death penalty or not

The debate for the death penalty for rapists rages on. It was disturbing to see on the latest TV debates that anyone who tended to disagree with the death penalty found her/himself shouted down. Nothing revolts me more than sexual child abuse and I would like to see all child abusers hung in public or subjected to the worst kind of torture like scaphism, and even that seems too kind! But when you take a little time and think many questions come to mind. Why do men abuse small children? What makes them do so? And most of all how can we prevent this evil? Screaming for the death penalty cannot act as the deterrent we seek. More so with the way the legal system functions in India and wily lawyers operate. We have a startling example of this in the case of the trial of the men accused in the December gang rape case.

In today's news we heard about the confession of the man who raped the 5 year old last week. It transpires that the accused was drinking and watching porn on the mobile phone of a friend. They spotted the child, lured her with chocolate and too her to their room and took turns raping her. They then tried to kill her and believing her dead fled! What made this men act as beasts? The alcohol? The porn? And what made them chose a 5 year old as prey? Her vulnerability? Her accessibility? Her innocence? Or to quote from Shobha De's article Vaginas are for violating, the fact that she had a vagina and that in our country to be born with a vagina is provocation enough.

So how do we protect our little girls. A young girl writing about the incident states: I know people who have since placed curfew hours for their daughters, and some have even appointed bodyguards for their security, even my own father. Yes, in our land the rich will be protected but the poor will remain unsafe and vulnerable unless we do something. The richest man in India will now get Z category protection as he has received threats. This is galling but expected. In our very city there is only one police officer for 450 citizens while 45000 are on VIP security duty! So obviously little girls who get abducted are found after days at end. Imagine if the police had acted efficiently, the little rape survivor would not have had to endure the brutality she was subjected to. So I pose the question again: how do we protect our little girls or should I say poor little girls as we have seen how the rich have found their solution. This is a matter for deep thought but what comes to mind is that first and foremost  little girl, and boys also as they too are prey for predators, have to be taught as early as possible the first sex education lesson: good touch and bad touch! Here the child is not only taught about which part of the bodies no one can touch, but also to scream loud and share the incident with someone she/he trusts. But  here also there are catches: the first is that abuse often happens within the family and should the child be courageous enough to share she/he will encounter the elephant in the room: honour; honour that far too often makes the trusted one your biggest enemy. So maybe parents  and family should be sensitised  and taught their priorities. Easier said than done as this happens even in educated homes. But it is a step we should take.

Rich children attend day care, pre school, Montessori school etc and are rarely or rather never left alone. You know the drill! Poor slum kids whose parents work are often left on their own. Remember, free education begins at age 6. The state run creches are abysmal and few. Mothers often leave their little ones under the watch of some 'uncle' or the other, a person the child learns to trust. Then comes school. The least said the better. Let us just remind ourselves of the fact that in Delhi children go to school for half a day. The rest of the day is often spent on the street. So to keep our children safe it is imperative to run the ICDS programme as it should be run and provide every child an enabling environment while her/his parents are at work. This is how we can keep our children safe.

The debate that is raging now only addresses the situation after the abuse has been committed. I entirely agree with the need for police reforms, judicial reforms etc but why should a child be violated.

There is another gigantic elephant in the room that needs to be addressed head on. Just as we want to keep pour children safe, we need address the question that is indeed disturbing: why does a man become a rapist? And I am not interested in the aberrations thrown at us each time a rape occurs. And anyway how can a two year old or a 5 year old entice a man.

I would like to look at the profile of the perpetrator and see what went wrong. We must learn to accept that the perp was once a child and was not born a rapist. It is the environment that made him so. We all know about the state of reform homes. But there is a period in the life of that child which brought him to the reform home: the situation in his family, the school he dropped out from, the company he kept, the temptations that he encountered, the peer pressure and so on. The total lack of love, understanding, role models. The broken dreams and aspirations. And then when does commit that first crime the terror of a reform home. It is time we looked at these problems and started making amends for the way we treat our children.

I will end this post by sharing with you an experience we are all living at project why as I write these words. For the past 3 weeks or so we have 3 very special volunteers at pwhy: a special educator and two young boys aged 15 who are juvenile delinquents from France. These boys have stolen, peddled drugs and come from broken and dysfunctional families. They are now under state custody. As part of their rehab programme they have been brought to India for 3 months. The idea is to make them see worse conditions than the ones they know and put them through the toughest boot camp possible. They spent a month traveling across India in buses, tractors and even bullock carts. When they fell out of line and needed to be punished their educator made them walk 30 km on 4 bananas. They are difficult boys but no one is willing to give up on them. The experiment may or may not work, but at least one would have tried.

We leave our children to their own device and then go up in arms when they turn into criminals. It is time we accepted responsibility the state of affairs.

The death penalty will not solve issues.

Think about it!