Every now and then an incident of rape takes place that captures people’s attention because of its particular perversity. However, after the initial response, not much is done about it. Everybody is against rape – including the Taliban, the Maoists, China, Saudi Arabia, the Khap Panchayats, and so on. However, would the nation accept their prescription on prevention and punishment? None of these believe in due process of law. The Taliban believe that the best way to keep women ‘safe’ is to lock them up in their houses with as little interaction outside the immediate family as possible. One hysterical MP in parliament had once demanded that punishment be adopted for rapists ‘as was done in the middle-east’. Is it possible for a form of punishment to be imported – public beheading, mutilation and so forth – without adopting the entire package? In China, the lack of checks and balances – with the judicial machinery part of the government system – ensures that political dissidents, inconvenient members of the public and the party are convicted freely on trumped up and ridiculous charges, and sentenced to disproportionate punishment. People disappear into the system without their families ever seeing them again. The Maoists have their kangaroo courts that are used largely to crack down on rivals and rebellious villagers – the charges can be anything, who will challenge their word in the face of all those AK-47s?
It is important, therefore, that the discussion on the subject is not hijacked by the extreme as well as conservative elements. The anti-rape campaign is now in danger of slipping into the hands of calamity vultures – people who rush to commiserate with victims to further their political fortunes. Nor can it be dictated by the selectively chosen panels on TV discussions.
The crux of the matter is that security and the freedom of women have to go hand in hand. It cannot be one without the other. In the name of morality, political correctness, tradition, etc., the conservatives actually wish to curtail civil liberties, freedom and artistic expression and, in the end, the right of women over their own bodies. They are basically ‘control’ freaks who believe in censorship of the word and spirit. It indicates complete lack of understanding of Indian democracy, which is gender-neutral, liberal and pluralistic in spirit.
Indian jurisprudence does not lag behind in its handling of rape. It has passed many milestones over the years, refining the largely traditionalist approach of British times. The attitude of the judges, too, has evolved, albeit more slowly. As in all things, there have been Supreme Court rulings that have guided the manner in which rape cases are to be dealt with at all levels. Similarly, the law has also been upgraded from time to time, and will continue in that manner. Hopefully, pressure will be maintained to ensure the urgency is not forgotten.
The problem lies with the manner in which India is governed. Everybody is so compromised at every level that it is difficult to implement the law. So, merely having ‘better’ and stricter laws will make no difference, if the agencies that implement them are ineffective or out of control. Case after case is reported about the insensitivity of the police, as well as its criminal neglect in many ways. It is not just a reflection of social attitudes towards rape victims; it is the single-point focus in all thanas to turn every case into a money-making opportunity. Even in the most extreme cases, the cops cannot get out of the habit, particularly as they are confident that they are not likely to be monitored or held to account. It is not just rape – everything is compromised because of this. It is here that reform will have to take place first for anything to take effect.