'Shadowy' elements

Why do we need social activism, media propaganda or judicial backlash to prop the Indian state into action every time?

As nationwide protests against the brutal Delhi gangrape incident are getting strident by the day, suggestions of exemplary punishment from death to chemical castration are getting louder. According to the data compiled by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), there has been an alarming overall rise of crimes against women. The reported cases of rape have grown by more than 700 per cent since 1953, when the NCRB started keeping records. Statistics reveal that on an average, one woman is raped every hour in India. What is alarming is that 18 per cent is the rate of conviction by courts even though the police manage to unmask the rapists in 68 per cent of the cases.

Why do we need social activism, media propaganda or judicial backlash to prop the Indian state into action every time? Why do we need maniacal outrage to be the primal driver behind what should long ago have started – a calibrated overhaul of Indian criminal justice system and a process of police reform to protect our women?
What our police (and our legislators) urgently and consistently need is to undertake a process of thorough gender sensitisation. A Tehelka sting aimed at 23 police stations across the Delhi-NCR revealed the shocking attitude of police officials towards women. Delhi's metropolitan area, known as the National Capital Region (NCR), encompasses the entire NCR as well as the neighbouring satellite towns of Faridabad and Gurgaon in Haryana, and Noida and Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh.

The NCR, a broad area consisting of the Union Territory of Delhi and a few ring towns around it, was taken up for development, as per the recommendations of the first Master Plan for Delhi (MPD) notified in 1962, to reduce the demographic pressure on Delhi. Ironically, the expansion of Delhi, which is yet to become a full-fledged state, has earned much disrepute, because of the ‘shadowy’ elements migrating to the civilised, rarefied environs of urban Delhi. According to theorists, there is a clash between the violent, uncouth, pre-modern rural youth coming from rural hinterland of Delhi and the modern, sophisticated and westernised value systems of the Capital as a metropolis.

To stem the rot of the rise of crime against women, however much we want our police to be sensitive and vigilant we cannot create a police state. The problem lies elsewhere. We have failed to put a leash on the spilled libidos – the rising tide of rapists and louts – including cops and other security personnel – because the Indian state has misplaced focus on sex of both the consensual and non-consensual kind. Our country nurtures a society that would take recourse to the shibboleths of virginity, would turn its back on premarital sex, would squirm, generally, at the sight of a raped woman, while it would not be able to give a sanitised atmosphere to our women who have every right to make the most of their sexuality (and thus become an object of ‘provocation’), dress and speak the way they like.

Warped attitude

If one takes the incident of Guwahati in Assam that happened in July this year, when a young woman – after she left a bar was set upon by a gang of at least 18 men who dragged her into the road by her hair, tried to rip off her clothes and smiled at the cameras that filmed it all – or the rape at Park Street in Kolkata inside a car, one can understand the biased underpinnings of the warped attitude – of politicians, of police, of other women – towards ‘failed’ women in India that refers to a darker tale of sexual politics in India.  All what we need is a judicious balance to be struck in the sexual politics of India which boils down to theories of repression. Forbidding a woman to put on, for instance, a pair of jeans (or issuing an edict to have the veil on) is to ask her not to provoke male sexuality, which, so the argument goes, by its effervescent nature, can go riot at any unguarded moment. That’s clearly repressive. Are we regressing as a society?

If decriminalising homosexuality was politically correct, we must come also to accept that when a society flourishes, the glitzier face of an ever-increasing man-woman partnership creates a frisson effect. In India, there is an additional problem of repressed libidos. Such men seek out cheap pleasure and have little fear of law. He knows how much of a stigma is attached to a woman being raped; he knows the social value of a ‘clean’ woman. The ‘stigma’ of a raped woman has been made so entrenched in our sub-continental mores that it overrules the fear of punishment of the rapist because in most cases, he roams free. That largely explains the underreporting of the sexual crimes against women.

The positive side of the public outrage over the Delhi gang rape incident is that it might push Parliament to reform laws but the irony is that we hear also of as many as 27 Indian politicians in senior positions to have rape or molestation cases pending against them. Upon enquiry, it might tumble out that many of our legislators and parliamentarians are guilty as well of complicity in other crimes against women – female foeticide, dowry deaths, domestic violence etc.

It must also be pointed out that our human rights activists (who habitually denounce an-eye-for-an-eye kind of state retribution) do a clean disservice to the victims by aligning with the side of the perpetrators be they murderers or rapists. We have to not only set up special courts for quick trial, but also make sure that they get the most stringent punishment, so that the rapist does have the luxury of thinking that there are remote chances of him facing retribution.

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