Somehow, Indians cannot bring themselves to condemn rapists. There is a cultural blindness towards the impact and meaning of the act of rape; it is perhaps one of the clearest indications of the way women are perceived. The blindness is institutionalized, hence the peculiar muddle-headedness about rape and its penalties in the implementation of the law. Recently, for example, a man managed to dodge imprisonment by marrying the woman who had given birth to his child, only when the Calcutta high court upheld the trial court’s verdict against him. The lawyers now feel that the newly-married couple should have time together, and the sentence has to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. The complainant not only agreed to marry him, she has also said that she is happy. More confusing is the fact that the complaint of rape was lodged when the man had refused to marry her after being in a relationship with her for some time. Evidently, the meaning of the word rape is being diluted too, since it can be inferred that sexual congress had occurred at that time with the woman’s consent.
Marrying to dodge a rape conviction has become so routine that the Orissa high court actually offered a convicted rapist the option of either marrying his victim or going to jail. Now the Juvenile Justice Board, dealing as it does with underage offenders, has taken a slightly different tack with a 16-year-old who raped a hearing and speech-impaired girl. His punishment is to help rehabilitate the girl, first by regularly renewing her disability certificate, then by helping her to get a job, and last, by arranging her marriage. In theory, this sounds good, as the board aims to rehabilitate the victims as well as the perpetrators, so as not to cast young offenders out of society before they have had a chance to redeem themselves. Yet very important questions remain. On a practical level, is the board sure of being able to monitor the young rapist’s penitential acts in the years to come? Even weightier is the question of the lesson learnt. However young, this boy chose to violate a victim who could not hear or speak properly. Has the enormity of the boy’s act been brought home to him? If shutting him up is not the solution, the alternative has to be equally strong, so he understands that rape is a hideous crime. The problem is that the society he lives in and the institutions that teach him must recognize this first.