Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn:
#Not for the likes of Kailash Vijayvargiya who displayed appalling misogyny and a corresponding lack of knowledge of the epic he was citing when he talked of women having to live within a notional Lakshman Rekha.
#Or an Abhijit Mukherjee who seems to have a thing for ‘dented and painted’ — and beautiful — women.
#Or a Raj Thackeray who believes that if a fence could be built around Bihar and that state could be isolated from the rest of the country, rapes wouldn’t happen.
#Or a Mohan Bhagwat who in the face of all quantified evidence holds that rape is a phenomenon peculiar to the ‘westernized’ cities of ‘India’, and absent from the villages and forests (forests?!) of ‘Bharat’.
#Or for Chhattisgarh minister Nanki Ram Kanwar who suggested that the fault lay with the alignment of the stars and the planets.
#Or for the countless others of both sexes and all party affiliations who, over the past few days, have vitiated the atmosphere with comments that are risible when they are not downright reprehensible.
I don’t give a damn for the Jamaat-i-Islami Hind, which suggests that in order to stop rapes and make women safe, all sex outside the marital bed should be made punishable offenses and co-education should be banned;
#Nor for Rajasthan MLA Bhanwari Lal Singhal who believes that schoolgirls wearing skirts is the problem;
#Nor for the Pudhucherry government that wants to put our schoolgirls in overcoats and ferry them around in segregated buses;
#Nor for ‘spiritual leader’ Asaram Babu who said The Delhi Rape Victim (I capitalized that to distinguish her from the 635 or so other women who were raped in Delhi these last 12 months) could have avoided her fate if only she had called her assailants ‘brothers’;
#Nor for the dozens of other ‘solutions’ being proposed that show a total ignorance of the problem and an absolute focus on whatever antediluvian agenda the proposer holds dear.
In passing, I don’t give a damn too for a tendency, at least on my timeline, for the conversation to segue into whether the ruling party or the opposition is more to blame or whether the media is ‘biased’ towards this or that particular political grouping — because, frankly, every political group currently active in this country has come out of recent incidents reeking of the medieval, the antiquated, the regressive, the repressive. All these conversations tell me is that we are still unable to move beyond our own peculiar, particular mental cocoons.
I don’t give a damn for any of the above because much as these statements give the media pegs to hang their ‘righteous indignation’ on, none of this is new, or startling. I haven’t heard anything in recent times that I hadn’t heard already — from an uncle who during dinner table conversation casually condemned a cousin as ‘fallen’ because she chose to leave the family fold and live life on her own terms; from parents who, sight unseen, refused me permission to marry the girl I wanted to because in their worldview, any girl who would ‘fall in love’ and ‘go out with’ men (or at least, with me) couldn’t be a ‘nice’ girl worth being invited into an ‘ancient family’; from ‘well-meaning’ ‘family friends’ who denied me shelter for the crime of marrying an ‘improper girl’; from a ‘friend’ who over rum and coke casually discoursed on the ‘bed-worthiness’ of a girl who had, just some weeks earlier, tied a rakhi around his wrist; from another ‘friend’ who once got up a dinner party and invited a bunch of us over just so the invitation could include a girl he hoped to take to bed that night…
The attitudes reflected in recent statements by various political worthies is neither new, nor particularly remarkable; tune our antennae inwards, and all of us can recall much worse being said in our presence — and sometimes, even said by us.
I notice that some of the more egregious statements have been ‘withdrawn’ — but how do you withdraw the mindset that spawned them? I notice that some political groupings have distanced themselves from those of their fellows who recently gained foot-in-mouth notoriety — but how do you ‘distance yourself’ from what is in your midst?
I don’t give a damn for any of the above because while we collectively obsessed over such asininities, a teacher and a watchman were found to have raped tribal girls in a school in Chhattisgarh; another minor girl was first raped, then forced to consume a poisonous substance in Faridkot; an 18-year-old in Alwar found life so insupportable thanks to constant harassment that she preferred death by self-immolation; a 15 year old was set on fire because she resisted rape… (okay, I’m stopping here — if your stomach isn’t turned yet, just google ‘rape’ for yourselves).
