In its December 20th, 2012 issue Tehelka wrote ‘How do we stop rapes? India looks for answers’. It further advocated ‘there was only one refrain: attitude to women must change; the legal process of dealing with the crime must speed up; and men must be educated and ‘sensitised’ about women’s issues.’ One year down the line its own editor is facing serious sexual assault allegations, the preacher having ignored his own sermons. Not only had their own ‘attitude to woman’ degraded but the editor (and his supporters in Tehelka) were throwing their earlier sermons of ‘legal process of dealing with the crime’ to winds.
This was not the first time that holders of power and authority in India had been exposed; in fact recently sexual harassment charges were levied against a retired Supreme Court justice. Expect same people to preach values or dispense justice?
The 2012 December Delhi gang rape case generated widespread protests across major Metros in India and the government promised to act in all such cases, but not much seemed to change on ground. Just three months after this gang rape and even while the outrage was still at its peak, the number of rapes reported in the capital more than doubled (from 143 in Jan – March 2012 to 359). And to take into account that majority of rape and molestation cases go unreported in India.
While political parties in India are a part of outrage against these crimes, some of their own members have been seen to be a part of this criminality and offences against women. No less than the current Prime Ministerial candidate of BJP is accused of using state apparatus for stalking a woman, deploying officers from various wings in this offence and also unauthorizedly tapping the victims’ phone. In yet another incident of April 2012 Tarun Vijay, Member Parliament belonging to the same BJP was linked to the murder of RTI activist Shehla Masood, a case which later exposed the illicit relations of this MP with main accused Zahida Pervez and the deceased. Such morality of Indian politicians! Not only was no action taken by the political party in the case of their MP, in the later case also they openly resorted to defending snooping accusations against their PM nominee in spite of clear evidence pointing against.
For centuries a cultivated social façade along with an Indian brand of religiosity where women were looked upon as possessions and the male as possessor, created attitudes of male superiority in India. The role of women carved in the Indian society was of a lesser equal, bound by submission, often holding silence to crimes against her as a matter of safeguarding honor and family prestige. Within the Indian society across class distinctions, deep rooted traditions of patriarchy and misogyny resulted in repressive attitudes towards women. And it was this social façade that started chipping off with the economic revolution in India, where the society progressed towards financial empowerment including its women workforce without changing the obnoxious social mindset within. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, the number of registered rape cases in India has increased by almost 900 % over the past 40 years. And these statistics show an alarming trend even while most cases are either not reported for fear of social stigma or in many other cases law enforcement agencies are far more reluctant to register crimes against women (2009 research paper by Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
Societies where the birth of a female child is looked at with contempt and female fetuses are routinely killed, remind you of pre Islam Arabia. Only that those crimes happened during the dark period of ‘Jahhaliya’ while these crimes are happening in a ‘progressive modern educated India’. Sadly the ‘collective conscience’ of Indian society often treats such crimes as a norm, news that is read alongside other page 2 news, forgotten soon to be again taken over by more news of rapes & molestation. And even cases of such crimes which are reported and registered, the conviction rate is pathetically low. Since this gender prejudice and violence against women are not merely acts of criminality but a social plague that has often been looked upon as a ‘continued part of society’, it has to be treated with more than ‘soda water bottle’ outcry or one event lynch mob mentality. A country where a sage and his son, with hundreds of thousands of followers across scores of Ashrams, are arrested for rapes needs more than a belief and faith correction.
This cancerous mindset has penetrated such from the governed society to the governing state that the state uses crimes against women as a tool to oppress and silence resistance and popular demands for political resolutions. Outrage for crimes against women in India has sadly been reduced to a class based or politically aligned voice. While rapes in Metros or involving celebrities get constant media focus and TRP outrage, rapes by state organs especially in political conflict zones are greeted with a complicit silence. In some cases, as in Kunan Poshpora, the state not only tries all means to silence victims, the Indian media may blank out all news regarding such state crimes. And then the same society cheers the organs of its government, who with state afforded impunity use horrific crimes against women as tools of war, later to be displayed as medals of honor. This not only points at a mass acceptance in India of ‘rape as a tool of oppression’, it also belies the outrage circus that resorts to ‘rights noise’ on the basis of class and political convenience. If rape was a universal crime, why should Indian outrage be different for rapes committed in Kashmir, North East and rapes committed in mainland India?
A society that treats women like a step ladder needs social renaissance from within, right from its basic foundation blocks. Unfortunately everyone in this society is part of the ‘Jahalliya era’, be it the raw khap panchayats, the high on power and money ogling English school educated social class, the reform preaching power grabbing politician or the impunity affording state that uses these crimes as a tool. Each one of them holds on to the stinking patriarchal cultural farce, proud of their male chauvinism and power. Unless the society does not reform from within, no paper laws or convenient outrage will cure this social plague.
(Author is a blogger from Kashmir)