Insensitivity Against Women
The Delhi gang rape is not just a case of heinous crime, it is also about how society treats women
We must recall the words of the late Jawaharlal Nehru: “You can tell the condition of the nation by looking at the status of women.” To say the brutal rape of a young paramedic by a group of men recently was ‘shameful’ would be a gross understatement. The incident has really shamed the world’s largest democracy where women’s rights should be taken as granted. A host of laws have been passed to enable women to fight oppression. Yet the ground reality remains as dismal as ever. Safety of women in India has always been a cause for consternation throwing to winds all talks of women’s emancipation.
The 23-year-old women’s horrific death only proves why India was named one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women by the New York Times only recently. “This reprehensible crime reflects an alarming trend in India which basks in its success as a growing business and technological mecca but tolerates shocking abuse of women”, it says. The brutal assault has once again confirmed that atrocities against women are a routine affair in India. Yet the issue of gender abuse and discrimination is exploited by political parties to appeal to their core vote, much like a travelling circus drums up an audience. Clearly, gender is not a priority with a national government content with tokenism. Even genuinely well-meaning policies barely scratch the surface. The real issues of literacy, health, empowerment and security are often lost in the rhetoric. Not surprisingly, this apathy and callousness only aggravates the situation and paves the way for more crimes.
Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s statement that she will “expedite the case” is not enough to protect women. We live in a time when crimes against women—which climbed over 2.25 lakh in 2011 according to the National Crime Records Bureau—are growing alarmingly. Shocking instances of rape continue to hit the headlines. It is disgusting that even after the Delhi gang rape case there have been continuous reports of rapes taking place in various parts of the country. It is a shame that when people have taken to protests in a big way against the crime, several such cases are still being reported everyday. This underscores the need for better policing and strict implementation of laws. Rather than punish a culprit after crime, it is necessary to curb the cause of crime against women.
That our politicians are insensitive to the issues related to the women’s safety is proved time and again by their utterances. Politicians in India have tended to deal with women’s right somewhat gingerly. They may have passed some progressive bills in Parliament and state assemblies like the ones on domestic violence and property rights. At the same time, few politicians take a public stand against gender-based violence. Of course, every time there is a dastardly incident like rape, many of them come out and make statements in public but these can be classified either as opposition statements against the government or simple fulminations reflecting public outrage. Very few can actually be termed as unqualified support for women to dress as they please, go where and when they please and still deserve full support and protection of the law. The compulsion of vote-bank politics deters them from standing up for women’s rights. This is why the retrograde measures of Khaps and religious groups are at best met with a stoic silence by parties across the political spectrum.
This anti-women bias was on display when Abhjit Mukerjee, a Congress MP, remarked that the women who came out to protest against the gang rape of the 23-year-old women were “dented and painted”, which was indeed shocking. Mr Mukherjee’s comment exposed the utter insensitivity of politicians to genuine public anger over a heinous act that has appalled the entire nation. He must realise that it was the “nautanki” which jolted the complacent administration into action. No apology can reverse the hurt caused to the protestors in general and women in particular. The MP would do well to realise that people do not enjoy lathi blows, water cannons and tear gas but they cannot turn a blind eye to an issue that concerns all. They are on the streets out of compulsion, not choice.
Do I have the right to ask?
Is there any protection for lass?
The streets are not safe
And there are many chances of rape.
There is fear among the girls in the dim light
What about those raped victims’ right?
Is there any security on the streets of Delhi?
If not then why we are stopped to take out a rally?
Why the police not with us
And being a part of this big rush?
They shower water and tear gas
And they now work only for the cash.
They do lathicharge on innocent crowd
But can’t listen the voices that are too loud.
The voices that scream and shout and fight
For the most important-women’s right.
Those voices want that rapists should be hanged publicly
And every case should be handled by police so strictly.
The feeling of being afraid will then take place in the mind
Of the gang who do jobs of this kind.
By Vidushi Bansal
Sadly, Mr Mukherjee is not the only public figure to voice such regressive and gender discriminatory views in the aftermath of the recent gang rape incident. Another West Bengal politician Mr Anisur Rahman of the Communist Party of India echoed the same appalling stand by making an offensive remark against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Earlier also, Andhra Pradesh Congress President Butcha Satyanarayana dismissed the rape as a “small incident” saying that women shouldn’t go out during late hours. Such views common in medieval times have no legitimacy in modern democracy. Our laws have to protect women irrespective of how they dress, behave or live their lives. We need to deal with predators prowling the streets of Delhi and elsewhere so that women enjoy their freedom. But unfortunately the party men are ducking behind these backward comments to hide the government’s failure to ensure the security of the citizens. One wonders how a mature democracy can tolerate such indifference and insensitivity from leaders. When such insensitivity exists among those who are expected to take care of the vulnerable sections of society, it explains why crimes against women continue to be on the rise. This explains why only one in four accused is convicted. Also, the pendency of rape cases in trial courts has increased from 78 per cent to 83 per cent.
