Only a country with fathomless disrespect for women can encourage survivors of rape to marry their rapists. Indians do so on a regular basis — not just families of the survivor trying to rid themselves of ‘shame’ and ‘dishonour’ by marrying their daughter off to her violator but also the police and sometimes even judges. The net, or rather neat, result of this is that the charges of rape are quashed and the accused is free to roam and rape others as well as his new wife. And the deed itself is quietly de-criminalized — with equal neatness. In a recent judgment regarding the possibility of compromise in dowry harassment cases, the Supreme Court has reportedly said that crimes such as rape and murder are crimes against the State. Therefore such cases cannot be quashed even if the parties concerned reach an understanding or settlement out of court. This has a negative impact on society. That the Supreme Court has had to enunciate this at all is an alarming indication of declining moral and ethical values and the widespread tendency to overlook serious crimes according to expediency. This pronouncement by the highest court in the land should make it more difficult for members of the establishment, such as the police, judiciary or other administrators, to let rapists go scot-free by making a mockery of marriage.
But how far will the Supreme Court’s comment actually affect people’s behaviour, especially as far as rape is concerned? The survivor of rape is often under unbearable pressure from members of her own family and figures of authority inside and outside it, including local political leaders, to marry her rapist. With the police conniving with relief that they do not have to follow up another case, the girl or woman may agree out of a need to escape the pressure. How will this change? Too many embedded attitudes are at work here. For one, Indian society is still to accept fully that male violence against women is really a crime. And two, it is convinced that the female deserves all she gets; even if a three-year-old is raped she must have invited it. The Supreme Court’s pronouncements cannot change ingrained social attitudes. What these do is to make known that help may be got should anyone complain. But the road to the Supreme Court is a long one. Girls who are forced to marry their rapists may not always get there.