Rape and rehabilitation

What India can learn from Congo

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Sonal Matharu | April 18, 2011



Congo, a central African country, recently got its first rehabilitation centre, called 'City of Joy', for rape victims. Congo is ripped with ethnic conflict and mass rape has been a characteristic of the eastern part of the country, reports Reuters. According to the United Nations estimates, at least 160 women are being raped every week in Congo's eastern provinces of north and south Kivu.

The centre, which will give therapy and training to 180 women a year, will help these women "turn their pain into power", said Eve Ensler, author of the famous play 'The Vagina Monologues', who launched it.

India has a lot to learn from Congo. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of registered rape cases in India has increased from 4,300 in 1979 to 21,397 in 2009. This means over 400 rapes every week. A senior Delhi police official told The New York Times last month that only one in 10 rapes in Delhi get reported. That means, rapes in the capital city and the rest of the country are much more than what the crime records show.

The irony is, India does not have even a single rehabilitation centre for its rape victims. The victims of sexual assault are mostly women and children who solely depend on their families and civil society groups working for their cause to support and counsel them. A few NGO-run centres try to support these victims of the heinous crime and help them restore their confidence, but there is no uniformity in the procedures they follow since all these centres are independently run.

Despite repeated calls for increasing safety for women and for providing rehabilitation centres for better recovery of the women and children who encounter rape, the government has done little to assist them. In Delhi, there is only still one centre under the social justice and empowerment ministry called the Nari Niketan Sangh, which is an NGO, but assists women who are victims of sexual assault, informs Dr Sandeep Govil, consultant psychiatrist, central jail hospital in Tihar, Delhi. Besides this, there is no institution run by the government where the women can go.

Also, Nari Niketan Sangh only helps women who come to the centre voluntarily. These women are mostly destitute who have no family or well-wishers to go back to, Govil adds. If these women drop-out of their counselling session at this centre, there is no mechanism to trace them or reach out to them. Once these women are out of the centre these is no follow-up either.

Helping rape victims recover the trauma, informs Govil, is complex as there is a need to assess the impact of the counselling and understand the mindset of the woman. No one really knows what happens to these women once they go back to the society.

If the rape gets reported at all, the legal procedure that follows is another traumatic experience. "Do you remember the movie Damini?" asks Govil, "Whatever was shown in that movie, that is more or less what the rape victims go through during legal proceedings."

As far as the legal proceedings for rape go, there is some progress on its reforms as the health ministry with consultations with the National Commission for Women has now made 'finger test' optional. It is to be done only if necessary and after the victim’s consent. A few more positive changes have been made in the format that is followed for examining the rape victim. But the government, especially the women and children welfare ministry which has come up with several "final plans" for such rehabilitation centres, must wake up to the needs of these victims so that they restore their dignity and confidence.

India needs many more Cities of Joy where, as Ensler said at the opening ceremony in Congo, "They who have suffered so deeply, so invisibly will claim their rights, their bodies and their future."

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