Farewell Dear Daughter
Where are you, my darling girl,
More precious that the rarest pearl?
That fateful evening took an unimaginable nasty turn,
The dark cruel night ignited your soul to completely burn.
Brutally attacked, tortured, inflicted with extreme pain,
Your heart-rendering cries for mercy, were all in vain.
With tremendous courage, you put up a valiant fight,
Hoping to dispel the cold darkness, embrace the warm light.
The heartless brutes, like a rag doll, flung you in the cold,
Patting themselves proudly, “our action was manly and bold”.
When conscious, you’d say, “mother! I want to live”,
Oh! Braveheart, to grant this wish, what would we not give?
Life ebbed away painfully, death was beside you,
An angry nation demanded swift punishment, that was due.
A tearful farewell, we bid you dear daughter,
Promising justice for your sacrifice, your brutal slaughter.
Your vibrant innocent life was silenced, in your prime,
But your undying spirit will remain in our hearts, for a long long time.
By Girija Sridhar
What malodorous disease could lead a group of men to perpetrate brutality on a young women in a moving bus, as if they were engaged in some casual sport? Surely this appalling crime is more than just a reflection on a criminal group of men and the deteriorating law and order situation in our country. Indeed, it should hold up a mirror to all of us and ask what has gone so horribly wrong in our society. India, which is on the fast track to development, has still not shed its feudal orthodox mindset about women who constitute half of the population. Violence against women stems from our patriarchal setup. The recent gang rape is not just a case of heinous crime. It is also about how society treats women. We need to have stringent laws to punish the rapist. But the law will act as a deterrent only when we implement it irrespective of whether the perpetrator is a father, brother or a neighbour.
What is special about this particular Rape?
What makes rape an exceptional form of violence against women which has the potential to elicit such outrage that other kinds of violence, sexual or otherwise, don’t, asks Oishik Sircar
I couldn’t help but give a perverse twist to the lovely Amul Milk advertisement jingle from many years back on reading the hilarious and diarrheic comments on social media about the recent brutal gang ‘rape’ of a woman on a Delhi bus, and of course because of how farcical our outrage has become, responding with vastly disproportionate vigour every time, all too often, when something like this happens. Sitting far away in a comfortable armchair in Melbourne I was spared the circus that I’m sure our 24/7 media channels are carrying out: they must still be ‘breaking’ news about everything that’s been happening since the incident took place. Rape has been turned into a spectacle for delicious consumption on primetime television and for all time on Facebook (unfortunately, I don’t live tweet).
The initial comments were from several Delhi-wallahs defending their beloved city from being, yet again, labelled ‘the rape capital’ of India. Gradually this defence turned into a faceoff between Delhi and Bombay-wallahs, the latter saying that Bombay is far safer for women. Whatever happened to our memories of the Marine Drive rape in 2005 by police constable Sunil More and earlier this year the rape and murder of Pallavi Purkayastha? Pity, the Kolkata-wallahs, after the kind of sexual violence its women experienced in public spaces in the past year (notably the Park Street case), couldn’t join this ‘my city best’ debate. Those in Dantewada or Kupwara couldn’t even think of joining the debate not only because they might not have had access to Facebook, but also because if they joined in, Delhi would have lost the competition hands down. How could they let that happen to India’s capital city?
Then came those expressing their outrage at the incident. What should be done to the perpetrators: castrate them, hang them, stone them to death, said an overwhelming collective of very angry voices from across the country. These were primarily men, and those who would randomly send me ‘Glassdoor’ invitations every day! The beauties of retribution were on gallant masculinist display. Several men among this lot, were concerned about how their own species could violate “the sanctity of women”. When these hysterical responses of outrage were becoming too ‘filmy’, arrived the voices of liberal rationality: the ones who questioned the city’s law and order situation, demanded accountability from the police, faster prosecution, reform in laws and the like. Some of them even expressed their love for Delhi and why it is because of this love that they would stay in the city and work towards changing it.
Then there were the radical rationals: who called for protest marches at India Gate and ITO, wanted to gherao the chief minister’s and police commissioner’s houses, and said that the death penalty will not work in curbing rape, and that we need to learn from history that it is not retribution, but the surety of prosecution that will allow the law to play any meaningful role in deterring sex crimes. The feminists in this category pointed at why law reform might not be the only way to stop rape. Some from the radical-rational breed who are not in Delhi (but share a love for the city having lived there earlier) cheerfully asked on Facebook the day after: “How was the protest?” Didn’t get an immediate answer, and asked again with heightened anxiety: “How was it?” Which sounded uncannily like “How was the party? Damn, I missed it!”
