2013

365 days ago, I remember wishing folks I knew (and via social media, many I did not) a very happy 2012.

How did that work out for us?

I woke on January 1 to this news. And we all know how we are ending the year.

“Happy New Year” doesn’t, today, sit quite easy on the tongue, when we know we will merely change one calendar for another while all that was obscene about life this year remains unchanged.

So, a slightly different wish: Today, tomorrow, and in the tomorrows to come, be safe, please.

See you ‘next year’.

Somebody’s daughter, and the politician’s syllogism

‘India’s daughter’ was cremated yesterday. (While on that, am I the only one who finds that appellation patronizing in the extreme? I understand the emotionalism behind it, but surely a society that failed the girl in life is, in claiming her in death, adding post-mortem incest to gratuitous injury?)

Anyway. She was cremated. And we console ourselves with the knowledge, or rather hope, that she is in a far better place now.

But even as her ashes cooled, somebody’s daughter, an engineering student en route to her tuitions, was forced into a car, raped, filmed, dumped.

Somebody’s wife died in Jaipur after her brother-in-law attempted to rape her and when she resisted, strangled her.

Somebody’s daughter, a 14-year-old, consumed pesticide in an attempt to end a life made insupportable when her brother-in-law and his friend raped her over a period of six days.

Somebody’s daughter was brutally attacked in the presence of her younger sister by the neighborhood boy who failed in his bid to rape her.

Somebody’s daughter, who went out of her home to ‘attend a call of nature’ (providing toilets to the less privileged is of course not on anyone’s agenda), was spotted by a passing stranger — and raped.

In Bhopal, somebody’s teenaged daughter, trying to make ends meet by working at a construction site, was gang-raped.

In Patiala, where somebody’s daughter committed suicide the other day when police added humiliation to rape, somebody else’s daughter, who was seeking a job in the police force, was raped, repeatedly and over months, by a cop and one other.

Somebody’s sister was assaulted by a conductor on board a moving bus in Bhagpat in broad daylight while others watched and her sister begged for mercy; when the bus was later intercepted and the girl’s family sought to question his conduct, the perpetrator and “his aides” responded with their fists. The police arrived and arrested two members of the victim’s family while allowing the conductor to go free.

The part that that gives me pause? It is not as if I did an exhaustive search for rape cases over the past day or so; these are just some instances that floated past me on my Twitter timeline this weekend. Plus, these only catalogue rape, both attempted and accomplished; they don’t even begin to map the unnumbered instances of “eve-teasing” (read the brilliant Nilanjana Roy on how futile that expression is), groping and all other forms of harassment women suffer in the home, on the commute, at work and at play (Read this, to get a sense of how pervasive abuse is; and here, a video where the women of Delhi speak of how they dodge abuse, harassment.).

Meanwhile, the search for instant solutions continues, driven largely by the media. On ‘Black Saturday’ (an honorific accorded 29.12 to distinguish it, presumably, from all those other gray and tan and off-white Saturdays when rape and molestation did not surface on our collective radar), I watched one TV anchor ‘grill’ Federal Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. Thus:

Sir, will you give us your assurance that charges of murder will be filed against the six rapists? ‘Yes, I assure you charges will be filed and we will ensure the strictest punishment.’ But sir, will you give a time-bound assurance? ‘I have assured you that charges will be filed…’ But sir the question is will you give a time bound assurance? ‘I have just assured you et cetera.’ Anchor concludes: That was Home Minister Shinde who did not give us a time-bound assurance despite our repeated demand for a time-bound assurance and so we still don’t have a time-bound assurance…

Just so we are clear that a “fast track court” is not the sublime solution we think it is, read veteran journalist Kanchan Gupta’s recap.

Elsewhere, for the entirety of a ‘special news hour’ that lasted 180 minutes, a noted anchor harangued a succession of panelists into agreeing with him that the government should ‘immediately, without any further delay’, summon a special session of Parliament. (And if there is some irony in summoning for a ‘special session’ a Parliament that, this year, set records for the least number of days worked, the least number of discussions, the least amount of time spent on question hour, the least number of bills passed, the most number of disruptions and walk-outs, leave it be).

