Why Delhi gangrape victim shouldn’t be named

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The British newspaper Sunday People has outed the name of the Delhi gangrape victim, but the Indian media has not fallen for the bait—yet—although it has been trending on Twitter.

Here Rajeev Gowda, chairman of the centre for public policy at the Indian institute of management (IIM), Bangalore, argues why it is best not to name the girl.

***

By RAJEEV GOWDA

Should the Delhi rape victim’s name be revealed? At least for the purpose of honouring her (with her parents’ consent) by naming revised anti-rape legislation after her, as Union Minister of State for HRD, Shashi Tharoor has suggested?

The issue is substantially more complicated.

The Indian media has been admirably restrained so far by not revealing the names of the victim or her companion. Instead, she has been given different monikers like Nirbhaya, Damini, Amanat and Jagruti to describe her fighting spirit.

But the media has also twisted Tharoor’s tweets as if he were interested in making public her name, thus causing needless controversy.

A more diligent media would have instead focused on what inspired Tharoor to make this suggestion. His inspiration comes from United States where names are often attached to laws, especially to add a poignant human angle to legislative changes.

But this little media episode demonstrates a key lesson on why it’s better for India to refrain from going down the path of honouring the victim by naming the bill after her.

Naming this victim potentially gives a license to name other rape victims and that can cause incalculable damage to victims and their families in an India where values are in flux and rape-related stigma is cruelly real.

Further, it is quite likely that we will get into political wars over the naming of future bills and parties that thrive on symbolic huffing and puffing rather than concrete content would just divert attention from the actual work that needs to be done and probably hold up parliament over such non-issues.

Various commentators refer to Megan‘s Law, named after a child killed by a released sex offender, as an example of how the USA names laws. In the USA, numerous other laws are named after the legislators who promote them. But in the American context, unlike in India, there is tremendous scope for individual Congresspersons and Senators to initiate and pass legislation.

Megan’s Law itself is part of a set of initiatives involving naming and shaming, which has also been raised in India as a policy option after the recent Delhi tragedy.

The recently deceased News of the World tried to launch a campaign for a Megan’s Law-type bill in the UK. This media campaign resulted in attacks on people who resembled the perpetrators of crimes and also triggered violent vigilante attacks. Such outcomes may satiate the anger and passions of mobs but certainly do not strengthen the rule of law.

In a decade-old book chapter, I had examined the political and media processes that led to the passage of Megan’s Law and similar laws across the USA using the Social Amplification of Risk framework. I emphasized the importance of politics and contrasted the American experience with how the British dealt with the News of the World campaign.

The British were suitably restrained, appropriately so.

Based on those experiences, I would assert that it’s better to retain the anonymity of victims (and possibly perpetrators too) and focus instead on the harder tasks of changing societal attitudes and improving governance to prevent such crimes from ever taking place.

Otherwise, the collateral damage from name-related moves can be substantial. The twisting of Tharoor’s well-intentioned tweets is just a hint of how counterproductive things can get.

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18 Responses to “Why Delhi gangrape victim shouldn’t be named”

  1. the colonel Says:

    “Naming this victim potentially gives a license to name other rape victims and that can cause incalculable damage to victims and their families in an India where values are in flux and rape-related stigma is cruelly real.”

    everything is known about Nirbhay, except her name.

    the sentence quoted is totally moronic.

  2. induramesh Says:

    As the Editor of the Hindu has said, it should not be done without the parents’ consent.

    and also we have this crazy practice of using initials instead of the full name for everything from medical colleges to roads. Let her action and what she went through be remembered, not her name.

  3. Deepak Says:

    This Gowda character is an apologist for the Congress and cuts a sorry figure when he appears on national TV. Here also, he has tried to show that he has is erudite and writes in a bombastic way, but essence of this post is NIL. There is nothing meaningful this writer has to convey other than to expel hot air!!

  4. Augustine Kuriapilly Says:

    I for one will always take a politician’s comment with a pinch of salt, at times with a handful of salt. In this case I wonder if Mr. Shashi Taroor who lived in the USA had more than the example of Meagan’s Law for suggesting to name an anti-rape law in India after “Nirbhaya” or Braveheart. The point is not the law or naming the law. We have enough laws even to deal with rape. But we do not have a Law Enforcing agency worth its salt in this country. We do not have a government that governs. We have enough number of Politician Rapists siting in the Temple of Democracy making laws for the nation and its people. It is as if entrusting a cat to watch over fish. My suspcion is that Mr. Tharoor is transforming himself from a statesman that he was into an Indian politican. A politician naturally will try and deflect the real issue. The real issue is the Youth especially the women youth, our girl children have come of age and are asking inconvenient questions to the ruling class for which it has no answer. The girl children of this country are demanding “justice” whose meaning the nation, accustomed kangaroo courts of Khap Panchayats and tardy corrupt legal system that takes years to deliver the simplest justice, can’t understand. Some forty years ago my girls students asked me why couldn’t their parents be fair to the daughters. The sons were treated with a different yard stick. Perhaps therein lies the meaning of “We want justice”. Why doesn’t the society put its thinking cap on and find ways to deliver justice not just a single braveheart, but to the youth in general. Let them govern, it is their nation.

