Act against leaders who justify rape

Sonia Gandhi is right; we need to action, and not mere words, to stop rapes. So why not start stemming the rot from the top, starting with action against public representatives making derogatory statements against women, and thereby justifying rape?


Jasleen Kaur | April 25, 2013

The recent case of a five year-old girl being raped and brutally assaulted by a neighbour has revived memories of the December 16 gangrape in Delhi.

While rape as a crime is not new in our society, what is new — or has become a trend of sorts of late — is the sexist remarks by politicians in the aftermath of any such case. In a way, this turns the victim into an accused, and thereby tones down the crime — whether wittingly or otherwise.

Seen in that light, Madhya Pradesh's Congress leader Satyadev Katare’s observation that women invite trouble by looking at men in a suggestive manner is but only the most recent remark in a series of insensitive gaffes offered by our netas.

A few days ago, another Madhya Pradesh minister had justified the rising number of rape cases, saying that the figure is still insignificant compared to India’s population.

So this has become as good as a race between politicians after any sex crime that grabs national attention — a race to be racy by mouthing derogatory remarks against women.

While someone said women must abide by certain moral limits, or Laxman rekha, failing which they might as well expect to get abducted (read raped), another said rapes happen in India, not Bharat, due primarily to western influence on our urban mindset. If one said the victim is at fault for getting raped, another warned women against venturing out after dark, and still others advised a ban on skirts as school uniform to reduce harassment.

A crime like rape is bad enough but the arguments that follow to justify such actions is possibly worse.

The problem, though, lies not with severity of laws — or lack thereof. It begins with a simple two-worder: patriarchal mindset.

What Katare said, or rather meant, shows only the status most Indians hold women in our society with. And Katare is certainly no Martian in this: that notion was instilled is us while growing up. So, as grown-ups we rarely challenge the idea that men are superior; that they can never be wrong.

It’s easy to declare that the enemy, in most cases, is the outsider — the slum dweller, the people who come to the urban milieu from rural India to eke out a living — but in reality he is closer home. Both literally — as Delhi Police commissioner Neeraj Chauhan said a close relative, family member or friend is the accused in over 90 percent rape cases — and figuratively, as they are the ones we elect to represent us as legislators or expect to lead us, in case of khap panchayats. These people may not directly commit the crime but they do justify the crime by putting the entire onus on the victim.

According to the national crime records bureau (NCRB), more than 24,200 cases of rape were reported in 2011. Further, only 26 percent of all rape cases registered between 2008 and 2011 resulted in a conviction.

The fact that people are not afraid of the law contributes to such crimes. And government institutions like the Delhi Police, one of whose officials refused to lodge the complaint by relatives of the five-year-old rape victim, a few others allegedly offered them a Rs 2,000 bribe to hush up the case, and another officer slapped a woman demonstrating against that very police apathy and callousness, do not help matters.

They only go to show that even the police department, expected to protect us, is manned with people deeply rooted in this patriarchal system, who believe crimes like murder and robbery are way more important than cases of harassment of women, molestation or rape.

Even the tougher anti-rape law, passed by a concerned Parliament after the December 16 Delhi gangrape case, did not propel the police to register the FIR in this case, though it is an offence under the law.

Not much better can be said about that other arm of governance — the government itself. So, while Congress president Sonia Gandhi sent out a ‘tough message’ to the authorities — “action, not words, are necessary” — home minister Sushilkumar Shinde told Parliament that “rapes take place not just in Delhi but across the country”. If that was an effort to assuage parliamentarians slamming the government, it was a terrible effort.

Yes, Mr Shinde, rapes take place all over the world. But that does not mean our city, too, should reflect the same. Or should we just sit and watch it, and not even expect the police to act?

But, then, what action are we expecting? Should we not expect Ms Gandhi, to use her own harangue — to take action; some action, any action — against leaders making sexist remarks and thereby justifying rape cases?

At the end of the day, some cops will be suspended, a few raging articles will be published in the media seeking police reforms, decibel levels would hit the roof in television studios. But the change that we are seeking — to deal with this crude and crass patriarchy — would hardly be any more achievable.
Criminals involved in crimes against women should obviously be punished as per law but at the same time some action should also be taken against ministers, legislators and political leaders making such lewd comments.



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