What is this ‘special session’ supposed to do? Introduce the death sentence for rape, for starters. But how to introduce a provision that is already available to judges, and has been used often enough in the past? As recently as March 2012, a Sirsa (Haryana) court had imposed the death sentence on Nikka Singh, 22, who raped a 75-year-old woman and then murdered her by strangulation.

(In passing: Among the more risible outcomes of the presidency of Pratibha Patil was her wholesale commutation of death sentences imposed on 35 convicts, as she neared the end of her term. These included five people sentenced to death for rape. Oh, and to continue the comic interlude, one of the rapists she looked leniently on — Baburao Tidke, convicted for the rape and murder of a 16 year old — turned out to have already died of AIDS five years before Ms Patil posthumously accorded him a fresh lease of life. The disbelieving laughter that incident provoked echoes, still. This is the same Pratibha Patil, by the way, who now screams for blood.)

The point, however? The sentence of death is already part of the palette of punishment.

In passing, do we even remember that a bill designed to curb violence against women has been pending before Parliament for any time these last six years? That it — among other pieces of legislation — has been pending because our Parliamentarians have been too busy walking out when they are not creating “disruptions” and therefore have had no time to debate, discuss and pass the bill? Do we remember that another bill, aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, has also been languishing ever since 2010 because Parliament hasn’t had the time to get down to it? Seriously — we are now calling for special sessions of Parliament to do what Parliament could not be bothered to do during regular sessions, lo any time these past few years?

Why this frenzied demand for instant solutions? Simple: fear of fatigue. For all the grandiose pronouncements of determination, for all the solemn vows that we will never forget, for all the self-serving announcements in the media that this ‘issue’ will be kept on the front-burner for as long as it takes, we know the truth: that in days, a week, tops, the energy will flag. 180-minute news-hours will be dialed down and the issue will become an also-ran mention while we move on to the latest scandal du jour.

It will happen, it is inevitable — after all, didn’t we make similar chest-thumping pronouncements about the fight against corruption?

But if we are to move on without feeling a tad sheepish, we need to be able to claim a victory — any victory. There needs to be a salve, a sop, to the collective conscience. (Reminds me of George Bush, prominent codpiece and all, claiming ‘Victory’ in Iraq through a stage-managed photo op after the Saddam statue was toppled and before the real war on the ground had even begun). We have a name for this: closure.

And in response to these demands, the political class is forced to respond, equally short-term. Appoint a commission. Call for chemical castration. Demand an emergency session of Parliament. Something. Anything.

These are manifestation of the politician’s syllogism which runs thus: We must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do this.

However, a ‘solution’ has to have some relation to the problem it seeks to solve. Step back for a moment and consider this: The Delhi rape? It happened in a bus that was plying without a proper license — a bus, in fact, that continued to operate despite complaints from no less than the DTC. It happened in a bus boasting windows tinted a darker shade than what was permitted, and covered over by curtains; the cops let it pass thru five different checkpoints despite specific laws proscribing such, and a specific Supreme Court stricture demanding that the capital’s cops enforce compliance.

What laws did we lack, that this crime happened under our noses?

What law was lacking that kept police from taking cognizance of this? What law was lacking that led police to behave thus and cause a young woman to end her life? What new law can we pass to ensure this does not happen? Which law will you amend to ensure that police don’t allow someone who molested a differently abled woman, deaf to her screams, to “give them the slip“?

Do you remember Mathura? She was somebody’s daughter, too. While her distraught family stood outside the doors of justice weeping, she was raped inside the very police station where she had gone to register a complaint. There was outrage then, too. Laws were passed, others amended, then too. And yet, as the grim catalogue of crimes against women in the 38 years since indicates, nothing has changed. Or more accurately, it has all gotten worse.

