New rape, old stories
There is a new rape in the country that has become a super-hit. A 26 year old woman was gangraped and killed in a 1.5 hour duration after which her body was burnt and left under a bridge. The police were slow to react to the initial complaint raised by the victim's family but by the time the news came out and became sensationalized, the police started sing praise to themselves at catching the culprits so quickly. The suspects, all between the ages of 20 and 26 are your not so educated, village bumbles who drink and drive lorries at high speed along the highways. It's the faceless mass that makes most of India, the shadow people we wish could be richer, better and earn our country more respect.
The reaction to the rape has raised some serious concerns. The health of the mob can be seen in the nature of dissent they put up and here they are nothing short of being barbaric. There are calls for open castration, public hanging or burning the suspected straight away, without giving any recourse for due judicial process. The second-in-command in the State legislature himself called for a quick hanging of the suspects, which shows that 'we the people' have failed somewhere in our lessons of restraint, justness and mental clarity. Between the famous Nirbhaya case and today, there have been thousands of rapes that have adorned the newspapers and public memory. Much has been talked about the safety of women in the society and there have been many publications in the “do not dress like a slut” school of thought. There have been angry calls for suspects to be hanged across the country and often there is a trivia snippet that comes up, stating how the glorious women loving nations of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the UAE treat their rapists to public deaths and chemical castrations.
This is a thirst for blood that we have seen elsewhere, in decimating internal enemies, the perceived outside enemies, religious detractors, inter-communal and inter community marriages..the list is endless, we all want to hang and kill these criminals. We want to police the women, know their locations and tell them not to go out because, hey, men will come and rape you and even if you are my sister or mother, what can be said of your character if you are raped at 9 in the night? Were you trying to elope with someone? What is a woman doing alone outside at 9 in the night? The woman should arm herself with pepper spray and krav maga skills. The reaction to this is now binary: control the women and kill the men, which seems to me a very patriarchal reaction to a problem that has become pervasive throughout the society not overnight but over decades of thoughtlessness and prejudice.
Marital rape in India is not a crime. A woman who is raped within the dimensions of a state sanctioned relationship then it is not a problem, because here the woman is the property of a man. Love marriages in India are a rarity and so are inter-communal marraiges. Marriages usually are alliances between families where it is the responsibility of the men in the family to marry a woman off – this liability also contributes to the skewed sex ratio and men favouring that happens all across India. Our movies have heroes overrepresented and women as sex dolls or mothers, our politics sees no independent women making their mark in the polls, wives, sisters and mistresses of other famous men finding their way through the electorate. It is the same country where menstruation is still a subject of taboo and let us not even talk about sex.
The reaction of the Indian public and in consequence the State always has been to call out for more policing and more separation of the sexes. Different schools, different places to sit in public transportation, different attitudes when it comes to sex and choosing partners and calling for more conservatism in the name of tradition – these are all part of the circular logic of patriarchy that makes the gender divide deeper in India. The logic is as follows, we cannot allow women more freedom because otherwise they will not be safe and so women should not expect more freedom. Online forums are full of people wanting to know of defenses for their sisters and girlfriends, some being happy about emigration and the others wondering which would be the best place to emigrate, This again is a very middle-class, upper caste discourse, the most disadvantaged do not have access to the language and tools of modern discourse, their silence is taken as their assent and the people who make the loudest noise have their voice heard.
It is not the women who have to take care but it is them men that have to be taught how to care. There is no sexual education and no information available about sexual consent. This is completely absent from public discourse, because women are at the end of the day the property of men. There are two routes for changing this – one, an organic women's movement that calls for greater emancipation and representation and two, regular education and re-education of sexual identities and sexualities in the public sphere. What the Hyderabad rape signifies is the inaccess to women – and inacess exists because women were not independent in the first place and men believe that it is their right to have their share of women. Also the reaction to the rape skews the fact that most of the perpetrators of rape happen to be someone known to the victim, which makes reporting these cases even harder and also the brutality of sexual trauma goes unnoticed as there no burnt bodies and Muslim men in the accused.
The second problem in the Hyderabad narrative is the call for instant killing of the accused. At this point no one knows what has happened and the trial is mostly being conducted through the traditional and social media. One part of the controversy that one of the main accused is Muslim can be put to rest. He is one of the four accused, all others who are Hindus by name. This is exactly proportional to the religious demographic of India, in essence they resemble India in their plurality of violence. At the end of the day, these accused are people. They have committed a crime which is not viable in a society but their motivations and intent to cause harm are all human. Why would someone be driven to do such a thing? How can we prevent these atrocities in the future are all questions to which these accused have the answer to, atleast in part. Policing further and increasing surveillance only stands as a sign that these people have succesfully managed to terrorize the society, which shows how shaky its roots have been in the first place.
Demanding for a public hanging/burning only makes such a behaviour acceptable in the minds of the populace. What the State can do, even mob justice can do and the institutionalizing violence only breeds more violence in other forms. Adherence to the law of the land and due process also spills in other aspects of living, but the call for violence is a problematic one as it shows that in the case of apocalyptic institutional failure, mob justice will involve public killings and burnings. Mahabubnagar, the district all the accused come from is one of the backward districts in the state of Telangana and according to the 2011 census has a literacy rate of 55%, with female literacy hovering around 44%. It is a rural district with little in the name of industry or employment opportunities. All the four worked with lorries as drivers or cleaners, meaning they would not have earned more than Rs.10000 ($140),, which is a pittance. They are not killers with intent but killers made possible by design, they are the shadow people we are all afraid of the – the poor, the uneducated and the ones for who modernity is still out of reach. Burning them, means burning the shadow people. Instead all efforts should be put in demonstrating that our tax money be used for education, for the upliftment of the rural poor than stigmatizing them further and driving them into cities where they do not belong.
The failure is not of the four accused but of the society as a whole. One might as well burn the society while they are at it, but to remember what the man who smiles on every Indian currency note once said, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”