And? Even as the Delhi police take prompt action against Zee News for airing an interview with the Delhi victim’s friend in which he accused them of playing with red tape while he and the brutalized girl lay naked, cold and bleeding on the roadside, elsewhere in Delhi the discovery of a raped, murdered woman’s body turned the spotlight yet again to a seemingly endemic refusal on the part of the police to take timely action.
That’s what I give a damn about, just now — that even now, even after all this, nothing has changed.
Or at least, that is not quite true: something has. In Noida, the discovery of the woman’s body triggered mass protests and that in turn led to punitive action against the errant cops — just as the Patiala cops involved in harassing an 18 year old rape victim and hounding her to her death were suspended/sacked.
This is what we need more of: more protests when such things happen, more heat on the law enforcement machinery to force them to act. We need for police forces across the country to realize that here on, there is a penalty attached to not doing their job.
While on that, I don’t get the rubbish being spouted by top cops about holding courses to sensitize police to take action in cases of rape.
Say what?! Isn’t it the primary job of the police to take action when someone comes to them with a complaint? Any complaint? They don’t need to be ‘sensitized’ into doing their job — they need rather to be severely penalized when they don’t do it.
These are the things we need to focus on, I’d submit. The rest? Mere noise, of no significance whatsoever.
1. Via Nilanjana Roy and a new hub created to document, discuss and act on gender violence, a curated list of stories worth reading from the past one week
2. Natasha Bhadwar on the tyranny of silence and how the victims are finally finding a voice again
3. Harini Calamur, eloquently making my case for me, on why we need to focus laser-sharp on the basics
4. Annie Zaidi on why women are proving to be their own worst enemies
5. Law professor Mrinal Satish on the startling ways in which the law on rape is applied in practice. An excerpt:
Let me provide a concrete example of how the stereotypes find their way into the trial process through medical examination. Assume that in examining an unmarried rape victim, the doctor notes the presence of old tears on her hymen. The doctor also notes that she was able to insert two or more fingers into the vagina of the victim. Although the doctor does not expressly opine that the woman was sexually active, this information is conveyed to the court by way of the medical report. My study showed that in cases where the medical report indicated that the woman had been sexually active before marriage, lower sentences were imposed on the offenders who raped them. In contrast, in cases where the offender had raped a virgin, the sentence was relatively higher. Thus, the sexual history of the victim had an impact on the sentence imposed on the offender. Another factor related to virginity is the perceived loss experienced by an unmarried victim, in terms of her marriageability. The Supreme Court has in a number of cases noted how rape adversely affects the chances of a woman finding a suitable groom. In this context, the Court has even held that the marital status of the woman can be a relevant factor in rape sentencing. It is not surprising then that offenders who raped unmarried (and virginal) women got higher sentences in contrast to men who raped married women. Further, courts tend to impose lower sentences when a victim who was unmarried when the offence was committed, gets married during the trial. Since the rape did not impact the victim’s ability to get married, the harm caused by the offence is discounted. An egregious example of this approach is the Supreme Court’s decision in Baldev Singh v. State of Punjab (2011), another gang rape case that got a lot of media attention. One of the reasons that the Court gave for reducing the sentence in this case was that the victim was now married.
PS: Even as I finished writing this post and checked Twitter to see what else was going on, I found a teaser for a TV chat show coming up. Apparently the likes of Pooja Bedi, Chitrangadha Singh, Arjun Rampal and spokesmen from the VHP and Asaram Babu’s outfit are about to debate the latest hot topic: should Asaram Babu apologize (for idiotic remarks already alluded to earlier in this post).
PPS: It also turns out that in our haste to find new statements to outrage over, we are even making some of these up now. Vide this furor over a ‘second’ Mohan Bhagwat statement. Do we think of the disservice we do, the credibility we collectively lose, when in our rush to judgment we forget to fact-check?
PPS: I am traveling, with limited time and access; blogging will be intermittent for the duration. See you when I do.