By Rashmi Saksena
In India, rape is emerging to be far more than what it is generally understood to be. Unfortunately our law and law makers have yet to wake up to this sad fact. While rising crime against women and children continue to make headlines, the sordid trend of digital rape in India remains a hidden headline. Not only is digital rape an indication of the extent of depravation existing in society but also a pointer to a deficiency in the laws relating to rape.
What is digital rape? Three recent instances indicate how men can actually violate a woman or child’s dignity and in reality rape her without doing what is defined as rape by the Supreme Court. In Mumbai, a two year girl was brought bleeding to the hospital. Medical examination indicated that her vagina was ruptured. But there was no indication of “rape” as such. Police investigations were shocking. It was found that the little girl’s father had been for some time penetrating her with his finger. He was arrested but could not be convicted under Section 376 of the IPC which deals with rapists.
The other two cases are from Delhi. A 60 year old woman took a three wheeler scooter to attend wedding related functions at a relative’s place. The scooter driver was in his 30’s and offered to take her to her destination. But after sometime he started to drive in the wrong direction. The woman kept telling him that this was not the right route he did not listen and soon drove her to a lonely spot. There he assaulted her and used an iron rod to penetrate her. The matter was reported to the police and the scooter driver was arrested. But the police knew from the word go that it would be impossible to have the court convict the criminal under the rape law. Few months ago an 18 year old boy was in a Delhi Sessions Court for sexually assaulting an 80 year old woman by penetrating her with a wooden stick. The young man had forcefully dragged the old woman to a secluded place and sexually assaulted her with a stick.
There are few who would not call this a barbarous act. But the offence could not be tried under the law relating to rape as the courts have no right to extend the definition of rape to include any form of penetration other than by a male sexual organ as laid down by the Supreme Court. It is this case that made Additional Sessions Judge Kamini Lau call for a redefinition of laws relating to rape so that all types and categories of sexual assault could be included. Lau pointed out that such cases should compel Indian legislators take a re-look at the existing definition of rape and formulate a law that would cover all types of sexual assault and also make the law gender neutral. An exhaustive legislation is also required to bring in male rape/anal rape that will deal with sexual assault by men on men.
As of now those who indulge in the crime of digital rape as well as male rape are usually convicted under other sections like kidnapping, attempt to murder and unnatural offences. Given what is happening in society this brings to surface a major deficiency in the law. So there is a need for expanding the definition of rape. In India Section 377 of the IPC does cover intercourse committed against the laws of nature, it is felt that its applicability is limited making it difficult to cover cases of digital rape. Countries like the United States, Australia, Scotland and Ireland have already changed their laws so that all forms of sexual assault can be covered.
As cases emerge a sad and unfortunate aspect is that victims of digital rape are usually children and aged women. Obviously our society is getting sick with little regard for senior citizens or the innocents. It is in this context that the recent statistics provided by the National Crime Records Bureau become ever far more important pointers. Delhi records 33.5 per cent of the country’s urban child rapes. Statistics reveal that in 98 per cent of these cases the child is abused by the friendly neighbour or a person known to the victim. But senior policemen sound the alarm bell by saying that there are far more cases unreported than those reported. Even activists claim that figures of child rape and digital rape are grossly underestimated. An activist working with aged people says “most old women remain silent when they are sexually assaulted as they fear no one will believe them. Also there is little awareness of what digital rape is”. But it seems to be on the rise.
All this is a wake up call for our law makers and the sooner they look into the matter the better for society. Laws must undergo change to meet the demands of society. Digital rape is a sad commentary on what is happening to our society but it is best to accept the shameful trend and ensure that offenders do not get away because the law is inadequate to punish them. (IPA)
By Rashmi Saksena