All this is just the police. If by chance or due to public pressure, investigations are carried out and cases registered and brought to court, the judges turn them down. When judges convict and hand down salutary punishment, the perpetrators go to the higher court in appeal, are promptly given bail, and the case is never heard of again. (An earlier post recorded the more famous of such instances).

So what do we have to show for all the laws we already have on our books? This: 635 reported cases of rape in Delhi alone, in the year just ending. And one solitary conviction.

The problem is not inadequate laws, or lack of laws — the root of the problem lies in lack of enforcement of existing laws, which in turn confers on the rapists a sense of immunity, even of entitlement.

If that is the problem, then the search for a solution has to begin with police reform. (As Saikat Datta points out here, the politicians who we now demand should meet in “special session” are the root of this particular problem.) Reform has to empower the police to act without fear, and include deterrent punishment when they fail to act; reform also has to set in place adequate oversight mechanisms so that citizens who fail to find redress know where to turn, which door to knock on.

And if we must reform our laws — and there is little doubt we must — then that reform should be sane, sensible, considered reform that addresses the real problems, not a knee-jerk addition of castration or whatever else catches our addled fancy. (Read Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy’s recommendations, for instance, to see how reform can be thought through.)

But all that is a long, tortuous trail to take — it is far easier to stick political band-aid on the issue and move on to other preoccupations. Hence these demands for ‘instant solutions’. But if we want real solutions, lasting solutions, then the hard road is the one we need to take, these are the conversation we need to have, the goals we need to pursue — no matter how long it takes.

PS: Here, a round-up of essential reading on the Delhi rape and related issues. If you come across interesting links, please add to the comments field? Thanks.

What’s the point?!

Long ago, I read something that stuck in my mind. The quote might be inexact, and its provenance is lost in the mists of memory, but the argument went like this:

When Christ was crucified at Calvary, the enduring image of that one man dying for our sins gave birth to a religion that swept the world; when millions of Jews were massacred during the Third Reich, it left us intellectually disturbed but largely emotionally unmoved, because who in the hell can identify with millions?

That line came back to me last night while reading some mails people sent in after reading yesterday’s post. Some at least argued on these lines: Yes, the Delhi rape is horrific, it is tragic, but why did it take this incident to wake people up? Is it because it happened in Delhi, and hit too close to those who, by virtue of making their home in the national capital, conferred on themselves a special, protected status?

The argument is analogous to what we heard in the immediate aftermath of 26/11, when a section argued that the only reason the terrorist attack had captured national attention was because the targets were the Taj and the Oberoi, those playgrounds of the rich and the pampered. That argument dishonored those killed at VT station and at Chabad House; the argument above about the Delhi ‘elite’ taking to the streets forgets that Delhi leads the country in crimes against women, so it is not as if this incident came out of the blue to shake them out of their complacency.

The reason is far simpler — this is, after all, that single straw that breaks the camel’s back. This happened to be it.

Far more pervasive, in the mails I received and in some comments on my timeline, was the word ‘futile’.

This is how the argument played out in my mailbox: What’s the point of marching in the streets and driving up the stock prices of candle-makers when we all know nothing will come of it? It might temporarily salve our collective conscience, one particular mail argued, but we have the New Year parties to “paint and dent” for, and our lives to lead, so we are all going to move on anyway and it is business as usual, no? What would we have achieved? What is the end game here? What counts as a “win” for us? (I wanted to reproduce this angst-ridden mail in full but the writer, a girl who has been attending every protest march and candle-light vigil she hears of, refused permission.)

So what is the end game?

At some point in every major upheaval, this question has been asked. The Occupy Wall Street-ers — what did they think the outcome was going to be, reform? Did those who thronged Tahrir Square see a ‘heaven of freedom’ at the end of their protests? Tiananmen Square — gosh, how’s that experiment in bringing democracy to China working out? And so on, through the annals of public protests.

Park the question for a moment.

