Tarun Tejpal is stuck in jail somewhere in Goa and we’ve forgotten all about him. And have we also forgotten all about the outrage, pain and distress we felt about the woman Tejpal is accused of assaulting? Or after that horrific Delhi gang-rape? Or the Shakti Mills cases in Mumbai? Or the Danish tourist in Delhi? Or the Swiss woman gang-raped in the Madhya Pradesh countryside?
There's no skirting this issue: There is no prevention mantra to protect us from rape. These crimes happen everywhere. But we cannot give up either. Uncomfortable matters cannot be swept under the carpet
Maybe it is too much and your mind shuts off after some time. Here are three recent cases to make your stomach churn. The young Esther Anuhya, whose charred body was found in the Kanjurmarg area of Mumbai, was raped by persons unknown when she got off a train at Kurla station.
The young woman in the Birbhum district of West Bengal who was gang-raped as a public spectacle on the orders of the elders of her village. And a Dalit teenager being threatened by being stripped naked in public by members of the Gujjar community around Ajmer if she does not withdraw a molestation charge against one of them.
So rape as opportunity, rape as punishment and entertainment and assault as a threat. This is not a gender-based argument. It is not a man versus woman argument. It should not be an argument at all. It is about setting some standards for ourselves where certain behaviour is unacceptable and punishable.
The Birbhum case is perhaps the most horrific of recent times. A village council decided that a woman be gang-raped for having a relationship with a man from a different community. The rape was done in public, on a platform, and people were urged to join in. The family was apparently unable to pay the fine of either Rs 25,000 or Rs 50,000 — apparently, this is the cost of falling in love with the wrong person in India.
What sort of society do we live in where village ‘elders’ can get away with decisions like this? The khap panchayats of Haryana and UP got into trouble for their own cruel, arcane customs which usually involved honour killings and rightly so. But this is Bengal, not Haryana, and a Bengal which takes great pride in its history of social reform. Well, so much for that. Bengal today, with due apologies to Gopal Krishna Gokhale, seems to be lawless and brutal.
People often tend to speak of villages as idyllic little retreats from the horrors of city life. Dr BR Ambedkar called them the cesspools of India while Mahatma Gandhi idealised them. However, the problem lies with the people whether they live in cities or villages. Inhumanity and brutality are not area specific.
One thing seems certain. You cannot stop rape and assault. There is no prevention mantra. These crimes happen everywhere. But you cannot give up either. You can, for instance, stop the kind of thing that happened in Bengal. Or the threats by the Gujjars to the Dalit girl in Ajmer. If the areas around Kurla station and Shakti Mills were better policed, then at least three women would have been spared their ordeals and one would still be alive.
Unfortunately, tied in with such assaults on women — as well as the assaults on young boys by Catholic priests for instance — is a social need to sweep uncomfortable matters under the carpet. If you do not talk about it, you hope the issue will go away. Of course it doesn’t. The less you talk about it, the more it happens, the worse it gets.
Those who believe in the status quo are the biggest offenders here and the most dangerous. What sort of a society condones women being assaulted and young boys being sodomised for instance? What does it say about ourselves that we think a certain kind of behaviour is tolerable as long as we don’t have to think about it?
The other horrifying problem remains the need to deflect attention from the horror of the crime by blaming the victim. The latest rape case is about a 15-month toddler in Delhi. Now how are we going to blame her?
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