The news of the brutal Delhi gang rape horrified the world. The case has brought protests in India, and intense focus on the high incidences of rape and violence against women in India.
Following the death of Amanat – a pseudonym used by the Indian press for the unidentified victim – in Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital, messages of sympathy and grief have poured out from all over the world. Singapore’s politicians too put in their two cents, with Minister of State Halimah Yaacob speaking out for respect for women. More trouble, though, was Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s Facebook post:
Many are sickened by the horrific gang rape and subsequent death of the young Indian student. Happened in broad daylight. A young life cut out brutally. Media reports that 6 men have been charged with murder. The family had pinned its hopes on the young girl – father had sold his plot of land to finance her education. Our thoughts are with the family. It is a heart breaking case. Many will agree that this is a type of case where, if the injuries inflicted were of a nature sufficient to cause death, then the abusers should face the death penalty. In discussions with people who want the death penalty abolished, I would often cite cases like these – ( similar cases have occurred elsewhere) . There was a good letter written in by an Indian journalist Deepika Shetty , published in yesterday’s ST. She points out that in Spore young women can go about confidently at any time of the day and night, in spaghetti tops and shorts – a right which they should have, a right which society should protect.
Amanat has only just been cremated, and already Singapore’s Law Minister is using her case not to call for real change, but as a way to score points against the anti-death penalty movement.
In his status update it is suggested that the death penalty is a key tool in keeping Singapore safe, so that “young women can go about confidently at any time of the day and night, in spaghetti tops and shorts” (a statement that in itself suggests that what women wear has an effect on whether they get raped or not). There is, however, no evidence to show that the death penalty is a deterrence to any crime – not murder, not rape, not drug trafficking.
Rather than examining misogyny and patriarchy, Mr Shanmugam’s comment only serves to encourage and validate those who are calling for the blood of Amanat’s rapists, thinking that this would be “justice” allowing everyone to “move on”. But moving on without questioning mindsets will solve nothing. It will not bring Amanat back, nor will it prevent future violence against women. The mob mentality that accompanies the call for blood and vengeance obscures systemic issues that deserve urgent attention, and ultimately becomes an obstacle to much-needed change.
Furthermore, Mr Shanmugam’s comment completely ignores the fact that problems also exist in Singapore. We may not have seen as spectacular a crime as what happened in Delhi, but that does not mean that women in Singapore are safe. Just two years ago a judge meted out lenient sentences to the perpetrators of gang rape after it was decided that although the victim “did not ask to be attacked… [she] wasn’t completely blameless for what happened.” Singapore’s laws against rape also carry the “marital rape exemption“, which means that husbands cannot be charged for raping their wives except in limited circumstances. The way the press and the public turned on Laura Ong when Michael Palmer resigned shows that misogynistic views aren’t exactly in short supply in Singapore. This screenshot of a Facebook comment thread is a prime example of the sort of rape culture that allows for violence against women.
Many cases of rape are also perpetrated by people the victim already knows – which means that the ability of women to walk on the streets in “spaghetti tops and shorts” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with safety from rape.
Amanat’s case has put the spotlight on India, emphasising the urgent need for something to be done. But our focus on India should not allow us to forget the problems that permeate our own societies. As one of Singapore’s respected ministers, Mr Shanmugam should be leading the way towards change rather than trying to score points for himself.