Almost every single day, In India, there is a news report about one or more males being arrested for

rape. It is ironical that a police force that is normally so reluctant to file a First Information Report (FIR), is always prompt to register a sexual offence – often before any meaningful attestation of the facts can be made. It makes me wonder if, sometimes in the process, an indelible social stigma is being imprinted on some individuals who may later turn out to be innocent. I am particularly leery of instances where an alleged victim complains of being repeatedly raped, over several, days, before she registers a complaint. The was a very recent incident, for example, where the owner of a coaching class in Mumbai was arrested for allegedly raping one of his female students over a period of ten months – apparently in return for a promise to grant her grace marks and allowing her to pass her exams. She apparently accompanied the teacher to his apartment several times; and the molestations took place there – without her raising a ruckus. In a second incident, a slum dweller is said to have repeatedly raped his niece several times, over a month, by taking her to a public toilet in the neighbourhood. In both cases, it is possible that the first assault may have come as a shock and surprise to the girls involved. But how can one explain the repeat visits to the ‘scene of the crime’? Even a girl with very limited intelligence would have known what lay in store for her. It is not as if she was bound and gagged before being taken there. The usual explanation offered is that the ‘victim’ was threatened with dire consequences if she squealed. But I don’t quite buy that. My guess is that these young girls, usually from a background where intimate interaction with the opposite sex is frowned upon, are not adverse to a small sexual adventure. It is the old maxim of forbidden fruit tasting extra sweet. It is only when things get out of hand – or there is a danger of imminent discovery – that the girls suddenly muster up the courage to report their tormenters. Since the girls’ ‘reputations’ are of paramount importance, in the context of future marriage prospects, it would be very convenient to portray themselves as victims. I am not implying that this is always the case. In fact, it may well be the exception to the rule. But I do believe it is rash on the part of the police to take the ‘victim’s’ accusations as gospel; and rush to summary judgment. Supposing it later turns out that the ‘rapist’ was innocent after all. Will that make everything all right? Women are not the only ones who have to worry about their reputations. In India’s conservative society, appearances count for everything – and family honour is of vital importance. The acquitted man will always be viewed with suspicion by his neighbours; and shunned by their wives and daughters. Does he deserve that? The situation can even become lethal in some backward villages, where the man is sometimes lynched by the villagers, based solely on the ‘assaulted’ girl’s hysterical accusations. In most criminal cases, the premise that there are two sides to every story is generally followed. But a cry of rape always seems to elicit an illogical and hysterical response. The general public generally presumes that the accused party must be guilty; often based on nothing more than hearsay. Rape is a deadly serious matter indeed. It should be treated with the gravity it deserves. (The above article was written for Indian readers, but I would be interested to know how a similar situation would play out in the US.)