No degrees of wrong for rapes

If you live in India and if you are a woman or related to a woman, then you are condemned to live in fear for your entire life. Directly or indirectly, you will face some form of sexual assault in your life either because your daughter, sister, wife or mother faced it or if you are a woman, you would have been sexually harassed, ranging from groping to rape. The past week has seen a ritual catharsis in India that began last December in Delhi after the brutal gang rape of a para-medical student.

Bad news: The past week has seen a ritual catharsis in India that began last December in Delhi after the brutal gang rape of a para-medical student

A photo journalist is gang raped in Mumbai, a few demonstrations and candle light vigils, beautiful people come on TV and express outrage, NGO ladies tell us: “nice of you to come back to us for soundbites but nothing is really changing in the country”. Politicians fulminate depending on which party they represent and where the rape has taken place. If the rape has happened in a state where his party is in power then he will spout statistics, compare it to other states: look at Delhi, look at West Bengal, and look at Madhya Pradesh. Nobody will try to prevent rapes from happening. Vacancies for policemen and judges remain unfilled, cases are not investigated properly and they drag on in courts till the rape victim just gives up. Intimidation of victims goes unchecked, sexual predators are allowed to complete meditation or ‘hide’ in full media glare before they are arrested. Some rapes matter, others don’t.

If the raped or the rapist is a Dalit or a Muslim, then another set of factors comes into play. Was the girl raped by upper caste people? Was it in a Dalit or Mahadalit village? Is the MP, MLA of the area an upper caste person? Is the state’s chief minister upper caste or an OBC or a Dalit? And the media also figures how important a story is, based on these factors. If the rape accused is a Muslim then the police might not reveal the name if he has raped a Hindu girl, and vice-versa. It could result in a ‘law and order situation’ in a ‘sensitive area’. Then the media ferrets out the reason for the rape. If he is a Muslim, did he specifically choose to rape a Hindu? Was he a Bangladeshi? It just goes on. The complications of reporting a rape go beyond who did it, to whom, where and how.

One of the hats that I wear is of reporting for a foreign news channel. Since December, the channel has ceaselessly followed the Delhi gang rape story and every time a gang rape has taken place since then in India, I get the same question from the anchor: “Will people come out on the streets to protest like they did in Delhi?” And every time my answer is the same: “No”. That was a catharsis. Now Indians have fatalistically left it to the ‘system’.

The rapists from a metropolis like Mumbai and the rapists from the small town of Jind who gang-raped a Dalit girl surely knew about the Delhi gang-rape case. Yet they were confident that they would probably never get caught or punished.

On Saturday, two policemen were among the four arrested for gang raping a woman in Noida. This was barely a week after the rape of the Mumbai journalist and the public outrage that followed. Did these upholders of the law not know that they could face the death penalty? Again the fact that there is a stringent law made no difference to them. They are unafraid. It is the women who have to live in fear of the law, the law breakers and the upholders of the law.

A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice RM Lodha observed last week, “What is wrong with the system? The situation is going from bad to worse. Over 90 per cent rape cases end in acquittal. What is the reason behind the spurt in such cases? Have our social values changed or is the police investigation flawed?”

Despite a new anti-rape law since the Delhi gang rape nine months ago, nothing much has changed for women when even a Supreme Court judge has to ask these questions. It is up to the media to report every case and harangue the ‘system’ till steps are taken to improve the state of law and order in the country. And to each one of us to demand it of our legislature, executive and judiciary.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash

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