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Mainstream, VOL LII No 34 August 16, 2014 - Independence Day Special

In India—and in No Other Country—Rape is Justified by Home Ministers, MPs, Casteists. It’s our Shame

Friday 15 August 2014, by T J S George

IMPRESSIONS

In this season of rape...ugh, what a miserable way to start a column! If only we could say instead: "In this land of milk and honey where the sun shines equally on all and the birds..." But that would be false. In our country the sun shineth the way rain raineth. The rain it raineth on the just/And also on the unjust fella/But chiefly on the just, because/The unjust have the just’s umbrella. Brutality hits both men and women, but chiefly women because men have the backing of both law and custom.

Besides, we are past the order of seasons. Wet or dry, hot or cold, it’s always the right season for rape. For we practise rape not just as it is understood in dictionaries—sexual attack on a woman without her consent. For us rape is an assertion of power, a tarzan-call of male ego. It is sadism above and beyond what Count de Sade envisaged in his theories on the pleasures of cruelty. It is integral to the centuries of feudalism and casteism that we have revered.

In the December 2012 gang rape in a Delhi bus, for example, the girl was not just sexually used for the pleasure of the rapists. After the rape she was penetrated with rods, beaten up and lacerated; the youngest of the rapists—later protected under juvenile law—tried to dig out her intestines with his hands. In the Badaun (UP) case, the two teenagers who were raped, while still alive, were hung on a tree where they suffocated to death. Rape in India is not just suppressed sex finding an outlet. Nor is it, as in some developed countries, a sideshow of the liberated lifestyle. It is suppressed anger and presumed social superiority that express themselves through barbarity. The police initially made light of the Badaun rape because the culprits were higher in the caste scale than the victims.

Insensitivity and partiality at the police level are in fact a bigger shame than the rapes themselves. The hitherto lovable city of Bangalore was rocked the other day when a girl was snatched from inside a car by a bunch of thugs. When the girl filed a complaint, the police inspector tried to brush it aside, recording minor charges against the culprits. As it happened, the inspector belonged to the same community as the culprits. Higher authorities later intervened and suspended the inspector. Bangalore has lost its innocence. In the most disturbing sexual assault case in recent memory, a six-year child was molested in her school by a member of the staff, perhaps two. What made it unforgivable was that the upmarket school tried first to hush up the matter. It then took the incredible position that it was not responsible for the safety of the students on its premises. Incensed parents took to the street in protest reminiscent of the Delhi gangrape protests two years ago. The government, indifferent at first, was forced to take action against the school and even transfer the city’s police commissioner. Unfortunately the BJP’s front organisations took advantage of the public indignation, giving the protests a political colour despite objections by the parents.

Politicians in the Opposition see even the most outrageous crimes as merely occasions for partisan propaganda. Those in power pay only lip-sympathy when popular anger is roused. They showed no sincerity of purpose even in implementing the recommendations of the Justice Verma Commission in the wake of the Delhi gangrape. The Commission wanted the recording of victims’ statement to be mandatorily videographed. The government made it optional. The Commission asked that senior police officials be held responsible for sexual offences by their juniors. The government rejected the proposal.

Add to this the arrogant public statements arrogant political leaders go on making. UP leads this list with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s statement that "boys will be boys". According to Chattisgarh’s Home Minister Ramsevak Paikara, nobody deliberately commits rape, it happens accidentally. Another Home Minister, Babulal Gaur of Madhya Pradesh, went philosophical and said that rape was "sometimes right, sometimes wrong". Tapas Paul, an MP representing the woman-led Trinamul Congress, beat all by saying that he would send his boys to rape CPM women. That these men are not put in jail is the curse of our land—and the reason India will continue to be the only country in the world where rape is publicly supported by public figures. We all have to bear that shame.