Joining the Dots is a weekly column by author and journalist Samrat in which he connects events to ideas, often through analysis, but occasionally through satire
It’s like 2012 all over again: the same fulminations, the same demands for lynching and castration, the same cries of “hang them”, the same talk of “fast track courts”, the same kind of marches and protests. The sudden spate of similar stories of rape and attempted rape are similar too. Since the horrific Hyderabad rape and murder of a young vet, there have been reports from various parts of the country of other incidents. A story came from Rajasthan of a rape of a minor girl. The Jharkhand police arrested 12 men for the gangrape of a law student in Ranchi.
Even the profiles of the accused in the Delhi 2012 gangrape and murder, and the ones in the Hyderabad case now, are similar. It was a criminal-minded bus driver and his associates then; it’s a truck driver and cleaners now. On that occasion too, the men had committed the horrific crime in an evening of “fun”.
The Delhi accused, except one who was a juvenile, were sentenced to death. One, the driver and main accused Ram Singh, was found hanging in his jail cell, dead. The sentences of the rest have not yet been carried out, seven years after the crime.
Has anything at all changed with regard to rape in India between 2012 and now? Would anything change if all of those men had been strung up from the nearest pole? I have my doubts.
That there are enough laws and sufficient scope for stringent punishments for crimes such as rape and murder is clear enough from the fact that those men got death sentences. Yet, even the fact that murder is punishable by life sentence or death has not ended murders. Similar punishment for rape is equally unlikely to end rape.
It is well known that certainty, not severity, of punishment acts as a deterrent. In India, the fact of the matter is that criminals generally assume that they can get away with crime. The police at ground level is reputed to be corrupt and inefficient. The judiciary works at glacial pace under the weight of pendency of cases. There were more than 4.3 million cases pending in high courts around the country, according to a written reply by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to the Rajya Sabha in June. 8,00,000 of these are more than a decade old.
Cleaning up the Augean stables is not something that Indians are very good at doing. The idea of retribution, an emotional discharge, a satisfaction of the “collective conscience” by the announcement of a hanging, are all more popular with the public here. The drama and anger are what matter. Systemic reform is a long, hard and boring slog. It does not excite passions. Therefore, it is not popular.
This attitude of a ritualistic performance substituting for real reform is deeply embedded in our culture. It is one that coexists and collides with the desire for order, purity and hierarchy that are also vital aspects of the Indian cultural and social life.
The way the desire for order and purity expresses itself is not through following any Constitution, but through a return to medieval beliefs. For instance, the lawyer for the Delhi 2012 rapists and murderers, Manohar Lal Sharma, had said in a media interview that as an unmarried couple, the victim and her friend should not have been out at night. It was around 9.30 pm when the two had boarded the bus in which the crime took place. Sharma had also asserted that he had “not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady”.
In a similar vein, the religious guru from Ahmedabad, Asaram Bapu, who is now serving a term of life imprisonment for rape of a minor, had said “The victim is as guilty as the rapists… she should have called the culprits brothers and asked them to stop… Can one hand clap?”
Similar views exist among conservative elements of other communities as well. Hindu, Muslim and Christian conservatives in India may fight over temples and food taboos, but views like Sharma’s and Asaram’s are common to all, differing not in kind but in degree. With such ideas deeply embedded among those who position themselves – even though they may themselves be rapists like Asaram — as the “respectable” guardians of societies and cultures, it is impossible to eradicate sexual crimes against women.
The regressive worldview combines with a chronic and acute failure of everyday laws and rules to create a culture of impunity. Society’s “respectable” conservatives, including people such as the Delhi lawyer Sharma and the guru Asaram, put the onus on women for their own safety. Meanwhile, the culture of observance of everyday rules is nonexistent, because of corruption and inefficiency.
In the Delhi 2012 case, the bus was operating without a valid permit and had been impounded six times before the rape, but was allowed to go each time. In the Hyderabad case, it has now emerged that the main accused, driver Mohammad Areef, had been driving without a licence since 2017, and had been caught two days before the crime, but managed to get away.
There are conservative societies where crimes are rare because everybody follows every rule, starting with the smallest ones. Japan is an example. Indian conservatives – Hindu or Muslim — however want to be conservative only in the matters of who can wear what clothes, go out with whom at what time, and eat what food. For the rest, they establish status by placing themselves above the need to stand in queues, obey traffic rules, etc. Saying “The line starts from where I stand” is an admired way of establishing status.
Despite claims of the greatness of its civilization thousands of years ago, it seems that modern India does not want to actually become a great living civilization today by solving its real social problems, such as rampant sexual crimes, or national problems, such as pollution. All the energy and effort are instead wasted on further dividing an already divided society for narrow electoral gains.
Samrat is an author, journalist and former newspaper editor. He tweets as @mrsamratx
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Updated Date: Dec 04, 2019 12:59:19 IST