Uma's claim on rape ridiculous

Union Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti has claimed that as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh she had ordered policemen to torture rapists in front of their victims. She says that during her tenure, rapists were hung upside down, beaten till their skin came off, and salt and chilli powder was rubbed on their wounds till they begged for forgiveness. Her claims must be probed as they are a gross violation of the law. What Bharti did, as she has asserted, was to order torture and encourage the police to engage in vigilante violence. India’s law books are clear in laying out a process and procedure to be followed in dealing with criminals, including rapists. The role of the police is to only to register a case and investigate. Nowhere do India’s rule books give the police, or even the chief minister of the state, the right to decide the quantum and kind of punishment.  That is the job of the judiciary, which also metes out punishment as per law. India’s laws do not allow torture of criminals. Bharti thus violated the law in ordering police to torture. This is particularly serious as she was chief minister then and had taken an oath to uphold the law of the land, not encourage the police to break it.

Particularly distressing is that Bharti is proud of what she did; she boasted about ordering torture. A section of our political class and public, which supports extra-judicial violence and torture of criminals and terrorists, is of the view that such punishment is necessary to deter others from treading the same path. Studies show that this isn’t so. Indeed, statistics for crime against women in Madhya Pradesh in the period Bharti was chief minister (December 2013-August 2004) indicate that her torture techniques did not serve to deter others from committing crimes. The state stood second in the country with regard to the number of cases involving violence against women during this period, accounting for over 10% of the nation-wide figures.

Bharti probably wants to impress voters with her toughness on crime. If she is indeed serious about tackling sexual violence in the country, she needs to urge her party — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — to shed its patriarchal views, which often provide justification for rapes and oppression of women. She and her colleagues in the Narendra Modi government need to prioritise the tackling of sexual and other violence against women. This can be done by setting up fast track courts and ensuring that rapists and other criminals are brought to justice and swiftly.  Baying for flood, supporting the death penalty and encouraging extra-judicial and vigilante violence is not the way.

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