Reforming Delhi gangrape accused? Rahul Bose is poor man's Arundhati Roy

It is easy to empathise with Rahul Bose's earnest attempts to project himself into a higher intellectual orbit than is normally assigned to Bollywood actors. He is a halfways-decent "method actor", and is rather more articulate in English - he even rolls his 'r's - than the "hot bods" that populate the film industry. And - who knows - his bedtime reading may even be Sartre.

In any case, who can fault him for wanting to embrace social causes - he's done a fair bit of contributions to philanthropic and other causes (more here) - or speak out on topical public issues of the day? Even Hollywood stars do it - and very successfully at that: George Clooney's gravitas is vastly enhanced by his embrace of the Darfur cause in southern Sudan, although to be fair, there's an entire industry in Hollywood that matches 'celebrities' with the 'causes' they will take up.

Ours is, after all, a society that looks to celebrities to chart the path for commoners on virtually every issue under the sun. Don't we worship the very ground that Arundhati Roy, that ultimate cause celeb, slithers on?

But even those who vehemently disagree with Arundhati Roy will concede, however grudgingly, that she brings an intellectual rigour to her polemical outpourings - which normally find expression in 20,000-word essays. She may see Maoists as being "more Gandhian" than any other Gandhian - even if the "Gandhians with a gun" coinage was not hers (more here); but by focussing unflinchingly on the state's many failings, she makes at least half a valid point.

 Reforming Delhi gangrape accused? Rahul Bose is poor mans Arundhati Roy

Rahul Bose: dark, brooding looks don't always reflect intellectual depth. Reuters

Perhaps Bose is looking to emulate Arundhati Roy's instinctive resort to a contrarian argument, however outlandish it may appear to be. How else can you explain his saying something so bizarre as he did on Friday, at an event to raise awareness about the need for concrete action to end violence against women?

According to this report, Bose used that platform to expound on the virtues of mercy. In the context of the accused in the horrific gang-rape-murder of a young woman in Delhi in December, Bose said the rapists should be given a chance to reform - and even become "gender warriors".

"We have to ask ourselves," said Bose, "is there anyone (among the alleged rapists) who wants to change, who wants to reform?" He wasn't, he clarified, calling for the commuting of any sentence that the accused may receive. "But while the sentence stands, can we create a gender warrior among them?" he wondered.

Furthermore, slipping into a stream-of-consciousness narrative style that strings as many politically correct words as possible, Bose said:  "If anybody is open to reaffirmation, do we have it in us to subvert our patriarchal mindset and tell them that we are ready to confer even the right to reform to you even if there is such a massive public upsurge against you?"  (What does that even mean?)

If our society had to evolve as a civilization, "beyond the boundaries of India," we would, he added, "have to look at forgiveness."

Bose isn't, of course, the first man to articulate the merits of mercy as a force for societal good, although in that torrent of words it's hard to make out a coherent thought process - beyond a seeming earnestness about being seen as the poor man's Arundhati Roy.

Bose, who takes his political activism seriously, is the same man who participates in "Justice For All" campaigns. Perhaps Bose's concept of justice extends to everyone except the families of the gang-rape victim. Even those who are disquieted by calls for the public hanging of rapists and so on will find it hard to be persuaded by the mindless bleeding-heart liberal outpouring of Bose in this case.

All this is not to say that convicted criminals are incapable of reform or rehabilitation. Experiments in the "therapeutic approach to crime" have been going on for decades now. As commentaries overseas have pointed out, this approach is based on assumptions - such as that the criminal mindset is the result of a single cause, usually a "dysfunctional family"; or that rehabilitation programmes in themselves can create lasting behavioral change.

But Bose doesn't flesh out his arguments enough to seek to persuade us in the way that an Arundhati Roy might have. Instead, he picks on arguably the most shocking single instance of human depravity that India has witnessed in years, and offers nothing more than a biblical "forgive them, for they know not what they do" approach to the accused gang-rapists.

But the fault is not Bose's, of course. The fault is in us that we mistake the deep, brooding looks of our vacuous celebrities for intellectual evolution and then implant a mike in front of them - and ask them to hold forth on everything under the sun.

Spare a thought for the NGO in this case; if it's budget had not been straitened, perhaps it may have gone for the real deal and enlisted Arundhati Roy and acquired a higher profile for itself with her purple prose. Under these circumstances, it had to settle for the tawdry pirated paperback edition.

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Updated Date: Mar 10, 2013 15:38:23 IST