Shock and Awe No So­lu­tion to Rape

So­cial norms and polic­ing cul­ture must change

The Economic Times - - Breaking Ideas -

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.

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