Monday, July 18, 2016

Little girls are raped, killed, then thrown away. Is brutality becoming an Indian way of life?

From a nation that found its feet on the principle of nonviolence, we seem to have become a nation that celebrates brutality. The daily headlines spell out gory details of ordinary people inflicting the most horrid kinds of cruelty on ordinary people. When the Delhi Nirbhaya case revealed how mercilessly the girl was ripped open by a so-called juvenile, the outrage led us to think that such sadism wouldn't be seen again. But the plague has been spreading. A girl waiting for a train at a suburban station in Chennai is cut to pieces by a lone man as people watch. Before we could get out of that shock another girl is hacked to death in public in Salem. In Delhi a school boy is beaten to death by a panmasala shop's owners over a trifling argument. Girls 10 and below are sexually attacked, then killed and thrown away. A young wife is helped by her mother to kill her two children with poison so that she can go with her paramour. An abandoned wife finds a lover and the two of them torture the woman's 5-year-old daughter to death so that they can be "free".

Apparently Indians have been doing this sort of thing for a while. Back in 2012 Thomson Reuters Trust said that India was on par with Afghanistan, Congo and Somalia as the world's most dangerous place for women. In 2004 a woman was raped in our country every 54 minutes, in 2012 every 20 minutes. The National Crime Records Bureau reported that between 1953 and 2011 rape became India's fastest growing crime.

Perhaps the most telling statistic provided by the National Crime Records Bureau is that 65 percent of Indian men believe that women should tolerate violence against them in order to keep the family together. That might throw light on the psychology behind the 8000 dowry deaths that occur every year in India and the so-called honour killings (1000 out of 5000 reported cases annually are in India). They don't just kill; they kill viciously. In Rajasthan four years ago, a father chopped off his 20-year-old daughter's head because she was dating a lower caste man, then walked around town with her severed head to warn other young women in the locality.

One of the main reasons for India's shameful statistical prominence in the area of human cruelty is governmental indifference. At the leadership level, there is often encouragement to violence; at the police level there is active collaboration. One of Mulayam Singh Yadav's most disgraceful public statements was to justify the abuse of women. He said: "When boys and girls have differences, the girl gives a statement that she has been raped... Boys are boys, they make mistakes". Even the UN Secretary General condemned that statement. Mulayam Singh didn't care a damn.

The record of the police is no better. Custodial rape is as common as custodial death. Citizens are often left helpless. A tribal orphan girl, about 14 or 15 years old, was raped by two constables in Maharashtra's Chandrapur district. The sessions court acquitted the cops. The High Court sentenced them. The Supreme Court acquitted them saying that there was no visible marks of injury, therefore no struggle and therefore no rape. There were widespread protests led by law professors who challenged the concept of consent as set out in the judgment. This led to the Evidence Act and the Penal Code being amended to give legal weight to a rape victim's statement and to make custodial rape an offence. But this is India and atrocities by police and politicians continue unabated.

Simple road rage or a minor dispute is enough for an Indian to kill another. The extent to which this culture of cruelty has grown was revealed by a gruesome multiple murder in Kochi in 2009. A Tamil Nadu labour contractor supplying construction workers got angry when three workers asked him for outstanding wages of Rs 14,000. If not paid, they said, they would leave Kochi and go home. The contractor went out in a rage, drew petrol from his bike, discovered that it was less than half a litre, so went to a pump to get more. He returned to the room, poured the petrol over the sleeping labourers and set fire to it. He locked the room from outside, throwing more petrol through the window to ensure that the labourers had no escape. Six years later the contractor was sentenced to death. His name: Thomas Alva Edison.