Read, from recent annals, two stories. One, of the father who had to make repeated visits to a police station just to get the officials to register the fact that his daughter was brutally raped. The other, of the young girl who was raped; who begged repeatedly for help, for justice; who was then ‘raped’ again, emotionally, by police who would summon her to the station house late in the evening and treated her like some kind of live sex-line for their prurient amusement. After more than a month of this, the girl committed suicide yesterday.

The commonality between the two stories should be instantly obvious: The police failed the victims; they victimized the victim. And that should not surprise us, for such incidents have been distressingly common down the years and across the country. ‘So you got fucked, big deal, go home and get over it’ is more the norm than the exception; the norm is to see rape as a bunch of guys having a bit of harmless fun and not worth all the trouble of filing cases and carrying out investigations.

Now go back to those two stories and note what else is common: the police in both instances got punished. Now ask yourself this: If Delhi hadn’t happened, if the incident hadn’t triggered the anger it did, if it hadn’t provoked the public to take to the streets, would these other incidents have registered in the minds of our “rulers”? Would they have resulted in any action against the errant cops? Do you, for instance, remember any questions being asked of the cops who delayed taking cognizance of this rape, also in Delhi, also in December? Or to take another example, a PIL was filed last week against elected representatives who have crimes against women in their curriculum vitae. Ask yourself: why now? Could it be that the public anger following the Delhi rape has made people more aware of the need for zero tolerance for the abusers among us?

I’d argued yesterday that rapes have tended to become more gruesome, more prolific, in recent times because the rapists have a sense that there are no consequences to their actions; I’d argued, too, that this sense of entitlement stems from the fact that a misogynist law enforcement machinery is more often on the side of the perpetrator than the victim. (While on official misogyny, read Nilanjana Roy. Also read this account from one of the protestors:

I couldn’t see anything; I just heard the two cracks of a SPLIT BAMBOO STICK on my back, butt and thighs. Then I heard the police screaming, HARAMZADIYON, RANDIYON, and then I saw a boot kicking my knees and shin.)

The rapists rape at will because they have been led to believe that the police will do nothing. And the police do nothing because there is no consequence to their inaction. That needs to change. The police need to realize that not acting is not in their own interests; that their inaction could rebound on them (as it has in Patiala, where senior police officials have lost their jobs).

Is that it? No — but it is a start that has already been made. What the ongoing protests have already accomplished is to line the dominoes up. The politician learns that there is a very public, very visible, consequence to his apathy. He now has to act, and be seen to act. That in turn impacts on the police, who know inaction could rebound on them. So they have to act. And that impacts on the potential rapist, who gets the signal that he may be made to pay for his “fun”.

So have we ushered in a brave new world for our women? No, but it is now a work in progress — and that is more than we could say two weeks ago. So to those who asked what the end game is, I’d respond: to get to a desired end, you first have to begin some place. And this is a beginning.

Also in my mail, I found this argument: When Anna Hazare did his thing, you argued that a Lok Pal will not solve the issue. How come you now support those hotheads who demand that Parliament immediately pass laws making castration and/or death the punishment for rape?

The short answer is, I don’t. (Nilanjana Roy in her thoughtful fashion makes the argument against). Thing though is, those demands are being made at the extreme fringes of this movement — and any movement will have an extreme fringe. In the amphitheater of anger, in the adrenalin-rush of rage, there is little room for nuance. (After all, we are a nation that, after losing a Test series to England, demanded that the entire team be sacked and replaced with eleven others, no?)

Ignore the fringe for a moment, and focus on the middle ground. What are they — the majority — asking for? Not public torture followed by public hanging, as this Monisha Sethi piece suggests (More on this later). Minister Shashi Tharoor posted these on Twitter yesterday: 1, 2 and 3

What are they asking for, again — castration? Not. They are out there, braving the 3000 cops deployed against them, to ask for: (1) More cops on the street and more focus on doing what they are supposed to be doing; (2) Less cops on VIP duty (currently, according to reports, 60 per cent of the police force in Delhi are engaged in “protecting” VIPs or, more accurately, beefing up the VIP’s sense of self-worth and status.

