The recent savage attack and gang rape of a 23-year old physiotherapy student in the Indian capital and her subsequent death in a Singapore Hospital pulverised the Indian nation.
Her male friend, who was also severely beaten and thrown out of a moving bus, said, “Even when animals hunt, they do not mete out such brutality to their prey”.
The sheer brutality, viciousness and barbarity of the sex crime has hogged media headlines and evoked public outrage and anger not only in India, but also in several cities worldwide.
In Singapore, candle light vigil and other forms of peaceful gatherings were attended by the Indian diaspora and a cross-section of the people.
An intense cultural debate is currently raging as to why an incessant thrum of whistles, catcalls, hisses, sexual innuendos, lurid gestures, open threats and other forms of sexual harassment that debase women is the order of the day in many parts of India and the world.
Nirmala Ganapathy, Delhi Correspondent of Strait Times said, “Women remain vulnerable because of “deep-rooted patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes uneasy with the growing visibility of women in society accompanied by a breakdown in social and family values.”
Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, spoke about the ‘blame-the-victim’ allegation made by some politicians, government officials, and the police, suggesting that the victims were ‘asking for trouble,’ with their revealing clothes and irreverent behaviour.
“They have also blamed the movie industry for aggravating the situation with loud and lewd music, gyrating dance sequences, sex and violence,” she said.
Italy, France, Sweden, Denmark and many other countries in Europe are also uneasy about the connection between rape, male privilege, female sexual vilification and whether women’s clothes and behaviour invite rape.
While massive protests have jolted the Indian government into speedy action with fast-track courts, harsher penalties and other deterrent measures, the accused men have the hangman’s noose staring at their faces.
A majority of people in India have demanded death penalty for perpetrators, apart from calls for chemical castration as practiced in some American states for child molestation.
Indian Supreme Court lawyer Pinky Anand said, “We require a deterrent so harsh that people would not even think about committing rape. The death penalty is a must and chemical castration is an option”.
Singapore’s Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam called for death penalty in the Delhi gang rape case, as ‘a necessary evil.’
That comment was followed by mixed feelings.
A Facebook user described death penalty as “an arcane law that cannot be intellectually justified on any grounds.”
There is growing demand from citizens, human rights groups and some politicians in Singapore to abolish the existing death penalty.
Consequently, the law was recently amended under which certain drug offenders and murderers would be jailed for life with caning instead of being sent to the gallows.
Mr Shanmugam referred to a letter by a Straits Times reader, who said that in Singapore, young women can go about confidently at any time of the day and night, in spaghetti tops and shorts – a right which they should have, a right which society should protect.”
Read another article by Dr V Subramaniam in this section.