In the cacophony of such charmingly varied responses (a testimony to India’s diversity?), there were also the critical-dissident types. It seems they made a purposeful late entry into the virtual universe of free ideas that Facebook is because they were seriously assessing what was going on before making a comment that might sound like drivel. So the critical-dissidents said: why so much hoo-haa about this rape? Simply because it happened in the capital city? In a public bus? Because the woman was of a certain class? Where were these voices of outrage when Soni Sori or Manorama Devi was raped? Since the rapists were upper-caste there’s a need to interrogate brahminical patriarchy, said another. The feminists among the critical-dissidents raised questions about why there would never be anything even close to an outrage when violence against women of all kinds happened at the hands of family members, within the revered institution of marriage; after all, despite several years of activism for rape law reform marital rape still remains exempt from criminalisation. The communists were concerned that the consequences of this incident would unfairly target poor migrant workers in the city. Recent Delhi Police advertisements across the city have already singled out “cooks, drivers, maids, watchmen, nannies” as suspect populations who can be potential criminals.
Lest I sound frivolous (I am after all concerned about my reputation, albeit overrated, as someone who takes things like this seriously), let me contribute my two bits to the encyclopaedic amount of writing on this incident that is already happening in newspapers, websites, blogs and of course social media. My immediate response to the incident when I read about it was not outrage, but bewilderment. No doubt, the Delhi incident was horrific and a cruel reminder that sexual violence continues to be the most frequently used tool in the hands of men for dominating women and maintaining gender hierarchy anywhere in the world. Even if this sounds pathetically universalist and didactic, it’s true. There are statistics, statistics and more statistics to prove this beyond an iota of a doubt and every year they are getting added to the figures brought out by the National Crime Records Bureau. But why rape? Why now? Just because of this incident? What prompted this spectacular media and ‘civil society’ response? Was this the collective outrage of all the rapes that have happened in different parts of India through the year? Was this the year-end violence against women protest gala? What increases this particular incident’s outrage quotient? I am no one to diminish the importance of the angry responses in fact, if I were in Delhi, I would’ve possibly been part of one of the protests.
But what continues to bewilder me is what makes rape an exceptional form of violence against women which has the potential to elicit such outrage that other kinds of violence, sexual or otherwise, don’t? And why is it that even after all the postmodern feminist evolutions that we have passed through, penetration of that thing between a woman’s legs (by the way, it’s called the vagina) by the penis (and it’s not a weapon biologically meant for raping) continues to be ranked as the most egregious of all forms of sexual violence?
The law (until the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2012 comes into force) does not put other forms of objects penetrating the vagina, or the penetration of other orifices on the body, at par with rape. This is also why forced anal penetration of men (or hijras) will never be considered rape legally, or attract outrage of this scale. Societally and legally rape does not exist inside marriage (and this will continue to be the case even after the amendments come through), and outside it rape exists under the exceptional circumstance of peno-vaginal penetration only. And it is peno-vaginal penetration outside the hallowed borders of marriage that is a matter of concern for the law as well as society (family, community, and nation). The law is interested in protecting the institution of marriage from outside contamination (by criminalising adultery) and internal disruption (by exempting marital rape), and society is interested in protecting the virginity of unmarried women by calling any sexual transaction rape if it upsets the structures of class, caste and patriarchy. The issues of force and choice of the woman (and the man) in question become inconsequential if these objectives are being met.
But the undisputed position of superiority that rape holds in the hierarchy of sexual violence against women has another story to tell. Part of this story is about the use of the very term ‘rape’ and the other part is about the reduction of women to the status of reproductive property. The demand for re-naming rape and a range of other penetrative sexual offences against women under the umbrella category of ‘sexual assault’ (as it is in the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2012) began with the recognition of the fact that the term ‘rape’ connotes a meaning that is so much more than mere sexual violence. The etymology of the term can be traced to the Latin verb rapere: to seize, take by force, or to plunder. And the subject of a plunder is always property. Thus, the state through its rape law reduced women to the status of men’s property (as their wives, daughters or keeps) and protected it for them from plunder or insemination by other men. It’s not a surprise that marital rape continues to be an exception under Indian criminal law since the law is not able to fathom how the owner can plunder his own property. Rape is made to exist in the legal and social consciousness because that is the only way patriarchy can have total control over women’s reproductive sexuality. Which is exactly why one of the most common forms of retribution directed at lesbian women or sex workers is rape; and for the same reason rape is also used during armed conflicts or communal pogroms either against the women to shame a community or against the men to make them feel emasculated.