To me, those seem like logical, acceptable goals to fight for, for now — how about you?

Reading Matter:

1. A piece by Manisha Sethi asks the same question as above: What are we fighting for? And argues thus:

Ideally, a movement’s energy forces the opening of uncomfortable questions, challenging commonsense understanding and expanding our ideas of justice. One sees that the mass protests at Raisina Hill and India Gate are flattening out complexities: reducing sexual violence to rape alone, and the need for legal reform to simply an inclusion of capital punishment, castration and immediate punishment for rapists.

A whole range of sexualised violence such as molestation, parading, stalking, stripping, are not recognised as serious violations by our legal system. While stalking and molestation are laughed off as ‘eve teasing’ (indeed trespassing is deemed a more serious crime), stripping and parading women naked are often tools of punishment by the powerful. Remember Khairlanji where Priyanka and Surekha Bhootmange were paraded naked before being murdered by the politically dominant caste? Or the young Laxmi Orang, stripped by a group of hooligans, not very different from the stone pelters of India Gate, when she was marching on the streets of Guwahati seeking ‘ST’ status for the tea tribes ofAssam?

True. Rape is not the only assault on a woman’s dignity — every day, women around the country suffer from physical and emotional abuses often lumped together under the benign rubric of ‘eve-teasing’. Attention needs to be focussed on those, too; redress needs to be sought. In that sense, the ‘flattening out of complexities’ and the singular focus on rape might be counter-productive — or maybe not. Maybe the anti-rape protests now on serve — or can/should serve — as tentpole; as the fire that keeps the political kitchen hot, while more informed minds such as Manisha, or Anita Krishnan who led the march yesterday, and such others who have a wider grasp of the issues at stake take light-handed charge of all this energy and direct it where it will do most good.

To say that the protests focus on only one aspect of the problem and hence should be dismissed, however, seems to me a case of chucking baby and bathwater out in one swoop.

2. Jai Arjun Singh has a round up of some of the more compelling writing that has surfaced in the aftermath of the Delhi rape. The value of the post is further enhanced by Jai’s own thoughts on these contemporaneous subjects. Do read.

3. From The Atlantic, a vivid photo-feature on the Delhi protests

4. In the National, a piece on India’s national shame:

The main cause is men.

I have never lived in a country where women are completely free of the fear of harassment or sexual assault, but I have also never lived in any other country where there is such a permissive attitude towards harassment and sexual assault. It is almost casual.

At its most benign, the harassment is merely annoying: the odd Bollywood love song sung under the breath of a passer-by to a woman or a girl on the street, a wolf whistle, or a request to “make friendship” – a local euphemism for an illicit dalliance. At other times, a man will make his interest felt with an outburst of frustrated sadism, such as throwing an elbow to a woman’s breast.

There is little shame in these acts. Society rarely punishes these men. Many if not most women in India are belittled, abused and cast aside from cradle to grave.

I will never forget the sight of a small black plastic bag in the middle of a Delhi highway. The bag had been smashed by a car, revealing the mangled corpse of a newborn baby. I did not stop to check, the police were there already, but I am sure that the infant was female. Female infanticide and foeticide is rampant within certain communities.

5. Farhan Akhtar in conversation with a fan about Abhijit Mukherjee et al — well done, FA.

6. On TheHoot, Kalpana Sharma questions the media role in coverage of the Delhi gang rape and suggests the coverage added to the trauma, not lessened it:

And fourth, let us look at why some newspapers and TV channels felt they had to give the woman a fictitious name, as if respecting her anonymity was too daunting a challenge for journalists to respect.  Hence, while Times of India has decided to call her Nirbhaya, and patted itself on the back for having picked what it deems is an appropriate name given her courage, other are variously calling her Damini, Amanat etc.  But her brother, who has to hear these names, told the Indian Express,  “It’s hard to digest that this is my sister they are talking about.”  He says the first time he saw one of these names flashing on TV, he thought the channel had got his sister’s name wrong.  He says he was furious but then someone explained to him that “it is a phenomenon known as personification.  I don’t like it, but they say she is the face of a movement.”

