Surely, a woman who has changed her clothes at the end of her menstrual period is the most auspicious of women. When she has changed her clothes at the end of her menstrual period, therefore, one should approach that splendid woman and invite her to have sex. Should she refuse to consent, he should bribe her. If she still refuses, he should beat her with a stick or with his fists and overpower her, saying: “I take away the splendour from you with my virility and splendour. (Brhadārankyaka Upanishad 6.4.9,21)
The gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi on 16 December 2012 echoed right through this country and the reaction even made headlines around the world. From Parliament to the streets, right from Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj to actress-legislator Jaya Bachchan to the President National Women Commission Mamata Sharma – everyone shed tears. The Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to remind the world that they were fathers of daughters. The media, corporate houses and Bollywood — all aired their sorrow. Every incident of rape deserves sensitivity and sorrow – even outrage. But why was it limited to only one incident?
The year gone by witnessed huge demonstrations against corruption at Jantar Mantar and Rajghat. Big crowds, exaggerated further by the media, assembled demanding that corruption should end. Those who joined the crowd did not spare a thought as to what constitutes corruption, who indulges in this vice and how it can be eliminated. Without any thinking on these issues, a “decisive battle” against corruption was launched and the issue was given a ‘sacred’ status. No one cared to contemplate on who are the corrupt and who are abetting corruption. Whosoever raised these questions was branded as a bottleneck in the ‘sacred battle’ against corruption in the fascist ambience at that time.
Once again, a spontaneous crowd gathered demanding justice for the rape victim. The rape victim should get justice. She definitely should. But why only she, why not the rest? The women whose wombs were split open during communal riots are still awaiting justice. The atrocities against women – right from Khairlanjhi, Maharashtra (2006) to the most recent spate of rapes in Haryana – do they not fall within the definition of rape?
Atrocities against women are part and parcel of Indian society. They continue unabated. Sometimes these incidents become public, most often they are suppressed. The Delhi gang-rape is not an isolated incident. Most of the incidents of rape in India are not rooted in sexual lust; they are born out of a sick mind. In fact, in India rapes are largely a weapon to stifle the voice of certain classes and to terrorise them.
Why was Ankit Garg, the Chhattisgarh police officer accused of the violent sexual torture of the ST teacher Soni Sori, conferred with a national police gallantry award on Republic Day 2012? Is it not true that a hue and cry is raised only in those incidents of rape which are bereft of the consent of the dominant class and the Establishment which backs it? The dominant class and the Establishment, which plays second fiddle to it, allows those voices to be raised which it wants to and suppresses the rest.
The question is not of rape but of the feudal, casteist structure which is based on the principle of might is right. If a Dalit or tribal woman becomes a victim of rape it is merely because of the patriarchal values ruling society. Even women do not spare her. When, in the Bhanwari Devi case (1995), the “honourable” court ruled that an “upper caste man could not have raped a lower caste woman” and acquitted the accused, it was the upper caste women who had taken out celebratory processions. Shame on such “honourable” judges! The case of Laxmi Orang is no different. In her statement, Laxmi Orang said that the government and the media ignored her only because she was a tribal.
The role of the government and media in the Delhi case is in the public domain. Media kicked up a big furore on the Delhi gang-rape. Why was it said that the victim girl hailed from an OBC (Kurmi) caste (“The Hindu” newspaper)? After the girl’s death, her father revealed that her name was Jyoti Pande. What was the reason that the media did not enquire into the caste of the victim? Is caste not an undeniable reality of our country?
The issue here is of change in the social system and mindset. No punishment, no law, no rule can end rapes – whether it be hanging or chemical castration. If anyone is claiming otherwise, he is not aware of the bitter social truth or is deliberately trying to divert attention from the key issues. The problem goes much deeper. Atrocities against women are integral to the Indian social system and that system is being strengthened by the dominant religion, culture and traditions.
According to the Hindu Puranas and other scriptures, Brahma raped his daughter and made her his wife, Vishnu raped Anusiya and Shiva raped Mohini. They were not branded as criminals. In fact, they were designated as gods – the divine trinity, the very apex of the Hindu pantheon. Were they designated as gods so that no good Hindu could question the culture of patriarchy and rape?
Women have been accorded a secondary status right from ‘Manusmiriti’ up to ‘Ramcharitmanas’. For Yudhisthir, who was described as “Dharmaraj’ and “Satyavadi”, Draupadi was just a commodity who could be gambled away. Sita is considered an ideal woman only because she was purportedly obedient to men – Ram and Laxman. Is being obedient a pre-requitite for being an ideal woman? Shurpnakha, who lost her nose and ears, ran from pillar to post for justice.
Without abandoning these values, no pro-women change is possible. The discriminatory and exploitative character of patriarchy and casteism is for all to see. The lower OBC Phoolan Devi was gang-raped by 15 upper caste men but, untypically, she hit back. Why is then she cold-shouldered by the so-called Indian feminist leaders?
The Indian women’s liberation movement glibly takes the names of Simone de Beauvoir, Kate Millet and Shulamith Firestone but why not of Phoolan Devi? This when, some time back, even the prestigious TIME magazine had recognized Phoolan Devi as one of world’s greatest rebel women.
Some leftist and civil organisations decided to observe 3 January 2013 as a “Black Day” to protest the Delhi gang-rape and organised a meeting at Jantar-Mantar in Delhi. On that date, the accused in the case were to be presented before a court for the first time. That development was welcome in the sense that it marked the beginning of the legal process for punishing the guilty. Then, how did it become a “Black Day”? If there was a “Black Day”, it was 16 December on which the horrific incident took place. Dalit organizations felt that they had a hidden agenda—that of branding a day celebrated by the Bahujans as “Black Day”. The day—3 January—happens to be the birth anniversary of India’s first lady teacher Savitribai Phule. Many communities, organisations and individuals celebrate the day as Teacher’s day and FORWARD Press has taken the welcome initiative to celebrate the day as Education For All Day (Sarvashiksha Diwas). Dalit youth writer Anita Bharti frustrated this evil design by organising a meeting at Jantar-Mantar itself to oppose the observance of the day as “Black Day”.
As for the Indian judiciary, considered to be a ‘sacred institution’, it is the most undemocratic one. It is one institution where the deprived classes have almost no representation. The judges are not only from the upper castes but they also hail from prosperous families. Many are strong votaries of patriarchal and casteist values. Many judgments have proved it. It is not a mere coincidence that most of the jail inmates are Dalits, Backwards or from the minority communities. In the jails of Bihar, about 10 years ago, of the 36 convicts on death row, 35 were from Dalit, Backward or Minority communities (Prabhat Kumar Shandilya’s survey-based article in ‘Hans’). All the Secretaries to Government of India are from upper castes and almost all those languishing in jails are from the deprived classes. There is a need for a fresh analysis of the reasons that lead to crime – and punishment.
Instead of just demanding the noose for rapists, thinking society needs to do some soul-searching and ask itself what is at the root of our society’s sickness regarding how our girls and women are treated. Unless we get to the root of the problem there is no hope to stem the rot.
Published in the February 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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