Patriarchal values and the death penalty
January 2, 2013, 12:13 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Gender
Photo credit: Associate Press

Photo credit: Associate Press

Hearing about the death of the woman who was brutally raped and violently attacked in New Delhi was one of the saddest and most disturbing moment of 2012 as the year ended. Following the reports that described how she was being violently handled by 6 men and all the call for the death of her rapists/ murderers, I have realised that the world has not gotten anywhere more enlightened nor civilised.

Patriarchal values lead to sexism and gender inequality

Despite more equal opportunities for women in the areas of education and jobs as well as status in society, inequality between genders due to patriarchal values and sexism still reigns in many parts of the world and in many segments of society. To cut the long story short, I will keep the focus on India.

According to a report by Reuters, the men admitted to raping and torturing her in order to “teach her a lesson” after she and her male friend did not take their taunts (of being out alone at night with a man) lying down. The fact that she was alone at night with a man became a point for the group of men to pick on, was a sign of gross patriarchal values at work.

Patriarchal values exist within the police force as well… remember the case of the 17 year-old teenager who killed herself after the police pressurised her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers who had raped her? It left me very angry and disgusted. And according to an acquaintance of mine who currently works in New Delhi as a researcher, he told me that justice is almost always not being upheld when it comes to sexual crimes against women because their perpetrators are of a more superior gender. He said “The police will usually look for reasons to justify the rape. In other words, women are usually blamed for being out alone, being out too late at night, wearing clothes that show their curves or behaving suggestively.

As if the crime was not horrendous enough and as if sexism coming from men is not enough, Dr Anita Shukla, a woman scientist in India, blamed the victim for her own fate. According to Daily Bhaksar, she said that “Women instigate men to commit such crimes” and that the victim was being “insensible” for staying out after 10pm.

My goodness… that was utterly disgusting, especially coming from a woman. So while there is no restrictions for men to stay out as late as they want, women have to stay at home after a certain hour of the night to remain “sensible” and not “instigate” men to commit such crimes… how’s that for gender equality?

Now that says a lot about how deep patriarchal values have been embedded in India’s society… so much so that sexism and gender inequality can be expressed from both women and men from different segments of the society.

Blood for blood?

I disagree with the idea that the rapists who are now tried for murder, should be sentenced to death. Sentencing the brutal criminals to death is a short-cut method to “right” what has been wrong for a very long time. Rather, what is required is a social revolution that needs to happen immediately. Sentencing these men to death reeks of revenge and I believe that if a society is against murder, they should not practice the hypocrisy of supporting state sanctioned murder.

In my opinion, the death penalty will not change how women in India (or anywhere else in the world) are being treated and viewed as – weaker and inferior to men, and in some instances, sex objects that do not deserve equal respect as men. In order to change a society, the call of equal respect is required. Men needs to recognise that women and men are equally human beings. In July 2003, Marina Mahathir wrote:

“What prevents violence against women is instilling in men and boys the belief that women are equal human beings who are to be respected. Have we ever known an abuser to say that they think highly of their victims?”

The death penalty only creates fear and instilling fear is not an effective way to deal with crimes. The society has to understand why they should not violate another human being through violence and sexual crimes, rather than through fear of punishment which is temporary and which will never help to improve women’s standing in society at all.

In this very case of India, the only things that should be granted the death penalty, are patriarchy and sexism. And to be honest, patriarchy and sexism should have been given the death penalty a long time ago, all over the world.

Let us not forget our sense of humanity, just because something so inhumane has happened. Support justice and gender equality instead of the death penalty.

Note: There will be a candle-light vigil in honour of the victim happening on the evening of 2 Jan 2013. For more details, do check out the event page set up by the organiser.