Is it really that difficult to follow this story without dramatizing it further, giving the survivor a fictitious name – as if by doing that the horrific aspects of this story will become more believable.  It is astounding that responsible media persons can endorse such a decision from within these media organisations.

The survivor’s brother also told the Indian Express about the pressure put on his father to issue an appeal once violence broke out during the demonstrations at India Gate.  After this experience, his father does not want to speak to anyone in the media. “My father is scared that a wrong message has gone out.  It seems like we don’t want the protests. We are suffering so much, why should we be against the movement?  Now he has decided against speaking to the media.  There were more requests from the police, but we told them we don’t want to risk it again”, he told IE.

7. TMC MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar on the Park Street rape suggests that there was no rape at all; the “victim” was a sex worker, she suggests, and the “rape” was an outcome of a disagreement between her and the client.

“If you ask me about the Park Street case, I have to tell you that it was not rape. It was a deal. Which turned into a misunderstanding between the clients and the lady,” she said, implying that the woman involved was a commercial sex worker.

When the Park Street rape case occurred early this year, another minister of the TMC cabinet, Madan Mitra too had raised questions about the woman’s character. “What was a divorced, mother of two doing alone in a bar after midnight?” he had asked.

The problem? Without suggesting that the victim in this case was a prostitute, the fact is that even prostitutes can NOT be raped; their “no” is just as much “no” as any other woman’s. And divorced mothers of two or more have as much right to a social life as anyone else — the fact that she was in a bar is not ipso facto a license to rape.

The problem is apathy. Not activism.

News has four cycles.

There is, first, the child, flapping its arms and legs and yelping in excitement at having been presented with a brand new shiny object, wondering what to do with it: toss it in the air? Kick it? Try and stuff it, whole and entire, into the mouth? (Think of days one and two of the aftermath of the Delhi rape, when ‘coverage’ was a series of increasingly shrill freeform yelps without coherence or substance but with lots of lung powering it.)

Then the teen, as volubly excited but with a greater awareness of his peers. (That channel had the home minister on the griddle and called for the resignation of the police commissioner? We need to ask for someone’s resignation too. Oh and that other media house? It gave the victim a symbolic name — that’s so cool; we need to give her a name too!)

Then the adult, who has outgrown the follies of youth and cleansed his palate of the metallic aftertaste of adrenalin, and discovers maturity, and fairness, and balance. (We reported the police version and the protestors’ version, didn’t we? Huh? Didn’t we? What do you mean, which is the truth?! Duh!)

And finally renunciation wherein, having sat under the tree of knowledge and been shat on by pigeons, he slips into a zen stage and waxes philosophical. Here is the perfect example: an opinion piece by Harish Khare that at least one prominent TV host endorsed as an argument meriting serious consideration. This is the bit that gave me pause (parts italicized for emphasis; parenthetical interjections are mine):

In any fast changing society and economy, resentment and anger against an insensitive “system” is bound to find an expression; and, in our current discourse, empowered citizens are made to feel that they have a licence to defy, disobey and disrupt. A crowd is seen to be an ipso facto morally superior gathering in its collective democratic representativeness and hence is deemed to have sanction to resort to unorthodox methods of protest against presumably corrupt and crumbling power arrangements.

(Wait — these “unorthodox methods” — that would be gathering peacefully in a public space to give expression to the collective sense of helplessness, of anguish?)

And, now, when the crowd gathers there are television cameras. Our liberal sensitivities are naturally offended as powerful moving images of police lathi-charge, teargas, and water canons get beamed into our drawing rooms. No less stirring is the sight of ordinary citizens bravely standing up for this or that “cause,” demanding “justice” and insisting on instant solutions. Every story becomes a battle between good and evil. Any attempt, say, to contextualise police action is instantly put down and derided as justification of khaki high-handedness.

