Hardly a day passes without a report that some girl or the other has been a victim of
rape. To my way of thinking, that is the single blackest blot on our culture. Perhaps, for
reasons of embarrassment even women leaders have not protested loudly enough against this
crime. The word 'crime' is rather mild when one realises that rape does not exist in the
animal or the beastly universe. In fact, sexual intercourse does not take place amongst
animals except, as it were, at the invitation of the female. It is only when the female is
in heat that she attracts the male.
Rape then is a crime beyond the beastly possibility. Yet, few countries
have laws which prescribe a punishment commensurate with such a dastardly act. British
law, however, is fairly strict. The law there considers rape to be a felony at common law
and was a capital offence until the Offences Against the Person Act (1861) made it
punishable with imprisonment for life. In the United States, the elements of the crime
under statute are similar to those under common law. According to the Encyclopaedia
Britannica, in psychological terms, rape is an act of anger and a pathological assertion
of power. It is more an act of aggression.
Be that as it may, there is no doubt that the impact of rape on the
victim is usually devastating and its effect on the mind is life long. How it can damage a
present marriage or ruin future prospects is well known. It was not different millennia
ago. Sri Ram distanced himself from his beloved Sita who in turn did not live much after
managing to introduce their children, Lav and Kush to the father. I believe that
punishment should be commensurate with the crime. It should also be such as to prevent a
repetition of the crime by the criminal. In this context, any man convicted for rape
should be castrated, an action which should also have a lifelong effect on him as well as
preclude him from a repeat offence. Some individuals, who feel as strongly on the subject
as I do, have suggested the imposition of a death penalty but with them I disagree.
I would also place the onus of evidence on the accused rather than on the complainant.
As it is, very understandably, victims feel reluctant to complain and are embarrassed to
give evidence in court. If the law is amended in these directions, false allegations could
give a handle to unscrupulous women to make false allegations. If this be so, false
allegations would only discourage extramarital or promiscuous relationships which are in
any case being dissuaded through advertisements on account of the danger of contracting
the AIDS disease.
Our attitude towards prostitutes is more abominable than our relative indifference to
the seriousness of rape. Think of it, a grown up man with money in his pocket goes to a
brothel and selects a girl. If the police chooses to intervene, it is the girl who is
arrested. The man goes scat free. The double standard is unjustly weighed against the
female. It is well known that, by and large, women turn to or get trapped into
prostitution due to their poverty. On the other hand, only men with money can take a
prostitute. In other words, assuming that prostitution is a crime, the greater criminal is
the man not the woman.
In my opinion, prostitution is neither a crime nor is it even socially undesirable. In
fact, without it, the incidence of rape could well increase. In ancient India it was
common for the royal rich to have courtesans. Several raj nartakis or court dancers
have become legends. One name that comes to mind immediately is that of Amrapalli who was
known as the Nagar Badbu or city wife of Vaisali, situated in Bihar. The other is
Menaka, who seduced rishi Vishwamitra. Yet another name is that of Urvashi, a
character, in the epic Mahabharat, who tried to seduce Arjuna when he had gone there to
learn dancing in devlok or the universe of gods. No doubt, Menaka and Urvashi are
mythological figures. Nevertheless their presence in the folklore establishes the
legitimacy of courtesans.
Coming to more recent times, it was not uncommon for this royalty to
have harems or for the less rich to keep mistresses. My maternal grandfather, who
was not frightfully rich but who belonged to the class of property rentiers, had a
mistress. I have been told that she was quite a good classical singer. His richer second
cousin called Nathubhai had a similar friendship with Shrimati Kesarbai Kelkar who
was recognised as the premier woman Hindustani classical singer in her time. Incidentally,
the measure of a man in this kind of society in Mumbai at least until 60 yearsago was the
distinction of his mistress.
The institution of the tawaif is well known since medieval days
and I have heard of no mistress or tawaif being arrested for prostitution, although
she could from time to time change her patron. To give a legal status to such a
relationship a well known lawyer of Gujarat innovated what he called a maitree karaar or
a contract of friendship whereby a man and a woman could live in sin but under the
umbrella of a justiciable contract. There have also been time bound marriages amongst the
rich in Gujarat. Say for three or five years at a time with the contract providing as to
who would take care of the children, if any. In a man woman relationship an enormous range
of impermanence or temporariness is possible. Many shades of grey with perhaps, so to say,
only one white and one black. To the purist only a sacramental and therefore an
indissoluble marriage was acceptable as sacred. Something that a devout Catholic would
describe: marriage is a oneness, divine and indivisible until death do them apart.
Any marriage which is contractual, as distinct from sacramental,
carries with it an implicit threat of termination, which in turn implies impermanence. In
fact, any possibility of divorce implies the threat of an interruption and therefore of
impermanence. Lately, living together has become an acceptable phenomenon. I have heard
from several Europeans that marriage has remained customary only in the villages of say
Germany. In the cities, up to 75 per cent of the young prefer to merely live together
rather than marry. In our cities like Delhi and Mumbai, the phenomenon of living
together is no longer unheard of. What then is so immoral about prostitution? I therefore
feel that the profession should be legalised and prostitutes should be given licences. It
would then be possible to insist on a frequent checkup on the state of their health.
Moreover, they would be freed from the harassment of the police and, exploitation by