The protesters’ banners on the Delhi streets say them well.
“You raped her because her clothes provoked you. I should break your face because your stupidity provokes me?”
“Don’t tell your daughter not to go out; tell your son not to rape me.”
Some quoted Mahatma Ghandi: “The day a woman can walk freely on the roads at night, that day we can say that India has achieved independence”.
And the other day Arundhoti Roy, the Booker prize winning Indian author, talked to a British Television Channel on class prejudice, and on rape as Indian police and military’s conventional form of torture to subjugate Indian lower-class uprising.
But first things first. The Indian press has shown exemplary restrain about this incident. To preserve anonymity, the girl has been variously called Amanat, Nirvoya or Damini; and so far has reported the incident in its bare bone facts. They also decided not to provide coverage of her funeral. All the culprits have been arrested and the country’s Prime Minister has assured swift justice. Politicians on the other hand did not take this as an opportunity to score political points over their rivals. However, one or two has opened their big mouths in the wrong time and has been roundly condemned. Unlike Bangladesh, they are more likely to pay price for their faux pas in one way or another in the long term, given the political awareness of Indian press and the public.
Some has pointed to this huge uproar on this single rape as unusual, when rapes are taking place every day. It is said the incidence of reported rape in Delhi city is abnormally high in comparison with other cities.
Indian National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in its latest release once again has put Delhi on top of the rape table. During 1990 and 2008 rape cases in India more than doubled. 228,650 of the 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year were perpetrated against women; whereas conviction rate for rape cases is 26 per cent. And this is against the estimate of the experts that only about ten per cent of the rapes are reported. In 2011, there were 568 cases of rape registered in Delhi. In the 2007-2011 period, for such registered rape cases, Delhi topped the chart, followed by Mumbai, Bhopal, Pune and Jaipur (Delhi remains India’s rape capital; ‘safe’ Mumbai is close second).
But there are other grim statistics too which are not urban or registered, but yet, to some extent, sanctioned by the society or the government. Those rapes are committed against Dalit and untouchable women by the hordes of caste males in the rural India; and, by the government forces elsewhere, where there are political trouble that required deployment of forces with arms. It is estimated that over the years more than millions of Dalit women have been raped. Over 2000 rape victims in Kashmir have come forward, but their cases are not heard, because the army is the culprit.
And today India stands third in the world after United States and South Africa in rape crime as data suggested by its Union Home Ministry. 18,359 rape cases were registered in India in the first three quarters of this year, compared to 93,934 in the US, and 54,926 in South Africa. The incidence of various crime 100,000 population in India are — murder (3), sex offences (4), rape (1.7), serious assault (24.6) robbery and violent theft (2.1), breaking and entering (8.2) and theft of motor cars (7.8). A woman is now raped in India every 20 minutes. Despite this increase the number of convictions is falling. Campaigners say India’s laws for the protection of women are robust, but require better policing and stiffer jail terms. (It’s official: India 3rd worst offender in rape cases)
The Indian society at large has failed to protect its women from sexual violence. Abuse of women sexuality can be traced in its heritage and culture right from the beginning of Indian civilization. Abduction and forced marriages have been norms in its mythology, so was treating of women as chattel. Erotica is explicitly present in its artefacts where women’s acquiescent role cannot evade discerning eyes.
Add to this the age-old caste system that has defined Indian society from the days of arrival of the Aryan invaders on its soil. The system stifled its transcendental growth, its openness, and invited foreign invader. And when they arrived, presented them with a fatalist and morally vanquished masses. Its caste oriented value system has been the root cause of sectarian violence and eventual dissection of country into more than one separate country.
This is how a very patriarchal social mindset has set amongst its populace, which has cascaded upward and pervaded the middle or upper echelon of the society, despite modern education, that have been accessible for generations. And, how a male dominated police force and a macho culture of political power have been developed.
The protests on the streets of Delhi are bubbles; the remonstrations of the youth culture against this mindset. The youth who have been exposed to the greater world outside India, and whose awakening has been rude when one of them has become a victim of something, which was quite unlikely to happen to anybody other than who is poor, of lower caste, rural, uneducated or socially backward.
People from all walks of life joined these protest marches; but one can see they are dominated by the youths, and language of the banners sometime reveals naive optimism with messages being conveyed as if wanting to engage in dialogues. This crime has been committed by people who are from a different stratum of the society, to someone who doesn’t belong to their class. And you get a feeling that this social class based animosity plays a part in the protester’s anger.
But it is a comforting site, nevertheless; it is also about youths taking up the streets in their conviction that they could bring change by doing what they think is the best act to follow in the circumstances. Only if they are aware that society’s norms play a part in its behavioural expression, even when a crime is committed.
Rape is a crime of violence perpetrated against weak and vulnerable. Rape is not lust only, its bestiality. My heart goes out for the girl who succumbed to her injuries and died; and to her family and near ones. How much hatred and wickedness could a human heart possess to treat her like the way they did!
I hope the intelligentsia over there and here would ponder over the issue; while the societies do not leave it unexamined. Severe most punishment will not prevent reoccurrences of the crimes. It may, at best, remove a tiny segment of the disease symptom, for the time being. The root cause, if allowed to persist, will self-generate incidents like this time and again.
I hope the Indian government take appropriate measures to combat the crime with the apparatus it has in its disposal. Becoming an economic or military superpower will be a measure of its strength or civilisation. It must also ensure social justice and protect is citizens.
Every life is precious. Every rape is one rape too many. May this rape and death not go in vain; may it shake the conscience of the society and its ripples reach its every layer. For the goodness in human heart must prevail over the evil.
Latif Quader is Fellow Chartered Accountant and a businessman.