Guest Post by SHWETA GOSWAMI
The NDA government seems to have started pushing forward the regressive proposal of the previous UPA government to set up a sex offenders’ registry in the country, on the lines of those maintained in some western countries including the U.S. and the U.K.
According to the proposal the details of sex offenders even below 18 years of age would be included in the database, which will be put up on the website of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).The government plans to publicize their photographs, addresses, PAN card details, Aadhaar card number, fingerprints and DNA samples through this registry.
The information on offenders to be collected for the Registry include those related to their jobs, professional licenses, information of schools, colleges, institutions with which they have been associated, vehicle information, date of birth and criminal history.
The details would be put up only after they have been convicted and completed their sentence in jail. The details will not be included if the cases are under trial and are in appeal in a higher court.
Failed logic of deterrence
Considered to be a handy tool for the law enforcement agencies, the offenders’ registry is being envisaged as a deterrence by the ministers in the government since it will instill fear in the minds of repeat sexual offenders and the public would benefit from it. My concern is, whom does the government want to deter? Individual offenders or men in general? (I say men, because I understand sexual violence as male violence and women offenders as an anomaly). If it is the individual offender, only a couple of offenders would make it to the list given the low conviction rate and the snail-paced judicial processes. Given the inconsistency between the rate of crime committed and the rate of conviction, I doubt if the registry would be of any help for the public to stay vigilant against sex offenders.
If it is for men in general or potential offenders in general for whom the individual offenders’conviction is supposed to serve as an example, this too falls on its face given the inconsistency mentioned above.
The advocates of deterrent sanctions believe that that people choose to obey or violate the law after calculating the gains and consequences of their actions. Even if we grant room for rationality, sexual crime in patriarchal society is committed as a matter of right, to exercise power and control which finds legitimacy in socio-cultural environment and in some cases within law itself. For example, marital rape is not considered as an offence in India.
Cover the shame with a few names
The shame is that in most cases of sexual offences the perpetrator is known to the victim. Many times it is the relative, neighbor, or a family member. Instead of questioning and dismantling the hegemonic power relations within its basic unit of functioning – ‘the family’ – the state, in order to preserve the sanctity of the notion of the family, creates the ‘other’ – a sexual offender existing outside the home; who offends, shall be focused on and watched carefully. I doubt if husbands, brothers, fathers, step-fathers, uncles, and other male relatives would make it to the government’s sex offender’s registry.
Making public the names and background details of a convicted offender can have major repercussions on the people who are related to or somehow associated with the offender. For instance- the school he attended can be blacklisted (for making rapists out of students), his sister, wife, mother be raped or lynched by faceless mob hysteria, which has acted with impunity on many occasions in recent times. His family members can be denied jobs or ostracized by the community. All this, over and above the effect this publicized registry would have on the possible rehabilitation of individual offenders.
Last but not the least, there are no significant studies which suggest that imprisonment or other deterrent sanctions reduces recidivism.
Rather than seeking high tech, resource consuming solutions such as portals like Sex Offenders’ Registry, which cannot ensure safety of the citizens, the government should focus on establishing functional fast-track courts around the country. What is needed is timely conviction of sex offenders, in order to address the impunity that rapists enjoy due to delay in conviction as well as faulty trials that re-victimize the rape survivor.
Shweta Goswami is a women and child rights activist, and the founder of a volunteer based organization in Vrindavan ‘Nirmal Initaitive-building strong community to end violence’.