RAPE IS NOTA METAPHOR
Take action against officials who make insensitive comments about women
The CBI director’s absolutely bizarre analogy that the demand for legalisation of gambling is like saying if you can’t stop rape, enjoy it, shows how misogynist many men in high office are. It is bad enough that his dictionary of proverbs includes one as sexist and insulting to rape survivors as this one, if such a proverb exists at all anywhere outside his own mind. What is worse is his halfbaked apology of ifs and buts. If I have hurt anyone’s feelings, I am sorry or I was misquoted, are words that have been spouted by men such as him every time they are held accountable for unacceptable, insensitive and sexist remarks.
Some people accuse women activists of making too much of such statements. After all, say such critics, these are just words which are better ignored. Following the CBI director’s so-called clarification there were those who said, after all he has “apologised”, why press the issue.
In this particular case, it goes beyond the use of unacceptable language by an individual. Ranjit Sinha heads an agency which, at the very moment he was making his comments, was investigating hundreds of cases of sexual assault and violence against women which were referred to it precisely because the police in the various states where the crime may have occurred failed to deliver justice. These include cases where there may have been connivance between the law enforcement agencies and the criminals. If the head of such an agency speaks a language and displays an approach that trivialises the crime of rape, there is an extremely negative message sent to the rest of the force.
Trivialisation of rape crimes is one of the reasons why conviction rates in India are so poor. Priority for investigation and follow-up to the case have no priority whatsoever even though rape is the fastest growing crime in India. There are over one lakh cases of rape and other cases of sexual violence against women pending in various courts. But the urgency to reform the legal system to ensure quick justice through the courts is absent even after the promises made by the Government and other agencies following the horrific Delhi gang-rape case last December. The CBI director’s statement strengthens the callous attitude among the forces charged with bringing justice to victims.
Such statements from people in positions of power also tend to add to the prevailing environment that men will be men and boys, boys, and they should be given a certain leeway in their use of language or gesture or gaze towards women and girls and too much should not be made of it. For a woman, it is an encroachment on her democratic space. Respect for the bodily integrity of a woman and her presence, wherever she may be, at work, on the street, on a bus or at home, is an indication of the level of democratic practice in any society. By this benchmark, India’s model of democracy, as India’s women will testify, with its in-your-face son preference and aggressive culture, has a great deal of reforming to do.
With the increasing number of women-related objectionable statements coming from elected leaders, top officials or men in positions of power who insult and degrade women, it is time that they are made to pay and held legally accountable. For the former, there should be a code of conduct recognised by Parliament and state Assemblies which would publicly name and shame such elected members through the adoption of a disapproval resolution within the House, leading to suspension for a particular period if it is repeated.
Service rules for officials need to be changed to punish them for such comments on the ground of professional misconduct. It is only when they feel that their careers are jeopardised that such individuals will think twice before making such comments.
The demand to hold the CBI director accountable has to be made by the courts. It certainly cannot be made by the Government which is taking a completely adversarial position to the CBI because of its investigations into corruption cases. Consequent to the Supreme Court stay on the judgment of the Gauhati High Court questioning the legality of the very existence of the CBI, matters concerning the CBI are before the Supreme Court. It would be therefore most appropriate if it is the courts which intervene on this issue. The All India Democratic Women’s Association has made such an appeal to the court asking for its intervention. GUEST COLUMN