Over the last week, the Delhi gang rape is back in focus. Ram Singh, the driver of the bus on which the 23-year-old victim and her male friend were tortured, hanged himself in prison, despite having been on the police’s suicide watch list. Earlier, actor Rahul Bose spoke of the idea of forgiveness for repentant rapists, setting off a volley of polarised opinions on social media and the press.
When I read the news of Ram Singh’s suicide, my first emotion was relief. Relief that at least one man who had brutalised a girl was out of the way. Relief that, unlike Pappu Salve, this man wouldn’t be released early from jail, to go out and rape again. I don’t claim to have used my reasoning abilities. That was my first, instinctive reaction – relief.
Even as the protests over the rape in New Delhi in late December grew fiercer, newspapers carried reports of more rapes in the capital, as well as in cities across India.
In January, we learnt that 32-year-old Pappu Salve, who had been released from prison early, for good behaviour, was arrested again for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old. He had been sentenced to death for the 2003 rape and murder of a minor, but was acquitted on appeal. However, he served simultaneous jail terms for convictions in cases of rape and murder, lodged against him in 2002. Less than a year after his release, he went on to rape and kill again.
I was in the audience during a panel discussion on violence against women at The Hindu Literature Fest, in Madras, at which author Nilanjana Roy and Rahul Bose were speakers. Bose spoke of how we need to start thinking about forgiveness, and Roy agreed, saying the perpetrators of the Delhi bus rape had shown remorse, and said they were sorry, and that they had been wrong to do what they did.
But does one need to commit a rape to know that it’s wrong? For a very long time, activists have spoken of violent upbringing, of how children raised in homes where they witnessed women being abused tend to turn to crime against women, of how perpetrators of sexual crime have often been victims earlier.
To me, none of these makes for a good reason. To suggest that people who grow up watching their fathers beat their mothers think it is right amounts to the same thing as blaming violence in society on cinema and video games. Witnessing an abusive relationship forces a child to see what a victim suffers too. And being a victim of abuse cannot justify the committing of an abusive act.
When I questioned the panellists after the discussion, Nilanjana Roy said she had spoken to several convicts about this issue. Some showed no remorse, and said they would do it again. Others wept, and said they were sorry they had done it, and wanted a second chance to prove they had become good human beings. Roy said her stance was that locking them up and throwing away the key is not the solution.
It may not be the solution, in the sense that it will not stop rape. But it will stop that particular criminal from going out and raping another woman. True, there is a chance he may not rape another woman. True, he may have turned over a new leaf. But a person who has inflicted such cruelty on someone else does not deserve the chance to turn over a new leaf. He should be locked up, and the key thrown away. He should be made to suffer, if not in the same way, at least for the same period as his victims do – the rest of his life.
A woman who has been raped does not have the chance to un-live her nightmare. It will continue to haunt her, it will make her paranoid, it will frighten her, it will stay with her for the rest of her life. The victim of an acid attack does not have the chance to get her face, or her abilities, back. She will carry the physical and psychological scars, and the medical and financial consequences of what she went through. The victim of a murder does not have the chance to come back to life, nor does his or her family have the chance to see him or her again.
In this context, can we possibly make a case for the people who are to blame being given a chance? Everyone has the chance to be a good human being. We all falter. We are all capable of horrible things. Some of us are inclined towards them. Some of us have a violent streak. But not all of us – not even all of us who grow up in an abusive setting – turn to crime. And if someone can find it in himself to destroy another person’s life, and put him or her through such pain, that person has exhausted the chance.
Rapists belong in that category. No, they don’t deserve a second chance. Once their guilt is proved beyond doubt, they should be locked up and the key thrown away.
Read more from this author:
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The author is a writer based in Chennai.
She blogs at http://disbursedmeditations.blogspot.com