Arvind Kejriwal, you have shown that you do not fear the high and mighty. You are not afraid to name and shame wrongdoers. You have no compunctions about breaking codes of silence.
If there is one issue that is crying out for that kind of a dogged, unflinching and indefatigable crusader – it’s rape.
Rape is in the news every day. And every day the news gets worse. The National Crime Records Bureau says a woman gets raped every 22 minutes in India. Haryana has suddenly come under the microscope as India’s laboratory of rape but it's by no means alone, or even the front-runner, in the Parade of Shame.
The men in charge come up with ever more inventive reasons why women get raped – from the blood-heating properties of chow mein to women working after 8 pm. The solutions our guardians of public safety offer are always, without fail, about tightening the noose of permissibility around the woman in the name of keeping them safe – dress properly, don’t fraternize with boys, don’t use mobile phones, get married by 16. In short, stay put at home.
Mr Kejriwal, you told the Economic Times, “We will never be able to change the system over time for we will get sucked into it. We will need to change/break down the system immediately.”
You were talking about corruption and governance. But if there is a system that has shown itself to be rotten to the core, that needs to be taken down immediately, it’s the politics that circle the issue of rape.
Perhaps you do not speak about rape because your India Against Corruption wants to keep its eye on the prize – a Jan Lokpal with real teeth. But make no mistake about it, if land is the most pervasive corruption of our democratic system, rape is the most shameful corruption of the same.
From the time the victim files an FIR (if she even dares to file one) to its tortuous journey through the police station, the court system, the media circus, it’s a degrading, humiliating, and bruising journey through our modern equivalent of Dante’s nine circles of hell. The woman who went to file an FIR in the Park Street rape case was asked out on a date by the smirking inspector in the thana. Even not reporting a rape does not spare the victim. Sixteen-year-old Seema (name changed) told Firstpost she did not tell the police about the twelve drunk men who raped her because they threatened to kill her family. But the rapists gleefully passed around an MMS clip of their crimes. When her father found out, he killed himself anyway.
This is impunity at its most glaring - an MMS of a rape is not a proof of guilt, instead it’s flaunted and passed around like the spoils of war. And a society that feels no confidence in the very people who are charged to protect it. What more blatant example of corruption do we need than that?
As Rituparna Chatterjee writes on IBNLive:
I put myself in risk's way every time I have to travel home alone at night. I pay my taxes, abide by rules and make the best of the conditions I live in and it gives me the right to voice my anger and indignation at the humiliation I have to repeatedly suffer at your hands.
You are entrusted with my security, safety and well-being and it is indeed a sad day when I start seeing you as my mortal enemy.
This is about lack of accountability at its most heinous. A police officer who sticks her neck out for a victim in Kolkata finds herself quickly transferred in much the same way as IAS officers who got in Vadra’s way found themselves shunted out. This is a corruption of the system that is so crushing that the victim feels it pointless to seek justice.
Mr Kejriwal, this affects your core constituency – the urban middle class. It’s the women of that urban middle class who are now more vulnerable to rape because they go out to work. Gang rape, which we used to read about in the newspapers as something that happened to lower caste women in the badlands of Bihar or the ravines of Chambal, is now commonplace in our metros and the suburbs around them. Back then we tut-tutted and moved on to the sports page. But today rape is triggering huge middle class anxiety because it’s moved much closer to home.
In November you will complete your metamorphosis from a movement to a party. No matter what name you finally choose for it, you know full well that as a party you have to be about something more than Vadra’s land deals and Delhi’s electricity bills. No Indian politician has really taken on the issue of women’s safety. They pay lip-service and do photo-op visits to victim’s homes but are really playing vote bank politics. So a Sonia Gandhi carefully cherry picks a Dalit girl who was raped by Dalit men for her sympathy so that the Jat vote isn’t jeopardized in Haryana. Mamata Banerjee only sees conspiracies to malign her government and once dismissed a rape case saying the victim was a known CPM sympathizer. This is an issue that deserves more than an Aamir Khan television show. It needs a different kind of politician who will call out the hypocrisy and double standards without worrying about political sensitivities. Rest assured, there is plenty of shame to go around here – you will not need to find a Gadkari to balance out a Vadra to keep your non-partisan credibility intact. It is, in fact, the ultimate testimony to the utter corruption of our political system, that our reaction to a woman’s rape is even tempered by votebank politics.
This is not just about women’s safety. Or a woman’s right to have a drink in a bar unmolested. Or wear a skirt instead of a salwar kameez. It is about the greater moral well-being of the country. Whether we get a Lokpal or not, you have tapped into a great seething anger about corruption that is choking the country. You have been an outlet for all the mango people who didn’t dare speak up. But now you can show that corruption is not just about who eats how much money that was meant for the public good. It is not just about the trappings of wealth – the misbegotten Mercedes, the Swiss bank account, the unsecured loans. That's the flashy end of corruption. Rape is the other end – it silences, disempowers, and festers. It’s not about sex. It has never been. It has always been about power.
And that’s why this fight needs you more than it needs the National Commission for Women. Because rape is not a women’s issue. It’s an India issue.