidate at Anglia Ruskin University in England, learned in interviews with 100 convicted rapists at a jail in New Delhi.
“In my experience a lot of these men don’t realize that what they've done is rape,” said Pandey, who has been interviewing convicted rapists over the past six years for her doctoral thesis. “They don't understand what consent is.”
The truth is India needs a wholescale cultural revolution on how society views women and their bodies. Until it happens, India’s daughters will keep crying for justice.
Most Rev. Joseph D’Souza is widely considered one of the most influential voices of global Christianity. He is a justice and peace campaigner, civil rights advocate, interfaith peacemaker and Christian theologian. Rev. D’Souza is the founder and international president of Dignity Freedom Network, a multinational advocacy and humanitarian aid alliance dedicated to restoring human dignity to the poor, marginalized and outcastes of South Asia. Since its founding in 2001, the network has impacted an estimated 14 million people through its educational, anti-human trafficking, health care and economic development initiatives. Rev. D’Souza presides as moderator bishop and primate — or archbishop — over the Good Shepherd Church of India. He is a sought-after international speaker, participating in conferences, peace summits and civil society forums across the world and debriefing governmental bodies on religious freedom and human rights issues. He is a contributor at The Hill and The Washington Times, among others. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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