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Why different laws for Asaram Bapu and Mumbai gangrape culprits?

This might sound insensitive, but this has to be told. The perpetrators in the rape of the paramedical student in New Delhi on December 16 last and that of the photojournalist in Mumbai a week ago were plain unlucky. They would be roaming free if they were not what they were: from the underclass and without big connections. It is the victims who would be running around for justice, begging to be heard by anyone who cared. They were unlucky because they were not Asaram Bapu.

Asaram can refuse to be interrogated by the police. He can refuse to acknowledge their summons and he can fix the time when they should meet him or decide whether they should meet him at all. Meanwhile, he would have people from the political class speaking in his defence. His supporters would tarnish the image of the victim and threaten her to withdraw the complaint against him. Surely, there are advantages in being a godman, a rich and well-connected one. And we, as a society, don’t mind the differential treatment to people like him.

Asaram Bapu. AFP.

Asaram Bapu. AFP.

Nobody is even remotely suggesting that Asaram Bapu is guilty of raping the girl who levelled the charge against him, but what stops him from facing the police like a normal citizen? What stops the police from taking the routine action in such cases?

For those not in the loop, the alleged incident took place at a place 40 kms from Jodhpur city on the night of August 15. The girl, a minor, from Uttar Pradesh is a student at one of the institutions run by Asaram in Madhya Pradesh and she was taken to the Jodhpur ashram by her parents for treatment. According to the complaint of the girl, the godman sexually assaulted her there. Asaram has laughed off the allegation while his son has called the girl ‘mentally unstable’. Defending him, BJP leader Uma Bharti has said it’s a ‘Congress‘ conspiracy’ while other party leaders have claimed he is innocent. The Congress-led Rajasthan government is reluctant to take a clear position.

Meanwhile, the victim and her parents still await justice.

In the aftermath of the Delhi and Mumbai gangrape cases, the police had launched a massive manhunt and the culprits had been arrested within 24 hours. The police action in both cases was based on complaints. What makes the complaint against Asaram different? It is simple. In the first two complaints were backed by huge public outcry and outrage in the media. In case of the later, both are largely absent.

This takes us to the larger question: do we make a conscious choice to back one rape case over the other? Yes, if we go by evidence. It is possibly a class thing. The Delhi and the Mumbai victims are closer to us from a social perspective,so it is easy to relate to them better. Also, we draw a difference between the perpetrators - if they are from the lower stratas of the society, they are a bigger threat to us. It is not the case if they are powerful and have an influential social support network. We go soft on the later. It does not matter much whether the victim is a minor and she deserves justice too.

Rape, it appears, is never the real issue for us; it is where the victims and the perpetrators belong. The approach of all, from the police to the political class to the citizenry, is, thus, steeped in ambivalence. The problem with this is it renders the law unfair. When the crime is similar, we cannot be sympathetic to the victim in one case and reasonable towards the perpetrator in another. We cannot be indifferent when someone like Asaram refuses to be interrogated by the police. Submitting to police questioning, in any case, is something he should be doing voluntarily as good citizen.

It is possible the charges against Asaram are false. But the law enforcement agencies must ensure that they are even-handed while dealing with complaints of rape.

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