Shock and Awe No Solution to Rape
Social norms and policing culture must change
Boys will be boys, said Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, in the course of the election campaign, opposing the death penalty for rapists. He urged a lenient approach to errant boyishness. Some “boys” have put his thesis to the test in Katra, a village some 180 km away from Lucknow, the capital of the state ruled by Mulayam Singh’s party. They raped and strangled two girls aged 14 and 15, and in a brazen display of arrogant impunity, strung their bodies out on tree. Even as Dalits of the village rose up in protest, reports came in of another gang rape from another part of the state. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has threatened strict action and promised a fast-track court to hear rape cases.
Misogyny or patriarchy alone is not at work here. Also facilitating crimes such as these is the huge inequality in social power between the community of the victims, the Dalits, and the communities of the criminals, the Dalits’ deemed social superiors. The relative powerlessness of the Dalits reflects in the passivity of the police when confronted with taking action against the culprits, who, more likely than not, also enjoy patronage from the ruling political establishment. So long as such inequality remains, the Constitution’s promise of democracy and fundamental rights will ring hollow.
Baying for the head of the state chief minister is a natural response to such a crime, but is not enough. Certain elements of India’s traditional culture that privilege men over women and deem women mere objects of male pleasure, devoid of agency, need to be explicitly critiqued, rejected and eliminated from contemporary culture. So also their echoes in “modern” consumerist culture. And this cannot be reduced to some feminist agenda. It must be recognised as a core challenge of India’s democratic renewal, to be taken on by the political leadership, the judiciary, the media and, in particular, by the film and advertising industries. Alongside, we need empowerment of the politically weak as also police reform to deliver swift, sure punishment to perpetrators of such depravity as was found dangling from a tree in Katra on Thursday morning.