The Indian government has been struggling to come up with a draft of an anti-rape law following the brutal gang rape and resulting death of a young woman in Delhi last December. While the Justice Verma committee report was concluded in record time with recommendations on amending India’s archaic rape laws, differences in views about issues like whether the age of consent should be 16 instead of 18 and whether marital rape is to be recognized as a crime are preventing the clearing of the law.
It is clear that the ruling Congress party is gearing up to make itself attractive to women in time for elections next year. The creation of an all-women bank in the budget this year is one such move. The rape law was meant to be cleared on Tuesday but that has not happened. In the meantime, Ram Singh, one of the accused in the Delhi rape case, was found hanging in his cell on Monday.
The Hindu reported that Singh’s father, Mangelal, alleged that his son had been sodomized inside the jail. So was Ram Singh raped and murdered? Serves him right? Many probably hold the view that Singh got what he deserved and good riddance to someone as evil as him. A number of metaphors like, “as you sow, so shall you reap” will be used to deal with and close the matter.
However, it is worth examining the issue of sexual assault and rape of men in judicial custody by fellow inmates and prison staff. Convicted prisoners and those in custody awaiting trials are at risk all over the world of being sexually assaulted and raped.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed by President George W. Bush in 2003 in an effort to address this widespread human rights problem. As part of this Act, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) is to carry out comprehensive statistical review and analysis each year about the incidents of rape in all holding facilities. In the year 2012, nearly one in 10 prisoners reported being raped or sexually assaulted in the US while in custody. Often it is the physically weak, young, gay or those who have been convicted of sexual offences against minors who are targeted.
The Human Rights Law Network in Delhi is one organization that works on prisoners’ rights. They receive letters from prisoners alleging torture and negligence from around India. I learn that it is a common practice for any undertrial accused of rape to be brutally sodomized as a welcome to the prison party.
Given the outrage and the publicity that the Delhi gang rape received, there is no doubt that the accused were at risk for all kinds of abuse while in custody awaiting their trial in addition to the possibility of taking their own lives. Yet Singh is alleged to have hung himself with his clothes and strings from his mattress even as three of his cell mates slept through it all.
Being raped and beaten in jail while awaiting trial is not the kind of justice that anybody deserves in a democratic country—however heinous the crime committed by the prisoner. India has failed miserably in this regard by allowing this incident to occur. Perhaps a way to redeem itself is to work in provisions dealing with prison rape in the pending anti-rape law.