I Protest

Its amazing how in the last two years the phenomenon of spontaneous protests has caught on, specially in our cities. Just last year it began when Anna was sent to the jail and then now over Damini – the girl. Although no Tahrir Square moments for India, these protests are an entirely new phenomenon, baffling the politicians and the pundits alike. Though protests are no new to our democracy, what is new this time is that common people, used to watching such protests from the comfort of their dining rooms on the television, are now the part of what is being shown on the television. And no sir (/ mam) no, not on the call of any political party, but acting on the voice of their own consciences, giving expression to the deep resentment towards a British Raj like administration, these people have come out on the streets. They are not any political workers but are students, you, me, our mums and pups and our family members. And they came out when they sensed that gross injustice had been committed. Earlier the injustice was committed when Anna was jailed and his freedom of speech was brazenly violated while this time its for the brave girl who became a symbol for the thousands others whose right to life is being so violently denied as our insensitive administration sleeps.

Wihout flowing into any more emotions, lets calmly ask ourselves – what purpose? To what end? Do such protests carry any meaning? As one of my friend told me today, “kuch nahi hoga in sab se”? Com’on we all know some lip service, monetary concession to the family of the victim and arrests for the accused… and then calm until the next time. Such experience is nothing new. Afterall we still await the Lokpal. The questions then is that what is the point behind protesting?

Apart from the above apparant pointlessness, many political pundits have questioned the method of protests itself. It is argued that such protests illegitimately put pressure on the government and have contributed to the thought that one can now bulldoze a legitimately elected government and make laws on the street. They think that yielding to such demands will set a wrong precedent. Some others dismiss the gravity of these protests by calling the protestors either ‘painted and dented’ or middle class frustrated youth.

These arguments carry weight. Ours is an indirect democracy and for it to function properly laws must be made by the parliament only and cases should be tried in courts. For if we were to delegate these jobs to the streets, very soon the days of anarchy shall arrive. But there is another angle as well. In a democracy like ours, representatives are elected. These elections are fought on many issues like the candidate, the party, caste, religion, a set of policies and so on and by their very nature cannot be fought on a single issue like say rapes. Once the representatives have been elected, we are supposed to express our opinion to them on individual issues. Remember expressing opinion and putting pressure on the government to accept it is a legitimate part of democracy. Corporates spend huge money on it and call it ‘lobbying’. Most ministers including the home minister delightfully welcome such corporate lobbyists and in case of some like Ambanis, they even go out of the way to accommodate them. They even have a nice term for it called ‘participative policy making’ (12th Five Year Plan Approach Paper – Montek Singh Ahluwalia urges the government to indulge more into it).

But what happens when we, the ordinary citizens, have to express our opinion on some matter say rape? We are simply too heterogenous and scattered to form lobby groups and dedicate substantial sums toward it. So what is left for us to perform this absolutely essential duty of democracy i.e. of expressing our opinion? Simple, we protest. Thus protests are a legitimate part of democracy and the argument that it contributes to illegally exert pressure on the government is hollow.

But unlike the corporate lobbyists, what is the treatment met out to this ‘public lobbying’? Like in the British Raj, our current rulers resort to police violence to break the protests. They shut down metro stations and close down the roads. Not a single elected representative has cared to even send somebody meet the protestors. Gone are the days when politicians were supposed to be sensitive to the public opinion, the now home minister feels that he is the high mighty and how can he go and meet the mango people.

Why, then, this difference in treatment to lobbying and public protests when both are essentially performing the same thing? Similarly whats wrong if those who are protesting this time belong to the middle class? Whats wrong if they are educated and came out hearing their own voices for a change? Whats wrong if the issue here is neither a religious one, nor a caste based one and hence out of bounds for most of our politicians? If anything, isn’t this a welcome sign of maturity arriving in our democracy?

Anyways, coming to “kya hoga in sab se”… Maybe not today… Not tomorrow. Rapes may continue to happen. In this case the poor investigation and legal structure which contributes to abysmally low conviction rates and hence more rapes may remain unchanged. The government may this time again take the easy steps while avoiding the tough one which really matter to wriggle out of the situation. But maybe all this is not in vain. Maybe after the hundredth protest things meaningfully change. Maybe in the times of our kids… But still the importance of the first step taken by us remains. We are taking our democracy in the right direction… Kuch to hoga is se..