The understanding of property also extends to constructing women as the property of communities and the nation. So when Neelofar and Aasiya Jaan were raped and murdered by the CRPF jawans in Shopian; or when police officer Ankit Garg watched as junior police personnel stripped Soni Sori naked, administered electric shocks, assaulted her, and then inserted stones into her vagina and anus; or when Manorama Devi was abducted by para-military forces and then raped and found dead with a bullet through her vagina; or when a pregnant Bilkis Bano was gangraped by a Hindutva mob in Gujarat; or when Tapasi Mallik was raped and burnt alive in Singur none of them were considered the nation’s property (or full and equal citizens to make a liberal argument) and worthy of the nation’s outrage. For every case of rape that has happened in big cities over this year Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Bombay irrespective of the identity of the woman who was raped, it was the husbands, brothers, lovers, families, castes, religions, corporations, institutions of the women who were their property, that prompted the outrage. It was the fear that ‘our’ women use the same roads, the same public transport, go to the same colleges and offices, drink in the same bars, and party in the same discos, and that they need to be protected. And that’s what we end up demanding at protests protection for women who we consider to be ‘our’ property. Our expression of anger is actually a cover for the fear that ‘our’ women are under threat. That threat is not just about the fact that ‘our’ women will be beaten, or sexually harassed but specifically that they will get raped. Some stranger’s penis will forcibly enter her vagina, invade her sanctified body, impregnate her outside of marriage, contaminate her purity. Sexual harassment or domestic violence can be bad, but the fear of rape is a direct threat to ‘our’ property being trespassed and its re/productive promise being compromised. And that is why we protest and demand protection. We want ‘our’ property in women to be protected. We turn their bodies into empty vessels that are a repository for ‘our’ money, ‘our’ honour and ‘our’ right over their reproductive labour and produce. The importance of protecting your own property is a lesson that we learn and teach with enthusiasm and aplomb be it money, art or women.
A woman’s body, especially her vagina, is no sacred temple. Rape does not turn her into a zinda laash. Rape is violence and needs to be condemned for that reason and not for any romanticised understanding of izzat and aabroo. But we seldom strip rape of its exceptionalism, of its eroticism and most importantly of its intimate connection with retaining control over material property and the re/productive property that we turn women’s bodies into. We’ve turned the Delhi rape into an extraordinary event, whereas in reality it isn’t. What should outrage us is that rape has become comfortably routine. Our answer to that is not to treat it exceptionally, but to understand it as part of a perverse, insidious, scary continuum of misogyny that we have enthusiastically fed and bred in our own backyards. Doing this is so much more difficult than trendy statements that demand bloodthirsty retribution.
Even before I could feel any outrage at what happened in Delhi, I was having a very difficult time figuring out what my critical, post-ideological comment on Facebook should be. A comment that will have the right people ‘liking’ it, and will provoke a string of engaged comments. Everything had been said, and whatever I had to say would sound like cheap repetitions, lacking any creativity. After all, what I write on Facebook determines everything about my beliefs, commitment, actions, politics, affiliations, and is a voyeuristic window into who I am ‘friends’ with, and the organic coffee shops and organised protests that I attend. I felt utterly inadequate for not being able to come up with a comment. My privatised feeling of outrage will never be enough until I broadcast it on Facebook. And it was then that the Amul Milk jingle parody came to mind and it was pretty apt as a quirky and timely Facebook post with some guaranteed ‘likes’ to buoy my distant bleeding heart and make me feel that I am part of a shared national outrage. But as luck would have it, I had a deadline for this column and decided to use it here instead. Because by the time the next rape happens, and the time for my next column comes, we would have possibly exhausted all our creative energy and selective memory to protest like this, and I’ll have to try hard to come up with what to write. And just in case the rape happens in villages and towns that do not occupy the imaginary map of elite India, we’ll be discussing more important things on Facebook, like celebrating Modi’s win in Gujarat, or even the weather. By the way, it’s summer in Australia. (Infochange)
Our society neither shames nor shuns criminals in its midst. In fact, one third of MLAs face criminal charges including rape. The former president Ms Pratibha Patil appended her signature and seal to presidential pardons for men who raped and killed young girls and were sentenced to death. How does a man who molested a teenage girl driving her to suicide rise through the ranks of IPS to become the Chief of Haryana police? When Ms Sheila Dikshit says good girls stay home at night does so because she knows it will find resonance with vast sections of masses. What does it say of us and the nation?
The gruesome incident has triggered a torrent of questions in our minds. Can young girls ever walk freely on the streets? Do their relatives need to be wary when they step out? While the gang rape has highly agitated the all right-thinking people, the official response is on the expected lines—will bring culprits to book, fast-track the case and so on. In a few months, rapists may get bail. Media headlines will became a footnote. Political pressure will come into play after the case fades out of public memory. The tragedy is another similar incident will recur with similar public outcry and state reaction.
The spontaneous anger and upsurge of youth across the country should be routed into positive actions which would ensure safety and security of our women folk. Severe punishment should be meted out to culprits. We all as a society have a role to play if a young woman is raped or killed. In the 21st century the least that India owes to its women is the right to be safe both within and outside their home.
By Sunita Vakil