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Mainstream, VOL LV No 31 New Delhi July 22, 2017

Nirbhaya Case: Need for a Social Movement!

Saturday 22 July 2017


by Nilofar Suhrawardy

What can be said about the capital punishment accorded to the accused in the Nirbhaya gang-rape case? Should it be expected to have any significant impact on the number and kind of rapes being committed in India? Just a few days after the Apex Court announced its verdict, at least two heinous rape-crimes were reported. One was the rape of an infant and the other a gang-rape in Rohtak. The victim was abducted from Sonipat to Rohtak and her body was mutilated, with her skull badly smashed. The body was run over by a car to prevent its identification. Several other cases may have taken place, but have not been reported and/or for some other reason have not received adequate media coverage.

In these circumstances, the question that is naturally raised is to why did the capital punishment announced in the Nirbhaya-case fail to deter the rapists in the reported and non-reported cases? The accused may not have been aware of the apex court’s decision. Even if they were aware, they probably were confident that the manner in which they had planned and executed the crime was least likely to be detected.

Against this backdrop, it may be appropriate to glance at the statistics of rapes taking place in India every year. As per the statistics released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), at least 34,651 cases of rape were reported in 2015, 24,923 in 2012. In more than 95 per cent of these cases, crimes were committed by someone known to the victims. It may be recalled that substantial coverage was received by the Nirbhaya case, that took place on December 16, 2012. Thousands of people in the Capital displayed their anger by participating in marches etc. The case is said to have created a “tsunami of shock”. But, please note, this had no impact on preventing the reported the 34,651 cases that took place in 2015. Also, it is worth noting that thousands who displayed their anger against the Nirbhaya case may have had anti-rape reservations from the very beginning. It would be wrong to assume that they expressed their opinion against rape only because of the Nirbhaya case. However, the case certainly prompted them to move forward and express their anger against such cases, to ensure justice for the victim in the Nirbhaya case. Perhaps, they also held the hope that their move may deter rapists from committing similar crimes again.

Certainly, these protesters succeeded in voicing their stand, which received substantial media coverage. It is possible that the media coverage and people’s reaction contributed to the speedy and fair investigation which led to the final verdict.

The Apex Court’s judgement may certainly be viewed as the rarest of rare. Over a five-year period, going by the statistics, more than a lakh rape cases have taken place. The accused in one of these have been accorded capital punishment. The possibility of this verdict playing any key role in deterring the frequency of such crimes at present seems to extremely limited. If it did prevail, rapes would have not occurred following the outrage voiced over the Nirbhaya case and pronouncement of the judicial verdict.

The tragedy is that in India, women are still viewed as secondary citizens and although rape is a crime, with males as the criminal, there still prevails the general tendency to regard the victim, the females, as social outcastes. Whosoever is raped, the prevailing notion is to state that she has lost her “respect”, that is, “izzat”. It is time efforts are made to change this notion. What an irony, leaders concerned about status of women in India have not commented too much on the case regarded as rarest of rare, that is, the Nirbhaya case. Why? After all, given the noise made by several leaders on their views regarding the triple talaq issue, shouldn’t they also express their views with the same vehemence about the Nirbhaya case? Certainly, their religious leanings demand this.

After all, India is the only country where women are placed at an extremely high pedestal and worshipped by a majority as deities. Perhaps, no other country has as many women deities, viewed virtually as “goddesses” as India has. And the same country has elements caring little when they commit heinous crimes as the Nirbhaya case indicates. Paradoxically, at one level, women are worshipped and at another, treated worse than even most inhumane barbarians would.

Nirbhaya is a Hindi word meaning fearless, accorded to the victim. Perhaps, a similar name should be given to Bilkis Bano, a victim of the Gujarat carnage. The circumstances in which she suffered cannot be described as anything less than heinous. Certainly, justice has not eluded her. But it has been a long, hard fight for her. Investigators and other officers may hardly be viewed as helpful in her case as they have been in that of Nirbhaya. If the present government and dominating leaders are really concerned about Muslim women, they should come out more strongly displaying their stand in favour of Bilkis Bano. Their talking loudly about “triple talaq” does not really indicate their support for Muslim women. Bilkis Bano is one of the many who faced the torment during the Gujarat carnage. But the same leaders have displayed hardly any support or even made claims to ensure justice for her and similar victims of the Gujarat carnage. With respect to Bilkis Bano, the ordeal faced by a survivor such as hers, cannot be viewed as an easy one. Yet, rather than remain quiet or go into hiding, she opted to fight for her right to justice. She has proved to be a strong fighter.

Yet, till date, the respected leaders have displayed their concern about Muslim women by largely making noise about “triple talaq”. Perhaps, they should also come out with statistics as to actually how many such cases have really taken place over the past few years. The manner in which they are making noise on this issue seeks to create an impression as if each and every Muslim family in India is suffering from problems caused by the so-called triple talaq issue. It would not be a bad idea if these leaders make a rudimentary survey of Muslims associated with their government as well as party and learn how many of them have faced/used the triple talaq in their marriages.

It may be noted, the prospects of the Muslim community in general agreeing to the politicians’ stand on triple talaq may be viewed as non-existent. The common Muslims and clerics are least likely to welcome interference by political leaders in what they regard as “religious”. Well, the Muslims do have a point in keeping with their constitutional right to freedom of religion. The Muslims may view politicians’ stand on “triple talaq” as being deliberately expressed primarily because of their anti-Muslim attitude than their concern for the welfare of the Muslim community, particularly the ladies.

If the respected leaders are seriously concerned about triple talaq issue, rather than simply making noise about it, they need to first try and understand as to what Islam says about it. At present, the politicians appear to be making noise about it only for political reasons. It makes no sense to their talking about an issue without have complete knowledge about it. They may read the Quran (its translation is available in Hindi and English as well as other languages) and then raise questions about divorce among the Muslims. But, of course the idea of reading the Quran at one go and understanding it as much as possible is least likely to be welcomed by most of these politicians. And this fact may be viewed as a hard reality, a pointer to their tendency of repeatedly targeting the Muslim community’s religious beliefs without making even an attempt to first understand its basic principles. Statistically, in all probability, the victims of triple talaq are far lesser than those of rape. Yet, the respected leaders are not making much noise about the latter issue.

Just as the respected Indian leaders seem hardly reluctant in talking about the “Swachh Bharat” (Clean India) campaign and also the triple talaq issue, they should be more aggressive in voicing their stand against rape cases. The need of the hour is educating the masses about respecting women. A part of all political campaigns should be directed towards this. Sadly, women are still largely viewed as commodities and/or means of entertainment, abuse of whom is not viewed as a major crime in society as a whole.

In these circumstances, it is equally significant to teach women the means of protecting themselves. They need to be armed with some device to protect themselves. They need to take steps so that they are not considered as the weaker sex, who can be abused as and when desired by the males. And when and if rape cases do occur, the criminals should be viewed as social outcasts and not the women victims. All these points imply that there is the need for a major social movement to end the abuse of women.

The author is a writer and a journalist. She has come out with two books: Ayodhya Without Communal Stamp: In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006) and Image and Substance: Modi’s First Year in office (2015).

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