Kathua and Unnao ”“ A new low

By Sudha Kumar

A week passed by that was filled with festivities, of music and dance, of sumptuous food and laughter, as communities miles away from their motherland came together to celebrate ushering in a New Year – Tamizh Puthaandu, Vishu and Noboborsho. But as I sat amidst the joyous, my mind was dragged back to the news that burnt through our digital screens, of the rapes of two very young girls in Kathua and Unnao in India. Both minors, one only a tender 8 years of age the other sixteen.  As far as I am concerned their religious and socio- economic details are irrelevant. As it should be.

Removed from the mayhem and in supposedly safe environs, as the digital world screamed one step solutions of capital punishment, social media went crazy with ”˜forwarded images and messages’ about how unsafe women are in India, I could not stop shaking my head, or the frown off my forehead.

Rape has little to do with sex. It has everything to do with power. It is the most violent manifestation of power. The power of brute force on the weaker. It is worst when the weaker is a child. It is the oldest known and most brutal form of abuse of power. It shackles, maims and conditions all at once.  It has stood the test of time.   The perpetrators more often than not, are in trusted relationships. The victim is always the weaker of the two. It occurs across the world in all countries, in consensual relationships, behind closed doors, among the educated elite, powerful corporate, affluent illiterates and the poor uninformed. The common denominator here is the imbalance of power ”“ physical, mental, emotional, financial, social and even intellectual. These were the reasons then, and these are the reasons now.

As society evolved we learnt that it is wrong. It was declared a crime and was reportable. It should have become punishable and dealt with as deemed fit by law.   Only it didn’t. Because it now had to be proved to be punished. But the criminality of the act lies in the process and not just the outcome.   And so by its very nature reporting and proving sexually based crimes are a challenge. In many cases the victims choose to try and escape the situation on their own, or suffer it quietly, rather than re-live the horrific experience to prove it. And in a patriarchal society with low literacy and high poverty the challenges are manifold, beginning with reporting the crime.

But what hogged the headlines and airwaves was the shocking response and the involvement of law enforcement and elected representatives. The shameless politicising of the most shameful events.   And as we were bombarded with the goings on, the loud silence of the people at the helm of power was deafening above the din.

I again wondered why is it that in recent times there is a surge in violence against women in India. Especially since Nirbhaya (where a young girl was brutally gang raped in the heart of New Delhi in 2012) new laws were passed to report and investigate these incidents expeditiously. But the reality is, it is not legislation but the enforcement of law that makes the difference. And in these cases (and probably many more that didn’t get to the media limelight) law enforcers refused to punish the perpetrator and if they did try, he had the power and connectedness to marshal the support of higher powers. The incident even urged concerned bureaucrats and academicians past and present to hand in a written representation to the Prime Minister. It is a loud and stark social indicator of criminality entwined with political power. It is blatant impunity. If impunity is entrenched in governance, it is a dangerous slippery slope. When social, electoral, judicial and law enforcement bodies collude, fair governance does not stand half a chance.

Perhaps it is time for the educated Indian middle class to take responsibility. To pay more attention to social events dictated by impunity, and take back their rightful place in society and rule of law before it is too late. To do their part in uplifting the poor as far as education is concerned.  Maybe it is time to give more thought to who their individual representatives in governing bodies are, rather than just the ideology of the political party that he/she represents. Because clearly some of the representatives do a ludicrous representation of their constituents ”“ claiming that the Internet originated in India thousands of years ago, minimizing and normalizing rape of minors by flippant comments to the media even as it is being reported, questioning the validity of the scientific Theory of Natural Selection.

But what we need more is an education in real life knowledge and skills.

Not an education extolling a glorious past, but one on self-reliance as an individual and his /her physical, mental and economic wellbeing, on one’s rights as a citizen, on how to identify and report injustices at work, community or home.   Similar to the educational strategies of ”˜stranger danger’ adopted in Australian primary schools.  This is a huge challenge given our levels of illiteracy, but not impossible. Not if communities take it on as their responsibility and keep it away from political and religious interference.

Meanwhile at home, let us also teach our little boys and girls RESPECT”“ not just by speaking, but by doing and showing how. Respect for self, for others, for other viewpoints, for differences and diversity, for inclusiveness, for animals and Mother Earth. That it is possible for one to challenge and disagree with respect.

And then perhaps there is hope for a gender just society sooner rather than later.

In the last couple of days, following the outrage of the people, the Indian government has prescribed the ”˜death penalty’ for rape of children under twelve years of age. It will be six months before the ordinance becomes law. Meanwhile suspects could be prosecuted using the ordinance.

If India as a country and a people, in spite of the busyness of their hard lives, do not pause and have a moment of reckoning, we will have no choice but to bow down to the worst kind of manifestation of a patriarchal feudal mindset, where hate and violence are validated and normalized

And then there will be little left for our children to extoll.




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