Friday, 20 March 2015

Banning India's Daughter

The government’s move to ban the documentary Storyville-India’s daughter, that puts into focus the inordinate delays in punishing the guilty in even the most heinous cases of gang rape, is to most of us, a knee jerk reaction . And like most knee jerk reactions this move shoots the messenger but fails either to curb the crime or speed up the meting out of the final punishment . Even the usual talk of a foreign hand being out to give India a bad name makes the State appear furtive and sheepish . In declaredly liberal regimes like India, law should be a potent source and badge of the legitimacy for awarding the harshest punishments to those guilty of such crimes as soon as possible. In this case despite the amendments made to it after this particular rape cum murder, the ultimate decision still hangs fire. In the meanwhile one of the perpetrators has passed away and another may soon be set free after having served a three year sentence in a detention home for juveniles. Naturally the parents of the victim are outraged and blame the judicial delays for allowing the criminals to pour out their anti woman venom in the media.
The amended law against rape as Indian women (including some victims from within the judiciary itself) who have been sexually harassed by males have experienced it, appears anything but a fast moving neutral, elevated and pervasive vehicle for retributive justice. As reported in this paper, a petition was served by 58 members of the Upper House to the Chair, after a volatile debate on the documentary, demanding a full and final decision for impeachment of a judge on grounds of sexual misconduct against another judge. The victim had lodged a complaint against a senior judge for having misused his position to harass her sexually over a period of time. Even after it was probed by the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court (on orders from the Supreme Court of India) and found that the allegations warrantd a ‘deeper’ enquiry , the case hangs fire. A three judge committee is now ‘looking into the matter’ and in the meanwhile the woman judge has resigned from her post to protect, as she said ‘her dignity and self esteem.’
Even in post Nirbhaya India rape, as many women and the trajectory of their cases will reveal , continues to be viewed a sex crime only if the victim can furnish undeniable proof of use of brutal force by the perp and a total lack of her own consent for the sexual act. In the case of married women even frequent and brutally forced sex by their spouse is not deemed punishable, because marital sex remains outside the purview of the amended Act. The wrong inherent in marital rape has been so hard to define, because the society, the law makers and enforcers as also the judiciary, view rape as a category distinct from marital sex even when it is accompanied by continuous and brutal male dominance. This also explains Mukesh Singh’s mind numbing defence of his criminal gang that if a girl appears to have boyfriends, wears certain kinds of clothes, is spotted talking and walking in the company of men after dark, she is opening herself to violation by other males. And if then the victim fights back or threatens to take her rapists to court, she would be further endangering her own safety . Where they erred he declares was, that they did not kill her outright. As Javed Akhtar, poet and member of the Upper House, was quick to remind the House, a similar mindset has been evident in various reactions to rape cases from honorable godmen, members of Parliament, and the police. And it is not only Nirbhaya’s tormentors who believe that the only thing that differentiated them from other rapists was that they failed to silence the victim and got caught. Severe penalties against rape, if enforced, Mukesh Singh declared, will not curb the crime but guarantee that each victim be silenced forever.
The ban on the BBC documentary serves no purpose . Given the wide publicity the Nirbhaya case and the public outrage it triggered leading to legal reforms, such petulance makes us appear quite unnecessarily petulant and paranoid as a democracy. What does it reveal ? That the rapists have a sick mindset, that there are unfathomable judicial delays in awarding sentences, and policing is lax are facts that are undeniable . Our parliamentarians and screeching anchors would have been far better employed had they asked for a thorough re examination of the male version of heterosexuality that Mukesh Singh articulates as eroticization of dominance and submission, and how this may be also sedimented in our society, polity and judiciary, waiting to be cauterised. Our law makers, jurists and law enforcers could then accept that in India, adult men and women of all ages are still unequally situated . True, young boys also often experience rape, but the threat of being sexually violated decreases for them as they grow older. Adult men are a good deal more likely to rape than be raped. In contrast, it is a proven fact that almost half of all women are either raped or victims of attempted rapes ever since they were little girls.  The Mukesh Singhian view holds a mirror to Indians in that it baldly states and underscores the socially sanctioned thinking that guarantees  subordination of women to men in all walks of life .

After all does Mukesh Singh come out any different in this documentary, from a godman who told women to beg the rapist with folded hands and say I am your sister ? or Khap Panchayats and college principals who order the girls not to wear jeans and carry mobiles ? or political activists who bleat about Love Jihad and ask that all girls be chaperoned and supervised at all times? Or their leaders who ask for forgiveness for gang rapes by pleading boys will be boys and may make mistakes.