Monday, September 2, 2013
Our Supreme Court asked what citizens have been asking for a while: Why is there such a sharp rise in rape cases across the country? "We are shocked", said a two-judge bench. "What has gone wrong with our society? What is wrong with the system now? Is it the total failure of social values, the lack of law, or is it that law enforcement is not working well?"
For the politicians who do not bother about such questions, here is "good" news: India is not the worst case in crimes against women. Surveys conducted by world organisations say that the most dangerous country for a woman is Afghanistan where women face targeted violence, horrible health care and horrible poverty. Congo is a close second with frighteningly high levels of rape. The highest numbers of reported rapes per capita are in Australia, Botswana and Lesotho. India figures only where the "global perception of threat to women is higher due to domestic violence, economic discrimination and female foeticide". Here Pakistan is first, India second and Somalia third.
Is this consolation? It may be to the political class revelling in selfishness and irresponsibility. But the facts of life point to an India that has lost its moorings, where fathers rape daughters, husbands kill wives, "holy" men abuse devotees for the glory of God and street hooligans treat women as disposable utilities. Overall rape cases doubled between 1990 and 2008. In Mumbai city they doubled in one year, from mid 2012 to mid 2013. Statistically, with 256 cases for one lakh women, Vijayawada was the most unsafe city for women.
Statistics are both impersonal and dry. They do not even attempt to give an idea of the torture, the pain, the humiliation and the bloodshed every single victim goes through. Media-highlighted cases like the Delhi bus gangrape, the Manipal Medical College gangrape and the Mumbai photojournalist gangrape open up the gates of public rage. The Government makes some noises and that's that.
Which brings up the core issue: It is the ruling class's amorality and cynicism that have led to the fall in standards in general and increased criminality in particular. In taking care of the larger interests of the country, the Government has been non-functioning for many years. In promoting the private interests of VIP leaders and VIP corporations, the same Government has been over-functioning. This lopsidedness affected the temper of the country, leading to what the Supreme Court called "a total failure of social values".
Consider the latest instances of cynical self-pursuit by the political class. Parties that cannot stand one another united to create new provisions that would legally protect the criminals among them. An MP can remain an MP even if he is convicted while people in jail can contest elections. Inconvenient Court rulings will be circumvented. What's more, political parties may go to the people for votes but will have no responsibility to give any information to the people; parties will be exempt from RTI obligations. Nor do politicians have to declare in their election affidavits the true value of their assets; values of ten, fifty or a hundred years ago would do.
These are things that cannot happen in a democracy. That they happen in India only proves that India has been robbed of its democracy by the very beneficiaries of democracy. What we have at the helm today is a value system in which people essentially do what pleases them. If manipulating land transactions in Haryana and/or selling coal resources on the sly is what pleases the rulers of the land, how can the ruled be denied their idea of what pleases them -- raping a convenient victim, and/or torturing a wife for dowry? When privileged criminals fly high, lesser ones get inspired.
The questions the Supreme Court raised were obvious. Because the problem was obvious. When we need economic action heroes, we get Manmohan Singh. When we need role models, we get Sonia Gandhi and children and son-in-law. When we need unifying political icons, we get Narendra Modi. When we need social reformers, we get Asaram Bapu.