Following the heart-wrenching incident of a 23-year-old Delhi girl, raped and brutalised inside a bus, there has been much public anger expressed by people from all walks of life and rightly so. Youngsters in particular have taken to the streets, demanding tougher laws to prevent crime against women. In a democracy, the right to protest is a fundamental right and it is commendable that the youth are in a sense taking ownership of their country.
However, the worrying factor about these protests against this dastardly act seems to be the almost animalistic reaction being displayed in reciprocation by several citizens with SMSs, BBMs and updates on social media demanding that the accused must be publicly hanged or perhaps castrated.
Yet, another worrying aspect is the sheer opportunism being shown by a few politically motivated groups to indulge in hooliganism and arson that has ended up costing the life of a policeman and injuring several genuine protestors. Some television channels have been “questioning” why the police are covering the face of the accused, to hell with their human rights; these beasts must be “named” and “shamed”.
If we want to truly see India change, simply enacting tougher laws is not the only solution. We put in place a whole infrastructure of criminal and special legislation to prevent and punish the malpractice of taking Dowry which includes making the offence cognizable and non-bailable and entailing strict punishment on conviction. Yet dowry continues to be a ruthless reality in our society. Clearly, laws have their limitations when it comes to moulding social behaviour.
Today the debate must focus not only on stricter laws but upon our hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to women especially in the socio-cultural context. Most of our television serials, consumed by millions of viewers across India, showcase women as housewives, conniving and plotting against one another and depict an almost archaic and skewed system of family values. A current heartthrob in the Indian Music Industry actually has lyrics which roughly translated go as “now that you have broken up with me, post your marriage, you will wash clothes and dishes, watch Doordarshan and the television will be your best friend!” This is just an example from one of his songs, most of which are demeaning to women and sexist to the core. And the irony is that most of the people out there, forwarding these SMSs and BBMs for tougher laws, actually lap up his sexist music without once considering how discriminatory it is towards women!
Then you have the case of a certain MP shedding tears in Parliament for the 23 year old student. I can understand the MP’s pain. But I wonder if she shed those tears when her daughter in law was made to marry a tree before becoming “astrologically fit” to marry her son. The family has never denied these stories, an indication of the beliefs of even the absolute elite and educated in this country. Has anyone ever heard of a boy being married to a tree or goat?
Rape is a dehumanising and demoralising act. Its root cause however is not merely the perceived ineffectiveness of laws but a social conditioning that legitimises viewing women as objects and non-entities. There is a statistic doing the round that every 20 minutes a woman is raped in this country and I hope that each of those ghastly perpetrators are brought to book but at the same time this outrage must be channelised to bring into public discourse the “mental” and “social” rape of women that takes place every waking minute. The fact is that women in India are still treated as second grade citizens.
From religious heads, to politicians, from judges to public servants often raise questions on women’s morality. Celibate priests attempt to control women’s sexual rights. In most Indian households the boy child is treated differently from the girl child and in many cases the law enforcing agency tries to shift the blame on the female victim themselves for “provoking” the accused. To add to that, we have several right-wing groups, that seem to be enunciating the evolved gender sensitivities of their Talibani counterparts in Afghanistan when they issue statements on how a woman must dress and behave!
The Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, has tried to place herself in the forefront of this agitation by attempting to manufacture a connect with those protesting. Perhaps she may not want to be reminded of her days as Delhi CM when her government thought changing uniforms from skirts and blouse to salwar-kameez provided dignity and grace to girls. In the state of Karnataka, which is ruled by her party, little action has been taken against the Ram Sene, a fringe group that beat up women publicly in a pub and even now continues to issue its moral diktats.
The larger point here is that the issue of rapes must not be used to score political points. As the country comes to terms with the Delhi rape, we must shift the spotlight to the overall national picture, whether it is Kashmir or the North East, where several women fellow citizens have been assaulted by those in the armed forces or the villages and towns where cases of rapes go unregistered and unreported.
Simply bringing in the death sentence as punishment for rape will never be enough of a deterrent. What is required is a host of creative legislative solutions that ensure quicker conviction, greater protection for the victims, better training to forensic experts, gender sensitisation amongst cops and most importantly we need to get rid of the collective hypocrisy that breeds the socio-cultural conditions for rape in our country.