  5. 4thaugust1932 Says:

    Her father who refused her inter-caste marriage is responsible for her death.
    Had he agreed to their inter-caste marriage they wouldn’t be roaming in streets in night-time and this incident wouldn’t have happened.
    Caste system seeds hatred among people in India.
    It’s only going to get worse in the future.
    “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” –Einstein

  6. Binu Says:

    Rather Delhi gangrape accused should’nt be covered face

  7. Kesi Says:

    This is the age of Gowdas in Karnataka it appears. They should be listened to now, it appears. The substance of the article is zilch. The naming of this poor victim if done should be followed by the strict enforcement of the rules of the appropriate laws. In India, it is a tall order.

  8. Melanie Says:

    I agree with Rajeev Gowda that the rape victim should not be named, as in anonymity, she has become a symbol and a rallying point for women across the country. However, I beg to differ with Gowda about Tharoor’s tweet being well-meaning. In the first place, the matter was too grave to be tweeted. I also believe that Tharoor was looking for publicity and trying to drive public opinion with his suggestion, which seems to have paid off very well, as his name has figured again and again in the media!

  9. Doddi Buddi Says:

    As usual ‘clear as mud’ article by the author. Somehow he thinks Indians will not be restrained like the Brits or the Americans and do not deserve to frame laws that “add a poignant human angle to legislative changes.” Well done, Sir! Thank you. We humble serfs are happy to wallow in our ignorance and look to the learned likes of you who interpret US laws for us dirty undserving Indians.

  10. Vinay Says:

    4thaugust1932:

    What reference do you have for your claim that her father refused? Or did you just pull that our of your ass as usual?

    You are already famous as a prick, going around spouting bullshit in the comments section of every newspaper and forum that deals with India issues. But you have touched a new low today with your vile comments.

    Looking at every single thing through the prism of caste is the first mark of a scoundrel. India does have a caste issue still, and the reason is people like you. The first step towards combating casteism is to get rid of people like you.

  11. tkb1936rlys Says:

    I agree bala

  12. Nastika Says:

    If the girl or her family is OK with naming, why not? And if the girl or her family is not comfortable, why name?

    ~*~

  13. paciFier Says:

    Her is name out and it does come with some unanswered questions:
    In the past,
    - there have been rapes against women
    - there have been heinous crimes like acid attack on women
    - there have been violent crimes like body mutilation on rape victims.

    Why the outry only now? Is it because the victim is a brahmin?
    Before you pounce, how about talking justice for dalit & tribal rape victims?

    ~*~

  14. Deepak Says:

    @4thaugust1932 you are as bad as Asaram Bapu. How do you know her father didn’t agree for inter-caste marriage? Did he consult you? Lets assume it was a husband and wife in that bus, do you think the result would be different? Don’t try to deviate by raising caste issue, which is irrelevant to this discussion!!

  15. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Dear Pacifier or AssRamBapu,
    It doesn’t matter whether she was a Brahmin or Muslim or a Christian or a Dalit. You take a pacifier in your mouth and nether hole and do us a favor in shutting up. OK? All men and women have the same reproductive organs. Just in case you are wondering Nirbhaya had something different.

  16. paciFier Says:

    Doddi Buddi (8 January 2013 at 8:10 pm):

    I know you are deliberately misinterpreting my post, but still I will clarify.

    Don’t equate me with your Manusmriti wielding Hindu pig like AssRamBapu.

    Glad that you agree all humans have same organs irrespective of caste.

    I sympathies are with all rape victims. I wish they have strength to overcome the trauma and fight for justice.

    The fact in Delhi rape case is the folks who were in slumber when rapes were happening around them, suddenly woke when a brahmin girl was raped. Now they want justice for that girl. I agree its right thing to do and why not ask for justice for other rape victims too (who are not non-brahmins)?

    And who is Nirbhaya? Dalit & tribal girls’ real names, who are rape victims, are all over the newspapers. You quote real names and ask justice for them too.

    .

  17. Sanjeeva Says:

    It is unfortunate to see all around that there is a great debate over ‘why’ it happend and ‘how’ it happened, which is rather useless. There are also all kinds of sermons as to how it could have been avoided. Hardly anybody is talking about the strong deterrent actions to be taken to avoid such crimes. Symbolism like naming does not convey anything.

  18. Rastrakoota Says:

    @PaciFier,

    Not sure what is this rant abt brahmin Girl being raped and hence the huge support. Even if it were to be a brahmin Girl, Its insane to think caste really played any role at all here.
    The protest included real people for sure but the sad reality is the horrendousness of the act of rape itself! What added to the intensity of the protest(by real people) was that the victim was a para medic student. What stuck people was, if a para medic student faced this brutality then this cud happen to anyone! this premise is very simple to understand I hope! And I doubt you know the real story of this rape. You know wat was done to the victim? I bet not! It was not just rape. It is the unspeakable nature of the wound inflicted on the victim. I will not say this in this forum and its also against my nature and I am pretty sure Churumuri would delete even if one were to attempt!!! Most people know this by word of mouth here and Imagine in Delhi itself how many people would have known in the immediacy of the act.
    And hence the rage!
    The reality of the protest as far as the huge numbers are concerned should be pretty clear. There were a lot of unwanted people at the scene of protest just to uncite trouble (poiltical parties backed). Dont ask me the source, it aint hard to undersatnd this.
    Anyways what do you think is the % brahmin population in Inida? I am sure you will do your research on the web now. Are you then meaning the amount of people(peaceful) who wanted to lend their voice were there because they identified themselves with the caste of the raped girl? You seriously need mental help mate!
    I agree with the author of this article. It is well intentioned.

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