(How subtly pejorative is the use of the quotation marks around the word cause! So let’s spell it out: the trigger is the bestial rape of a young girl; the cause is the safety and security of each one of us, and more particularly the women among us. What do you find objectionable about that? Come to think of it, safety and security are our inalienable rights — why are we even forced to demand it?

I could at this point link to dozens of videos of young girls and young men standing still, hands at their sides, while police beat them up with rubber truncheons and lathis; the video of a girl walking the other way when a policeman grabs her by arm and hair and throws her to the ground, and so on — but those images were already ‘beamed into our living rooms’ to tickle our ‘liberal sensitivities’, so I desist. However — would anyone care to to “contextualize” this incident and to interpret it as anything other than high-handedness? Or this one, where police use live ammunition despite an express prohibition, and it ends in death?)

We seem to have arrived at a new, deeply democratic moment in our republic. There is a heady feeling in the air that we can make our “rulers” squirm, smoke them out of their comfort zones, disrupt and dispute their monopoly of defining content and substance of national aspirations and dreams, and, indeed, force them to listen to “our demands” and make concessions on our terms.

(All of this is bad, why? A “deeply democratic” moment is a bad thing in a democracy how? In what way is it preferable to let our “rulers” remain in their comfort zones? And why exactly should these rulers monopolize the “defining” of the “content and substance” of our national aspirations and dreams? Oh my goodness, what a verbal water-canon is here trained on a group of sad, anguished, outraged young people who were only asking for the right to live and study and work and go watch a movie without the ever-present risk of being mauled, groped, stripped and raped, without the risk of having iron rods stuck up their vaginas and their intestines drawn out!!)

Fair warning: what follows is apt to rub those liberal sensibilities a touch raw. That said, here is a snapshot of what else happened during the past 24 hours:

1. In the same newspaper and on the same day as the Harish Khare piece, a story was published about policemen who refused to register a case of rape for five whole days, and kept their superiors in the dark about it, despite the father of the victim repeatedly approaching them requesting that a case be filed. Related, we learn that of the thousands of rape cases registered but not followed up on, there are over 250 instances in Patna alone where the police have not even bothered to file charges. Keep in mind that (a) these figures relate to just one city and (b) that they relate only to those instances that have been reported and documented.

2. In Ghaziabad, a jailed rapist on his release attempted to kill his victim. “Leave it, friends,” the Senior Superintendent of Police is quoted as telling inquiring mediapersons.

3. In Kolkatta,  a 40-year-old differently-abled woman was sexually assaulted inside a stationary bus at a spot close to a police station. He was caught by locals and handed over to two policemen. He managed to ‘give them the slip’ (Color me cynical, but I couldn’t help thinking that ‘give them the slip’ is a nifty new way of suggesting that some currency changed hands) and fled.

4. Oh, and a two-year-old girl child died in a hospital in Panchmahal district of injuries sustained during rape. The rapist, presumably worried that the baby would fight him off, had tied her hands and legs down before raping her.

5. A district judge — a member of the ‘establishment’ that “defines the content” of our aspirations — has ruled that a wife has no right to refuse sex with her husband and if said husband forces himself on the wife sans consent, that is not rape.

That was a very short, but by no means exhaustive, tour of 24 hours in this ‘heaven of freedom’ that Tagore sang of — a heaven wherein the honorable Home Minister, mute in the immediate aftermath of horrific rape, appeared on television a week later to mourn how the unruly protestors had ‘blackened’ the image of the country. Now to pull back for a wide-angle view:

Do you remember Aruna Shanbhag?

Do you remember Kiliroor? Mathura?

How about Jalgaon? Thangjam Manorama? Anjana Mishra? Shopian?

