The Idea of Justice for Victims

By Prabhakar Timble
12 March 2013 18:46 IST

2012 ended with the crusade against corruption, of course without tangible results, but with the noise as never made and heard as ever before.  2013 began with the blast seeking justice for victims of rape and sexual assaults on women. Justice is more perceived in squeezing and tasting the blood of the offender rather than healing and dressing the wound of the victim. The reintegration and support services to the victims of violence are less attractive propositions as compared to stoning the offender to death.  The suicide of the main accused in the Delhi gang rape case, Ram Singh, inside the Tihar jail by hanging himself is happily welcomed as a Divine justice. In a rape incident which happened in a school in Goa, a direction by the Children’s Court to slap non-bailable offences on the Headmistress and teachers is viewed as a small victory for the victim and the family.  

Victim needs restoration

Punishment deters crime is a largely held belief and hence there is a clamour for tightening punishment and incorporating death sentence for major crimes against women.  The deterrence theory may or may not stand the test of empirical scrutiny. But, the answer to the issue of whether a stringent punishment to the offender provides justice to the victims is definitely in the negative.

A borrowed phrase from Edmund Burke applied in present context would explain my predicament. “Events have happened upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to remain silent”. Does the murder of female foetus provide justice to the unborn girls by awarding a harsh punishment to men in white coats moving with stethoscope like the hunter in a forest in search of his game?  What is the idea of justice we contemplate to girls when married couples refuse to accept a girl child as the fruit of their love and beg for nothing less than a boy, terminating their pregnancy without remorse and as a matter of right? The educated nuclear families of today plead helplessness and rationally justify the choice of male child since they desire to stick to a one-child norm. Such deep rooted mind-sets do not change even if the girls are decked as “Laadli Laximi” with financial crutches from the government.

It is assumed that punishment is likely to convert an offender into a law abiding person and also halt multiplication of offenders.  Even assuming that crime plus punishment equals innocence, the cleaning of the criminal with the detergent by soaking him in a prison cell does no justice for the victim of crime. In a similar way, it is wrong to assume that we provide justice to the families of victims in communal riots and to women traumatised by dowry and sexual assaults by awarding rare and harsh punishments to offenders.

Justice for the school girl who is a victim of rape or molestation should mean that the child is empowered to move ahead in school, at home and in neighbourhood without any stigma or special attention. Of course, the guilty should be punished but mere punishment, even the strongest cannot ensure justice to the child, if the girl has to stay indoors or face inconveniences due to the assault.  Punishment to the guilty is in the hands of Courts. Justice to the child is in the hands and behaviour of parents, relatives, neighbours, teachers and peers.

All roads lead to patriarchy

As a part of marriage rituals the bride has to offer invocation. Pray for a good husband, pray for a good life and pray for a son------the priest instructs as a matter of conventional routine. The respect or disrespect for the girl is ingrained in our rituals and scriptures. It is a different matter that God does not listen to these prayers and daughters are born. Otherwise, the world would have been bereft of balance, tolerance, compassion, beauty and charm.

A girl is looked as the mother but very rarely as a farmer, entrepreneur, bread-earner, artist, musician or singer. This is the mind-set. The description of women is largely with reference to Sita, Savitri and Damayanti. On rare occasions, the salt of Durga or Laximibai is also sprinkled. The centre of gravity whilst describing a woman is on purity and it is for this that the girl child has to face unequal opportunities in the growing years and carry a heavy sacrificial price tag on freedom of expression, movement, and choices of careers.

Punishment to offenders is not “nonsense” but all that I want to say is that it does not make sense to the victim of the crime if society continues to view the woman as impure and polluted. Fresh legislation to deal with crimes against women would satisfy the interest groups who base themselves largely on legal advocacy whereas justice to victims could even come from already installed laws. Every time, the focus is on fresh legislation adding to the list of crimes related to consensual sexual contact, marital rape, assault and harassment rather than implementing the existing laws. Majority of activists are more comfortable with punitive measures to the offender as providing justice to the victim. They could be impatient to a different idea of justice.

Public discourses,  gender education, direct support for strengthening the victim, counselling and humanistic approach by the law enforcement agencies would make society less unjust towards women in general and victims in particular. The victim should be assisted to swing back as a normal human being in addition to a knock-out punch against the offender. Do not shed tears of pity for the victim and flames of hate for the offender. It is patriarchy which should be despised since it determines the role and behavioural patterns of males and females in family and society. 

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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