Saturday, January 12, 2008

Rape in Mizo society: whose fault is it anyway?

“While a murderer destroys the physical frame of the victim, a rapist degrades and defiles the soul of a helpless female." - Justice Arjit Pasayat

Rape occurs everywhere in the world; the Christian dominated state of Mizoram is not an exception. The word ‘rape’ or ‘sual’ literally means ‘criminal assault (on women)’ or to ‘commit rape upon’ and was included in the first Mizo-English dictionary drafted by JH Lorrain. Pre-colonial practices of Nula zen (a form of sexual abuse) and mi hur zawn (public punishment of whore/public rape) have been declared illegal since the early part of 20th century by the colonial rulers. A number of Sexual offences and penalties were recorded in the first Mizo customary laws (A monograph on Lushai Customs and Ceremonies1927) drafted by colonial ethnographer N.E Parry. During the colonial period, all rape cases were to be reported to the superintendent of Mizoram (Lushai hills). “Rape however is very rare indeed in these hills. A genuine case of rape is unmistakable, as the girl would at once rush to chief and complain and he would send her straight to court.” Rape may not be common in traditional society, though other forms of sexual offences were widely known. If not, Mizo customs may not deal so much about sexual offences. It is said that rape was very common during the insurgency period (1966-1986) but there have not been any specific records of any rape incident.Hence, rape is not a new trend in the Mizo society. However, the nature of rape has been widespread in the recent decade.

Recent official statistics have clearly shown that rape constitutes a growing social problem in Mizoram. According to a ‘crime clock’ prepared by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), rape occurs every 29 minutes. A case of cruelty by a husband and his relatives was recorded every nine minutes in overall India. In Mizoram, out of a total population there were 78 rape cases in 2004 recorded by the CID crime branch of Mizoram. According to police records, the crime rate against women steadily increased between 2001 to 2003. While cases registered in this respect were 114 in 2001, this rose to 136 in 2002 and to 219 in 2003. The increased rate placed Mizoram as the second highest crime rate against women in the NE states. On an average, police register one case in three days.

It is difficult to document incidences of rape due to the social stigmas attached to it. Rape incidents are hardly ever reported to officials. If the news reaches the ears of the Mizo Women Organization (MHIP), protest movements are organized, either in the district or state level. Media, political parties, other social organizations and interest groups immediately express their concern but only in words. However, the women organizations or Human Rights Law Network step forward to pressurize the government to implement new laws or regulations, lest the issue may die out before the next rape incident takes place again.

According to Section 376 (A, B, C, D) of the IPC, punishment can be given to the culprit for imprisonment of up to 7 years. However, there are many instances where a rapist was not even jailed for a year or worse in some cases, not even for a month. Because of the flexibility of law, the accused easily gets bail. The rapist continues his life in both private and public spheres. Moreover, the case remains pending in courts over and over again.

What is the reason behind many rape cases not being reported to the authorities? Bianca Son (daughter of Dr Vumson, a well known Mizo historian) says, “Rape is not reported because of the profound emotional pain and stigma attached to it, fear for the safety of family left behind and lack of ordinary support systems leave women without recourse”. In some cases, the victim’s family and the rapist’s family meet and settle the case out of court. Lalzarliani, Secretary of Mizo Women’s Organization (MHIP), Sub Headquarter, narrates in this context “The women’s organization always wants to help the rape victims but we can’t! There are several instances where we propose to move the cases to court, but many a times, the victim and her family withdraw because the rapist’s family and the victim’s family agree on a settlement. Marginalized people are helpless”.

Misuse of the Christian ethics could be the reason too. The New Testament says, ‘Love thy neighbors as thyself’ (Mark 12:31). A couple of years ago, a teenage girl was raped by a co-villager in the southern part of Mizoram. The rapist and his family soon rushed to the victim’s house and asked for forgiveness in the name of Jesus. Strongly influenced by Christian ethics, the victim’s father agreed so the case was not reported to the court. Jesus may forgive but the Law does not.

Lack of awareness is one of the main reasons of rape in Mizoram. Recently, NEWSLINK (an English newspaper published in Mizoram) on Monday, September 11, 2006 reported , “In the village of Lengpui, a young man was accused of raping a 10-year old mentally challenged girl, which was followed by another minor girl being raped by a close relative. The report stated that the accused had raped the girl on four occasions and that despite repeated warnings, the man had again laid hands on the girl on September 2, 2006”. “Why repeated warnings”? Why was the case not reported the very first time it happened? This clearly shows the pathetic order of society.

