Interview: Death is not the solution to rape, says research scholar who has interviewed 100 rape convicts

As India engulfs in the intense debate and protests over the new citizenship law that has been implemented in the country, mainstream media forgets the unfateful Hyderabad rape case that took place on 27 November 2019. The case made to global headlines, after the four accused of the case were allegedly killed in the fake encounter by the Hyderabad police on 6 December 2019. The encounter by police authorities was hailed by particular sections of the society. On the other hand, many human rights groups criticised the police authorities for going against constitutional norms.

Hyderabad rape case once again highlighted many crucial issues pertaining to rape crimes in India, delivery of the criminal justice system, societal reformation and many others. In light of all this, TA interviewed Dr. Madhumita Pandey, a young criminology scholar, to understand such complex issues revolving around crime against women in depth.

Dr. Madhumita is famous for her doctoral research project which involved face to face interviews with 100 rape convicts in India. Currently, she is a lecturer in Criminology at Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom. Dr. Madhumita has completed her Ph.D. in Criminology from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

1- Please tell us something about your doctoral research project? Why did you choose Tihar jail?

My doctoral research explored gender socialization and perceptions of culpability in the narratives of convicted violent offenders from Delhi Prison. In particular, I focused on examining the perspectives of convicted rapists in order to address the widespread sexual violence against women in the country. I chose Tihar because there was a certain familiarity with the jail and Tihar is the largest prison complex in South Asia so naturally, I had a better chance of recruiting a large sample of convicts.

2- What are your thoughts on the crime of rape in India?

My thoughts on rape in any part of the world are the same: STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS. Support women and girls. We don’t need protection, we need respect and equal opportunities. We deserve to live and work in a non-oppressive environment. I feel that as a society we should reflect on our attitudes and behaviors and what is needed is collective action. It is a shame that young, independent and successful women who can contribute so much to society are being victims of such a horrific crime – be it the Nirbhaya case or the recent Hyderabad case. If this doesn’t act as a wake-up call, I don’t know what will.

3- How do you see the growing anger in masses demanding capital punishment for rape?

I see it for what it is – a short term solution to satisfy the anger and outrage of people. I am a strong believer in reform and rehabilitation. Retribution is not a very helpful starting position instead we should direct our attention towards structural societal change that addresses the asymmetric power relationship between men and women in our country. I understand that in some extreme and rare cases such a decision can be given but this cannot become the norm of the land. In no shape or form will this ever be a long-term solution to the issue of sexual violence in India or any part of the world.

4- How do you view the debate of banning porn or regulating Bollywood when it comes to crime against women? 

There are many studies that highlight the complex interactions of mass media (pornography) and human behaviors (sexual violence). Many people argue that pornography can be an important factor in shaping a male-dominant view of sexuality; it can contribute to an individual’s difficulty in separating sexual fantasy and reality and almost act as a training manual for abusers. These views were also echoed by feminist scholars in the 1970s and ’80s, who were trying to highlight pornography’s harms to women and children. But recently you can also see the emergence of feminist porn – so this is quite a complex issue.

Similarly for Bollywood, where do you draw the line on regulation and artistic expression? However, for me, the bottom line is that we as a society have a crucial task of building a healthy sexual culture and as of now that is nowhere to be seen.

5- Gender sensitization, basic sex education are often mooted as crucial ways to tackle the crime against women. How India, as a nation, faring on these fronts?

We could take some strong steps in this area. Yes, sex education can play a vital role in creating awareness and empowering students and young people. I have previously written two articles addressing this issue for The Sunday Guardian newspaper. (click here to read the first article and second article) A comprehensive curriculum based sexuality module can not only make teenagers understand their bodies and the age-related changes better but also about consent and respecting each other’s personal space.

Along with learning about menstruation, sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted diseases and risks of pregnancy, young people also need to learn about the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, which in turn will allow them to recognize these should they occur and also protect themselves. They can learn to identify and access available sources of support. Sensitizing children and giving them a safe environment to discuss these issues are essential steps in tackling sexual violence.

A few years back I saw an article by a senior of mine from school, Nikita Gupta from the School of Life Foundation and I was thrilled to see how this organization was conducting workshops with parents, teachers and young children in order to teach them about how to communicate “safe and unsafe touch”. In a country that is battling child sexual abuse, it makes so much sense to teach your young ones about their body parts and how they alone have the ownership of them. There is no right age to start such discussions. You don’t have to be in class VI or VII to talk about sexual violence. Parents and teachers can create awareness by having age-appropriate interaction with children as young as 3-4 years of age.

6- How do you view the criminal rehabilitation process in India?

It is quite good to be honest but it needs to be more structured and consistent. Take Tihar Jail for example, they have some amazing workshops for the inmates from learning how to paint to yoga and meditation. I personally have spoken to convicted murderers who have felt a massive change in their life and personality as a result of practicing Vipasana Meditation. And that is why I feel that we need sex offender rehabilitation training or SORT program that can run in jails across India in order to utilize an offender’s conviction time effectively by challenging gender myths and stereotypes, addressing their misplaced notions of masculinity and providing them with a safe environment to not only speak about their crimes but reflect on them.

7- Your comments on the present and future scenario of criminology in India.

The field of Criminology has finally come into its own in India. While it has been in existence for a long time, it was always looked upon as an add-on subject within the field of Law. Particularly, in the last five years, I’ve seen a rise in the number of people undertaking a course in Criminology or Criminal Justice along with many new higher research degree programs. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting many Criminology academics and doctoral students who are all engaged in some excellent work. We just need more support and resources for social science programs in India but the future looks bright!

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