Rape of a Woman

The nation is shocked… and outraged. Rightly so. The condition of the victim is deteriorating and my heart goes out to her and so my prayers. Large scale protests have rocked the capital and it seems finally the insensitive administration would be forced into action – action much bigger than a mere knee jerk reaction of catching the culprits in this case and announcing a relief grant for the victim. Things may finally become better… better in general for the women in the country. As we stand here on this perhaps a historic juncture, let us take a moment to sanely reflect upon what can be done to reduce rape.

Suggestions have flown in in plenty. One set recommends a stronger punishment ranging from death penalty to castration to life imprisonment (current punishment is 7 years rigorous imprisonment). Another set suggests improving the ‘moral’ fabric of the society by preaching against ‘lust’ in our school books or marrying men early.

But to proceed with prescribing a solution we will have to examine why rape happens. We will have to look into the mind of the rapist when he is about to commit it. Not all rapes are alike. The most common ones are those committed by a relative, friend, family member or neighbor. Then another type is those committed by strangers where our case in question would fall. Finally another kind is the rape of lower caste (particularly dalit) women committed by higher caste men.

Although the motives and circumstances behind each are different but perhaps there are two points common to all. The first is the lack of fear in the mind of the rapist that he may get caught later and be made to serve the entire sentence. This is hardly surprising given the largely poor state of law and order in the country. Even in Delhi itself, there were 654 rape cases reported last year and there was only 1 conviction! (Source: Reply by the minister in the parliament recently). If the accused happens to belong to the influential strata of the society, forget about him being caught at all. The entire machinery will work to shield him and instead further victimize the victim. After all, we all remember only too well… no one killed Jessica. And in Pipli in Odisha, ultimately the victim and her father had to commit suicide as the police took no action against the accused who happened to be the son of an MLA. In Punjab the additional sub inspector was shot openly by a politician affiliated to the ruling party in the state as he tried to defend his daughter from some molesters.

Anyways, the point to note here is that the would be rapists are often just not scared of being made to serve out the entire 7 year sentence. They think they won’t be caught or even if they are caught, they would be acquitted. If somehow we can create this fear in their mind that they would definitely be caught and convicted soon for the 7 year imprisonment, it would act as a credible deterrent. After all 7 years is no mean punishment. Changing it to death penalty, life imprisonment or chemical castration (where only the male hormone is suppressed using drugs and no part of the body is actually cut off or made dysfunctional) would be meaningless if we are unable to create this fear of conviction in their mind. Thus the crux of the problem is the conviction rate and not the harshness (or leniency) of the punishment. Just think about it… if only 1 out of 654 rape cases actually see the conviction, how much of a deterrence a punishment – which can be administered only after conviction – can have. Think about it – most rapes are committed during wars or in situations where law and order ceases to exist and one know one would never be held accountable for his actions. Now why are convictions so low (and lengthy)? Lack of forensics is a major reason. Police apathy is another (specially if the accused belongs to the influential strata of the society). Slow courts are another reason. So perhaps today what we need are more forensic labs and special courts in each district dedicated to hear rape cases. The problem of accused wielding influence still remains but then it is a difficult one to crack.

The second common reason behind rapes is that women are seen in our society as feeble, meek, unable to cause any harm. Such tendencies are often stronger in a rapist’s mind and he thinks he can thus easily exploit her. Just think for a moment… who can dare to rape Priyanka Gandhi even if she has no security cover around her. There is a dog generally sitting outside my house. Sometimes when I go out and he is sitting in front of the gate, I merely shoo him away. Why? Because I know he cannot harm me. But had a tiger been sitting outside my house I would never dare to even think of stepping out :-P Why in India we only hear of men raping women and not the other way round? Well the point is, the male dominant character of our society has got a lot to do with the rapes. This needs to change and surprisingly I haven’t seen anybody even talking about it.

Finally a note on ‘lust’ factor. There is a problem however. Lust is functional. It is natural. Just imagine if men cease to have lust for women and women cease to have lust for men what will happen to the society. Lust accounts for the sexual attraction (towards the opposite sex generally) and this is how a generation reproduces. Moreover there is no evidence to suggest that lust is a dominating cause behind rapes. Everybody lusts. I do… Most women also lust for men. But neither I nor most women rape. A rape is mostly not an act of sexual expression. It is one where the dominant feelings are that of humiliation, power, domination. Sex is but a mere medium. If suppose God had somehow created human beings such that sex was not possible, then too a rapist would have found alternate means of humiliating, dominating, expressing our power over the other. So reprinting our school books may not be such a good idea after all.

This may be a turning point for the safety of women in our society. I merely hope that we focus on things which matter. Lets have some sanity please before we act.