This was published in Business Bhutan’s Opinion page on July 4th 2015.
Allow me to begin with a request. I would like you to remember cases of statutory rape over the last one decade in Bhutan: The 11 month old baby, the two year old, the three old, and the eight year olds (one of whom was gangraped by adult men). Do not forget the eight year old whose rape became public knowledge, this week. Let us also recall that the 11 month baby’s anus was damaged beyond repair. “She was in pain even in her sleep,” shared a reporter who saw the baby some years ago.
Let this affect you. Let it make you want to throw up. Let it make you want to harm the perpetrator. Let it also make you feel impotent because even after all of this horror, there are people who say: “Be compassionate, we are Buddhists.” I am a firm believer in non-violence, but I also believe in tough love-like life imprisonment, and naming and shaming monsters.
Statutory rape laws were made stricter in 2011 with the amendment to the Penal Code. However, the laws have not been a deterrent because we have seen, read, and heard several other horror stories since. I do not subscribe to the taking of life; even if I do feel at times that it is indeed a just end for such depraved men. I like to entertain the idea of beating up such men within an inch of their lives and leaving permanent scars on them (these men do scar the bodies and minds of their victims). It is an idea because I am not confident that I will manage such aggression in real life. Sadly. “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind,” someone wise said. That wise person needs to meet the babies and the little girls who were and are raped. An eye for an eye can also ensure that the other eye is better protected. Self-preservation has never been unimportant.
A rape of a minor or someone below the age of 12 is statutory rape- a crime that is a felony of the first degree. The rapist can be imprisoned for a minimum of fifteen years or for life for such a crime. Yet men are not afraid. There were five reported incidences of statutory rape in 2014. The one this week is the first reported case, this year. I doubt it will be the last.
Some people say focus on awareness creation on the laws that exist to prevent crimes against women and children. What good is awareness in the face of such blatant disregard? For the majority of Bhutanese, fear is a great motivator when it comes to productivity and an effective deterrent when it comes to crime. Written laws have not resulted in the creation of fear. We do not have many law-fearing citizens, but we do have stick- fearing and tshoda-dreading citizens. Why not use the tried and tested method in this case? Let the rapists feel victimized. Strip them off their dignity. Self-preservation will become urgent then.
Unfortunately, the preoccupation with rapists is short-lived. Let us accept at this point that along with the horror, there is quite the unnecessary interest in rape survivors- an interest that is cumulatively debilitating. I am consciously avoiding the use of “victim” here because the baby/ girl actually ceases to be one as soon as the heinous incidences stop. Society, however, never lets the girl/ woman forget. Somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn. Society must never let the rapist forget his crime.
A survivor is told that she has been ruined, destroyed, and is a victim for life. Save your judgment for the rapist. Yes, a survivor was and is violated, but the survivor can overcome. Is it not our basic impulse to try and heal whenever we get hurt, physically or emotionally? Why do we inhibit that in our survivors? Yes, we are all culpable. We are more worried about our moral standards. Let us remember that more than our standards, it is a human life we need to sustain. Even priorities need to be prioritized.
Did you know that paedophiles do not always act out their desires? I refuse to accept paedophilia as a justification for these atrocious acts even if it is recognised as a psychiatric disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. Knowing how things are in the country, this can easily be used to get child rapists off the hook like alcohol is conveniently used to save domestic violence perpetrators. I would like to sit down for a cup of coffee with some academics who are arguing for paedophilia in certain scholarly circles, confirming that it is natural in men, that children should not be desexualised; so I may pour scalding coffee on them and point out that natural laws dictate spilt coffee must fall down (on their thighs and hopefully their privates) and not into the sky. I balk at their impudence, and am extremely disgusted by their self-indulgent opinions!
In Bhutan, the identities of rape survivors are protected and the media know not to reveal identities through association. I must now make an interjection. Before 2011, we were calling for harsh penalties for child rapists, and to name and shame them. In 2015, we have stricter laws but we are still not naming and shaming. So what if we find out who the rape survivor is? She is not the criminal. She did not do anything wrong. She does need to grow up or live in shame. She does not deserve our pity. We think we are protecting the survivor, but know that because we do this, we automatically protect the rapist. Rapists violate, then threaten their victims with public shame and dishonour if they “talk” since “victim shame” is what society perpetuates.
There should be no shame in being a rape survivor. There should instead be terrible shame in being a rapist. Who are you choosing to shame?