Who is responsible for rape and what are the various causes of rape? I will not go into detail on the various studies ranging from The Feminist theory, The Social Learning theory and The Evolutionary theory drawing various causes of rape. This has been debated in the academic field and media for many years. In Mizoram, society blames mostly the girl or the girl’s family for not taking precautionary measures. Even the biggest organization, the Young Mizo Association (YMA) is currently targeting the fashion oriented teenage girls. The same view is also put forward by officials. According to Sub-Inspector, Lunglei District Police headquarter; “the current generation are healthier and flooded with hormones, and are overwhelmed with sexual desire. The desire for a certain kind of sex can in some individuals lead to the rise of the level of compulsion. Some people are unable to stop themselves from some type of sexual activity, even if that activity is illegal, hurts others, and is self-destructive. If the girl does not dress properly, chances are increased. Many girls are not aware of this, which gives the rapist a better chance. So, “girls are responsible for their rape” he said. Perhaps, he did not realize that rapes are common in Muslim countries where burkha system is prevalent. Further he says “when the case comes before us, many are not real rape cases, some girls are only pretending”. The same argument is also put forward by the C.Laldina SP CID Branch, Aizawl. “Of course, there are many under aged rape incidents, which should be prevented and the police are taking those casse seriously but many of the rape casse reported to the police turn out to be farce after police investigation”.

Why are many rape incidents not registered as rape cases? First, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is incomplete in defining rape law. Rape is defined in India as intentional, unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent. The touching of the female’s sex organ, without the penetration of the vagina, cannot constitute rape under the IPC. Rape, however, is not sex; it is a crime, and it is a crime of violence. Sakshi v. Union of India, the National Commission for Women and the other organizations suggested revision of the definition of rape law in India. Now, the law has been discussed, debated and revised. Hopefully, it will be implemented very soon.

Secondly, the system of trial in a court room is problematic. It is likely that girls are helpless in a patriarchal society. Liankunga, a Mizo IAS officer currently posted in Patna, Bihar narrates the story, “I have a private lawyer friend, who is currently practicing in Aizawl. Sometimes he may get the culprit as his client. Shrewdly, he may ask a number of questions, which a girl may shy to answer in a court room”. If the girl is unable to answer, the opposite party definitely wins.

There are a lot of misconceptions on rape that prevail in the Mizo society. Men forcing themselves on women just to satisfy their sexual urges or using the excuse of girls not dressing properly are baseless accusations and misconceptions. This should be corrected. Men, even husbands have absolutely no right to force his wife for sexual intercourse. Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1983: Section. 376(A) punishes sexual intercourse with wife without her consent by a judicially separated husband. A woman's body is not the property of a man, and he is not entitled to touch her unless he gets permission.

There have been numerous debates on the subject of rape in Mizoram but the points that have been discussed and brought out in the open are often very narrow. Recently an extremist viewpoint on rape has been suggested in the February 2007 edition of Zofa Digest which stated, “Mizoramah pawngsual tam lutuk hi a hahthlak ta hle mai. Sorkar hian hremna dan thar siam se, til lak phalsak mai se atha lo’ng maw?” which can roughly translated as, “Rape cases have increased rapidly in Mizoram in recent years, the government should implement strict rules to punish the rapists, it would perhaps be recommendable if the culprit were castrated.” But this view may not necessarily provide a better solution. On the other hand, another question may arise – to what extent has an extensive study been done on this particular subject and to what extent have precautions been taken? In Saudi Arabia, gays and thieves are either hanged or their hands are cut off but this is not effective in reducing the prevalence of these crimes. At the various levels, a systematic study on rape needs to be conducted.

Traditional definition based on Mizo customary law of sexual offences may not be relevant in the present context, neither is it compatible with the existing formal laws. Moreover, more problems arise because Mizo customary laws in relation to sexual offences are not properly revised and are yet to be codified. (Rev.Khuanga, 2006:1)

Ignorance is the main cause of the issue despite Mizoram having the second highest literacy rate in India. Few efforts have been taken by the Government and NGOs who have conducted several seminars on rape issues in Mizoram, mostly on urban space. However, in reality, it hardly reaches the lower section of society. Hence, there is an urgent need to raise issues pertaining to awareness of rape and precautionary measures. Rape victims should be encouraged to report themselves to authorities and compensation should be given. Punishment for the rapists should be severe depending on the case. After all, people should realize that this incident can happen to anyone, even to their own family members. Then only, people will realize how important it is to educate themselves on fighting against this pernicious crime.


Rev.Khuanga; “Relevance of Customary Law and Justice in the Changing socio-Economic context of Mizoram” in R.N Prasad & P.Chakraborty (Ed); Administration of Justice in Mizoram, Mittal Publication, New Delhi, 2006.

Study on Child Abuse India, 2007 (Ministry of women and Child development, Government of India)