Our boys versus their rapists
Why do we accept claims of innocence of people like M J Akbar, Ranjan Gogoi and sundry MPs, but not of those from the lower class accused of rape? Here is a piece RS MP Jaya Bachchan should read
Journalist Pallavi Gogoi's piece in The Washington Post, in November 2018, helps fathom, in deeper ways, the outrage over the rape and murder of Hyderabad's veterinarian and the subsequent jubilation over the killing of her four alleged assailants in a police encounter. Pallavi disclosed that she had been raped by M J Akbar, the former editor and a Bharatiya Janata Party member of the Rajya Sabha. Akbar claimed his relationship with Gogoi had been consensual, but it had "ended, perhaps not on the best note." He said he had been subjected to "a barrage of false and fabricated accusations, which I am now addressing."
Akbar did that by filing a defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani, who was the first to accuse him of sexual harassment, which another 10 women publicly claimed had also been their experience. Yet Parliament did not erupt in fury over Akbar preying upon women. MPs did not suggest castration or lynching, as was prescribed for the Hyderabad rapists, to make Akbar an example to all those whose priapism is directly proportionate to the rise in their power. He was allowed to resign, not axed, as foreign minister, largely because he was deemed innocent until proven guilty.
That legal dictum should and still applies to the political class. Rape cases are pending against three current MPs — the Bharatiya Janata Party's Saumitra Khan, the Congress' Hibi Eden, and the YSR Congress Party's Kuruva Gorantla Madhav. Nobody has demanded a summary punishment for them. Sixteen other MPs are arraigned for crimes against women, nine of them for assaulting women to outrage their modesty.
Or take Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the BJP's MLA in Uttar Pradesh, who is accused of raping a 17-year-old and then engineering an accident in which she and her lawyer were injured and her two aunts killed. Would Uttar Pradesh police be justified in punishing Sengar, as its Telangana counterparts did Hyderabad's rapists, without securing his conviction? Ask Jaya Bachchan, the MP who said rapists should be lynched.
Why did the nation accept Telangana police's identification of the veterinarian's rapists, but furiously speculated the veracity of the sexual harassment charge levelled by a Supreme Court staffer against former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi?
The answer: A woman's accusation of rape or sexual harassment is believed only when she is brutalised to death. This was true for the Hyderabad veterinarian as well as the physiotherapist who was gang-raped and left for dead, in 2012, in Delhi.
Their rape and murder shook the nation also because they belonged to the urban middle class, which has its members daily negotiating situations that could become a trap for them. The physiotherapist and her friend took a bus, without passengers, in which both were beaten and she was raped and killed. The veterinarian's ordeal began with her assailants puncturing her scooter tyre in a parking lot. For middle-class women taking a bus or owning a vehicle, their precarious fate is symbolised by the two dead women.
The anger of the middle class was stoked, by the Delhi and Hyderabad episodes, because its presumption of security was shattered by lower-class assailants, who employed violence to transgress the prohibited degree of affinity governing sexual relationships. The assailants had to be made an example of, in violation of the rule of law, in order to restore the faith of the middle class in their urban milieu. By contrast, the middle-class rapist poses a threat to individuals, not to the entire middle class, which presumes its code of sexual morality will restrain the powerful. This is why their denial of sexual violence is believed forthwith and the allegation of their victim doubted, regardless of them sharing the same class.
Sexual violence does not become a compelling narrative as long as it is confined to slums, among lower-class men, who do not target middle-class women. According to the National Crime Records Bureau's figures, for 2016, a whopping 2,006 women were raped in Delhi, 170 in Hyderabad and 716 in Mumbai. Their travails are reported, in an indifferent tone, in newspapers, for a day or so. The NCRB data show that 2,545 SC and 975 ST women were raped in 2016, countrywide. There was scarcely a nationwide cry for justice for them, not least because most of their assailants likely belonged to the higher castes.
In July 2004, around 30 Manipuri women walked naked through the streets of Imphal to protest the rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama by Assam Rifles personnel. These women chanted: "Indian Army, rape us too…" Khurram Parvez, a celebrated human rights activist, told me in 2016 that there had been no conviction in 7,000 cases of "sexualized violence" recorded since 1990. In India's story of sexual harassment and violence, Akbar, the three MPs and Gogoi are our boys, rich and successful, and those who assaulted the Hyderabad vet were unconscionable rapists who belonged to them, the underclass.
The writer is a senior journalist
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