Do you remember Suryanelli? The story of a 16-year-old girl who was abducted from a bus, raped by the conductor, then handed over to a couple who, over the next 40 days, transported her like a traveling circus all over Kerala and pandered her to 42 different men, all of whom raped her?

The story has an instructive coda. A Special Court was set up three years after the incident (the first time in Kerala history that such a court was set up to fast track a case of rape; it happened because of massive public protests). In September 2000, the court handed down major prison terms to 35 of the accused. Dharmarajan, an advocate and main accused, was absconding at the time; he was subsequently arrested and, in 2002, sentenced to life in prison.

All good, right? Not. Two weeks after the Special Court verdict, the Kerala High Court gave bail to all 35 accused and let them out of jail. And in 2005, the aforesaid High Court acquitted all 35. More, it deemed that Dharmarajan, the man who had along with his lady friend taken this minor girl the length and breadth of the state and facilitated her serial rape, was guilty only of the crime of “sex trade” — and sentenced to just five years and a fine of Rs 50,000. There was, the honorable judges deemed, no evidence of any “conspiracy” to commit crimes against the girl — like, you know, Dharmarajan was just sort of accidentally escorting her around Kerala, and accidentally, some things happened, too bad, so sad. Oh, and the judges also had some acerbic comments to make about the “character” of the teenager and her “motive” in filing a complaint.

That young girl — in keeping with the Joneses of the media, I’ll name her Mayoos, The Hopeless One — who, last heard from, was employed in a menial job and attempting to get on with her life, lives with the trauma of the multiple rapes she endured for over a month and the knowledge that the authorities she turned to for succor deemed that all that happened to her was somehow her own fault.

In passing, keep this in mind when you hear ministers speak of establishing Special Courts to try the latest atrocity. And to underline that point a touch more, here is another example of how judgments rendered by fast track courts are rendered moot by the High Courts sitting on appeal.

The point of all this?

The signal rapists have been consistently getting down the years is that there is no consequence to their actions. And these signals come from every tier of the establishment.

From the police who refuse to register cases (and are derelict in their crime prevention duties — remember that the bus the Delhi girl was raped in passed through five different check-posts manned by police while inside its darkened interior, her rapists were thrusting iron rods inside her and pulling out her intestines);

From our elected leaders, who when rape hits the headlines repeatedly suggest that the solution is for girls to not venture out after dark, to not wear “provocative clothes”, to not frequent bars, to stay within the confines of their homes (Makes you wonder — the baby whose hands and feet were tied and who was raped so brutally she died — which bar was she coming out of, and what was she wearing?);

From the judges who let convicted rapists out on bail and who say a woman does not have the absolute right to say no to sex or that a raped teen was somehow asking for it and that her plea for justice was “motivated”…

It is pervasive, this message of entitlement; it inoculates the potential rapist against the fear of consequences; it empowers him.

Do you know what happened after Suryanelli? Pandalam happened. And following a precedent that was established in Suryanelli, the sentences were suspended.

Kothamangalam happened. And the case is still wending its way through the appeals process. (One of the main accused is the minor girl’s father, by the way — so much for being safe at home.)

Thoppumpady happened.

Calicut happened, where young girls who went to an ice cream parlor were drugged, raped, videotaped, blackmailed, and raped again and again. Two of the victims subsequently committed suicide; a politician allegedly involved first resigned from the then government, then was reinstated; the case continues to wend its way through the courts and the discussion, such as it is, is not about whether the crime was committed and what the punishment should be, but about whether one political party, in power at the time, was behaving in a ‘vindictive’ fashion towards its political opposition in ordering a probe.

You know what? Our problem is not that we protest, but that we don’t protest enough.

Our problem is not activism, but apathy.

PostScript: A feature of recent days has been the tone-deaf, misogynistic nature of comments by public personalities in the wake of the rape. The latest offender: Abhijeet Mukherjee, by the grace of his father and Sonia Gandhi now a Congress MP. Here is what he said.