Monday, December 24, 2012
The nationwide eruption of anger over the Delhi bus rape can be seen as a silver lining, if indeed so horrific a crime can have a silver lining. It shows that public opinion is vigilant and assertive as was proved when a stunned nation responded to the Mumbai terrorist attack and, more recently, to corruption when Anna Hazare sounded the bugle. But in both these instances, nothing eventually happened. The Government did not put adequate, modern security systems in place except for VIP protection. Nor did it take corruption seriously, preferring instead to fight corruption-fighters.
Will it be different this time? It ought to be because what we are facing is not just a pack of animals attacking a young woman held captive in a moving bus; what we confront is an epidemic of rape. Across the length and breadth of the country, in urban centres and rural backyards, fathers are attacking daughters, neighbours are kidnapping under-aged girls and upper caste men are raping and then killing lower caste girls.
The present case, execrable as it is, attracted concentrated attention because it happened in Delhi. Several sensational cases of recent memory, such as the Jessica and Arushi murder cases, moved toward justice because they happened in Delhi and therefore were taken up by Delhi television channels. It is no compliment to our political, judicial and media systems that crimes have to occur in Delhi for them to be noticed, publicised, prosecuted, and pursued until the perpetrators are properly punished.
Naturally the media crowned Delhi with the title of the rape capital of India. Statistically Durg-Bhilainagar in Chattisgarh has the highest per-capita rape cases, followed by Bhopal. Men there should be happy that they can carry on undisturbed because they are beyond the range of Delhi's TV channels. The girls must be worse off for the same reason.
For that matter, how much national horror is generated by horror stories from Mumbai? A policeman on patrol duty in Marine Drive, of all places, got an attack of libido and just pulled a passing college girl into his bunker and raped her. Perhaps the worst tragedy of its kind in Indian history was that of Aruna Shanbag, the nurse who was sexually assaulted in 1973 by a hospital sweeper and has been in a vegetative state ever since. The man was sentenced to 7 years because the charges filed against him were "assault and robbery". Even if he had been charged with rape, he would have got 10 years, whereas the victim is lying in a helpless state for the 39th year. The Supreme Court rejected a plea to allow mercy killing in her case.
At the other extreme, we have the case of Phoolan Devi. She was gang-raped in her village and she responded by turning to a life of violence herself. She launched her life as a bandit by ordering the murder of 22 upper caste villagers, her presumed tormentors. Most of her attacks were in revenge, until she herself was shot dead by a revenge-seeking upper caste man. She was an MP when she was killed.
The involvement of politicians in rape cases must be one reason for governments to go easy on the subject. In UP the number of politicians booked for rape is high, and more must be escaping the law. The tragic case of Bhanwari Devi in Rajasthan (1992) and of Anjana Mishra in Orissa (1999) involved high-ranking politicians. In Kerala, from the Suryanelli case to the icecream parlour case, ranking political leaders were involved. They went free, giving the rape industry a big boost in Kerala.
For politicians even the massive outburst of public anger in the present situation is an occasion to cash in. The demonstration at India Gate was dominated by ABVP placards as though this was an ABVP event. In the Mumbai demonstration, the focus was on Sharad Pawar's smiling face. BJP MPs demonstrated as BJP MPs. Congress MPs did not demonstrate because the Government is Congress-led. We are a nation of opportunistic politicians as well as of rapists.