"Don't tell your daughters to not step out in the night; instead, teach your sons better."
I don't think a better message could be learnt from the horrific rape incident which occurred in New Delhi last week. Nevertheless, I imagine many parents are cautious to let their daughters out alone and to allow them to stay out late into night. These girls would be advised to be chaperoned by male family members, to not wear 'provocative clothing' and to keep makeup at a minimum.
This all sounds ridiculous. Why should Indian girls change their lifestyles to prevent a man forcing himself upon them? Why should these girls tiptoe around one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in India? Why should they be scared to live their lives to the fullest because of a disgusting crime committed by tactless men?
The message is clear - "teach your sons better". If a girl does not want to have sex, do not rape her. I think it highlights just how important education is in overcoming such an incident and ensuring it does not happen again. At the same time, it also demonstrates how India may be the largest democracy in the world, it may be an emerging economy and is striving with regards to tourism (although that may be questionable now); but it still has such a long way to develop, socially.
Whilst the treatment of men dominating, abusing or sexually harassing women has been unacceptable in the Western world for decades; in Eastern countries, such treatment has been part of their cultural development. Now, I am not saying that I agree with this - of course it is wrong to have such control over women; but a man demanding his dinner on a plate, deciding when to have children and expecting a great deal from his wife, are established norms in Eastern countries like India. As a country develops and westernises, such customs are no longer acceptable and people have the confidence to question them.
Rape has been happening in India for a very long time. I am sad to say that the number of cases have actually increased in the last year by almost 20 per cent. However, it is also likely that more and more girls are having the confidence to report rape. Not so long ago, being violated in such a dreadful way would bring shame upon the family. It would deter a girl's chances of finding a husband in the future because her dignity was taken from her in such a way. Yet a victim should not be made to feel guilty for a crime which was not her fault. This is allowing the offender to win twice, first for taking the girl's dignity, and secondly for making her feel guilty about it.
Many have protested that a crime of such magnitude deserves capital punishment - this is, in short, the death penalty. On the one hand, rape is not an accident - if a group of men actively go out of their way to physically, sexually and psychologically harass a woman, it can never be justified. This victim's life will never be the same again. The physical scars may fade, but the ordeal will remain with her forever. Therefore, why should these disgusting men be allowed to roam the streets after their prison sentence is over and return to living a normal life?
On the other hand, is it right to punish one crime with what many describe as another crime - judicially assisted murdering? Just because it may be part of law, it does not make it acceptable to take away another person's life. What are the hopes for democracy then? There is also the issue of the fact that the crime was committed at a time when capital punishment was not part of the law in India. Consequently, it would go against principles of criminal law to punish an accused of the strength of a law which was non-existent on the day of the commission of the offence. Previous cases of rape also cannot be punished in this manner.
It is for these reasons that the Indian Government is in a difficult position. There is no right or wrong answer though. Depending on whom you are and your relation to the victim, your stance on capital punishment is going to differ. One thing, however, is necessary: Teaching boys from a young age that rape is wrong, that the subjection of women is wrong, and that a woman is her own person, and should have the freedom to live her life exactly how she wants to. This is not my feminist side emerging, but rather my belief in equality for men and women. Hopefully an educational programme will reduce the number of rape incidents, if not eradicate them, and the potential threat of capital punishment does not become the only preventative measure.