“Women [in Singapore] not only wear the skimpiest of outfits in public, but also go to restaurants, nightclubs, bars and movies alone and return home late at night without fear of being attacked. This, I feel, is not just because of stringent laws but greatly because of mindset. The average Chinese and Malay man does not leer at women or pass dirty remarks and, most important, does not undress them with his eyes. Which is exactly what we do in our country — a country espousing Devi Maa, the Mother Goddess!” – Lakshmi Narayan
It was a Sunday morning, just a couple of weeks after we had relocated to Singapore. I was doing nothing in particular, as I moseyed down Serangoon Road, the Indian quarter. My attention was drawn towards a bunch of girls dressed in their Sunday best.
I did not know then that these smartly-turned-out women were Filipina maids, out having fun on their weekly day off.
Suddenly I heard one of them scream, “He touched my breast.” I turned around to see a swaggering man — obviously Indian — leering at them. The next thing I knew, the girl had caught him by the collar and was shaking him angrily, shouting, “Why did you do that?” Even as he gave some reply full of bravado, another dusky man in what seemed like a deep blue safari suit stepped in. “What’s happening?” he asked gruffly.
Seeing him, the stuffing went out of the first man as he collapsed like a heap of rubbish at the girl’s feet. “Forgive me, sister. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,” he whimpered. This was when I realised the second man was a police officer. “He touched your breast, eh?” he asked, as he expertly handcuffed the quivering man.
There was ample reason for the man to shiver in fright. In Singapore, forget rape, even a case of molestation draws justice that is swift and merciless. A few strokes of the cane on the rump. This may seem rather mild as far as punishment goes. But it is meant to put the fear of god in the culprit for life. As one recipient described the unbearable pain he felt, “If there’s a word stronger than excruciating, this is it!”
Caning — introduced during the British era and continued to this day — is a legally accepted form of discipline in Singapore. The whole process is gone through meticulously with cold-blooded efficiency. Only a male aged between 18 and 50 is eligible, after he’s been certified fit by a medical officer. Although the maximum number of strokes to be administered at a time cannot exceed 24, I have seldom read of a judge handing down more than six to a molester.
A rattan cane four feet long and half an inch thick is soaked in water beforehand to make it more flexible and effective. And, some say, more agonising. The guilty party is made to strip and secured to a caning trestle. Protective padding is placed on his lower back to shield the spine and kidneys. The caning is always on the posterior because this area has the most fat deposits in the body and will not damage vital organs.
The cane is then brought down with full force on the bare buttocks at 15-second intervals. They say the torment is so intense that many faint. It takes between one week and a month for the wounds to heal, leaving behind indelible white marks that will remind the reprobate to forever look at a woman only as a mother, a sister or a daughter!
Sad to say, most of the sexual transgressors in Singapore seem to be of Indian origin. When I was working for the Straits Times, I remember one such case at our daily morning meeting that the reporter read out. The miscreant was travelling by bus one morning when he espied a woman — a complete stranger! — from the window. “I saw her and wanted to feel her breasts. So I got off the bus, stood next to her and fondled her,” he admitted nonchalantly. I cannot remember how many strokes of the cane he was administered, but, rest assured, he didn’t have these urges again!
In my book Bonsai Kitten set in Singapore, I have dealt with the plight of the maid Saroja undergoing maltreatment at the hands of her husband Pakkiri. One instance is when he places a hot iron on her private parts and she blacks out. Let me confess here that with all the imagination at my bidding, I could not have conceived of such a sick scenario on my own. It was related to me by my temporary maid with chilling detail. I felt compelled to incorporate it into the story because it is frightening that such savage acts are accepted submissively and unquestioningly by women as their due.
Nearer home, we are all sickened by the mindless carnage being inflicted on women, be it acid throwing by disgruntled wannabe boyfriends, dowry deaths caused by greedy in-laws, or gang-rape. One can safely say that in this country, at least 90 per cent of women have been subjected to sexual abuse of some kind.
Our films actively encourage eve-teasing. Our movies go one step further in enforcing the age-old bias that the woman is “asking for it” either because she wears Western apparel, or because she has told off a man or goes out on her own. I recently saw a runaway Tamil hit where a woman tries to chide a man and she’s told, “Put your finger away. You cannot wag your finger at a man. You are only a woman.” When she gazes angrily at him, he threatens her with, “Look down. Don’t you know a woman is not fit to make eye contact with a man?” How do the censors pass such dangerously degrading rubbish?
As for the votaries of the she-asked-for-it school of thought — which also includes women politicians — I would like to tell them that in Singapore, women not only wear the skimpiest of outfits in public, but also go to restaurants, nightclubs, bars and movies alone and return home late at night without fear of being attacked. This, I feel, is not just because of stringent laws but greatly because of mindset. The average Chinese and Malay man does not leer at women or pass dirty remarks and, most important, does not undress them with his eyes. Which is exactly what we do in our country — a country espousing Devi Maa, the Mother Goddess!
The latest heinous crime to hit the headlines is of the gang-rape victim in Delhi who is fighting for her life. Our collective national psyche is screaming out for castration and hanging as a means to stop this senseless brutality. In India, our men first practise their inhuman sadism at home. Then they’re fully equipped to try their luck with strangers. We are all tired of saying we should sensitise them to women’s issues. But let’s face it. It’s not going to happen for the next 100 years. The rot is too deeply ingrained.
What then is the answer, since civilised society will not allow us to impale rapists, sear acid throwers or incinerate bride burners? The only effective deterrent is something that will make such people swear to themselves they’ll never do it again. Let’s organise fast-track courts in every city first. Then introduce Singapore-style caning for molesters and those who indulge in domestic violence.
Amnesty International has condemned judicial caning as cruel, inhuman and degrading. But do these evildoers deserve to be classified as humans? – The Asian Age, 23 December 2012
» Lakshmi Narayan is the author of Bonsai Kitten. She began her career as a journalist with the Times of India group and was editor of Flair and Eve’s Weekly, before relocating to Singapore. She now lives in Mumbai with her husband Arun and her two dogs, Donna and Tiger.
Filed under: india, indian politics, psychological warfare, rape, women's rights Tagged: | caning, eve-teasing, gang rape, indian films, judicial caning, molestation, politics, rape, rattan cane, women, women's rights