In the days since her rape we have collectively and individually wept, raged, marched, protested, argued, appeared on talk shows, worried about the safety of our daughters and her friends, heaped scorn on our politicians, despaired at the attitudes of our policemen, wrung our hands in despair. We have suggested all manner of solutions: from the vengeful to the just, from preventive to retributive, from the immediate to the long term.
We have been reminded once again of the critical condition of our society, of the need for determined, effective and urgent action.
In the entire confused clamour demanding castration, death penalty, etc, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that rape fundamentally is a display of power. A survey of rape incidents in India is a virtual lesson in the power dynamics of Indian society. Rape of Dalit girls by the powerful (relatively) upper caste men is an instrument of caste oppression. Women are often the targets of widespread and systematic rape by all sides in areas of armed conflict like Chhattisgarh, Manipur and Kashmir, including by the members of our armed forces. It is sometimes the way for a man to put his wife in her place.
Addressing rape seriously would mean that we tackle the issues of power and marginalisation head-on. The powerful know that they have a good chance of escaping the consequences of their actions. Power need not just be money or political connections. Power can come from the near certainty that the police in Delhi would blame the victim and refuse to register a case, especially if they can typecast her as “she is modern, drinks alcohol and has pre-marital sex ”.
We have made anger into a virtue and an end in itself. Egged on by the media’s focus on anger we have been seduced by anger, its power to simplify complexities both inside and outside ourselves. We have failed to dwell on hard questions. For example, the Tehelka sting aimed at 23 police stations across the NCR reveals a level of misogyny that is shocking and fuels anger against the police. In our anger we forget to ask the question of why has 15 years of education, specialised training in the police academies made absolutely no dent on the attitudes of police officials.
We need to recognise that violence against women is a disease that has become endemic in our culture. It is not as though there are some individuals or groups that have been afflicted by it and the problem can be tackled by targeting those groups alone.
There are no quick fixes. No magic wands, no silver bullets. This does not automatically mean that change can happen only slowly and gradually. As a matter of fact, change happens non-linearly. The energy and momentum for change that this tragedy has generated has the potential to make a serious dent if we put our heart and soul into a few directions.
We need more voices that constantly remind us of the realities on the ground, in the margins of our geography among the marginalised on our
We need massive efforts in education. With 54 per cent of our population below 25 years of age this is a game changer.
We need a criminal justice system that works. More courts, more judges, etc, etc. We need more and better policing. We need police reform. We need to improve infrastructure in our cities to make them safe for women.
(Ananthapadmanabhan Guruswamy is the Director of Amnesty India)
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