Of shame and outrage…

The Delhi gang rape case has brought to the fore so many different issues that I do not know where to start. The incident, which has shocked the collective conscience of the nation, has triggered a wide range of responses, from outrage to blaming. With every minute, the drama gets more sordid, what with protests, violence, teargassing of protesters, water canons, a chief minister who cries on camera, an invertebrate Prime Minister…the list seems endless.

The latest addition to this list seems to be the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Botla Satyanarayana. In a statement earlier today, he offered his expert assessment of the situation saying, “We say we got freedom at midnight but doesn’t mean we can roam around freely at midnight.” Frankly, I have stopped expecting much more from our politicians, irrespective of political colour. He is simply the latest in the long list of politicians, starting from an ineffectual and spineless Prime Minister who took a whole week to address an outraged and angered nation.

First things first, we need to understand a fundamental truth about crimes against women. Sexual violence against women is never about sex. I have said it before and will say it again. Rape is not a sex crime. It is about power. It is about humiliation and about making a woman feel inferior to the perpetrator. Rape is simply a violent expression of the more general treatment of women’s bodies as a property of others. In the case of “Amanat”, as the 23-year old victim has been identified (not her real name), as in that of millions of other women who are victims of such crimes, the perpetrators considered her fair game simply because she was out on the streets after sunset. The rapists were not looking for pleasure, they were looking for control. It was about feeling good about being able to control another human being, who they consider a lesser mortal because of her gender. More importantly, it is about the knowledge that they will most probably get away with it. And, they would have, had this crime not so shocked the nation due to the sheer bestiality of the act.

Another disappointing facet of this whole issue is the way our politicians, irrespective of political affiliation reacted. For the ruling Congress, it was about saving their skin. Sheila Dixit cried on camera hoping to garner sympathy. The Prime Minister delivered a belated, and extremely unconvincing speech a whole 7 days after the incident. Sushma Swaraj, for all her fiery speeches against the government, spoke of a fate “worse than death” for the victim. And to top it all, the APCC chief tells us we should not expect security if we want to wander about alone at midnight. He tells us that freedom at midnight was won, literally and metaphorically, only for the men.

I have a problem with each of these statements. As a concerned citizen, I expect the Chief Minister of a state to act against the perpetrators of the crime and not just cry on camera in the hope that we will excuse her inaction. We do not want to know how bad you feel about the crime. We want to know what you are doing to bring the perpetrators to book and to prevent this from happening again. We want action Ms. Dixit, not your fake tears. I also expect the Prime Minister to step out of his bullet-proofed car and address the nation when he is needed to. I want him to, for once in his life, do the job he was elected to do. At this point, I feel like telling the APCC chief to take his moralising elsewhere, because we have no need or use of it. It is the business of the government to ensure that I am safe in my city, irrespective of what I am wearing, of whether I drink, of how I dress and who I am with. It is not the government’s business to judge my character. I refuse to allow that. And finally, I have a problem with the assessment that the victim faces a fate worse than death. This implies that what she has lost, her virginity and honour, are more important than life. It is up to her to decide what she wants to do with her life. I hope she recovers well enough to lead a normal life. And even if she does not, we have no right to decide what is good for her. She has the right to do that herself.

And finally, a word about the protesters. I completely agree that as citizens, we must demand action. Action against the perpetrators of a crime too horrendous to describe. But, I do not agree with the demand for capital punishment for the criminals. It is not capital punishment that will act as an effective deterrent against rape. It is the knowledge that they cannot get away with such a crime. It is the certainty of punishment, rather than the quantum that is a more effective deterrent. There is no point in making rape a capital offense if the conviction rate remains as dismal as it is today. There is no point in talking about chemical castration if the courts are going to acquit criminals citing the character of the victim. At this point, we do not need stronger laws. What we need is more effective enforcement.