February 18, 2014

Its 'rape culture' not 'tribal culture': On the West Bengal gang-rape

When I saw reports of of this gruesome gang-rape of a woman ordered by a Panchayat (highlighting West Bengal government's failure in addressing women's security issues) (link), I thought the country has moved on a lot from 2010. In 2010, the whole country paid a blind eye towards a West Bengal horror in which an adivasi girl was stripped, beaten, molested and paraded by & among hundreds of people for crossing her maryada, for falling in love with a boy from another community (link). So when I saw the recent case of gang-rape receiving media attention on the first day, I thought the country has progressed after Nirbhaya. As disturbing as the West Bengal incident is, I was hopeful that horrors of this nature are no longer being excused but are being condemned seriously by the people of India. The sensationalism around Tarun Tejpal's case of sexual assault (link) gave me this false hope. 

I'm coming to realize that I was badly mistaken. It looks like West Bengal issue is not a national issue, and tribal courts do not concern the 'modernized, egalitarian, urban elite' who sneered with contempt on hearing the news and then forgot all about it. The outcry which I hoped to hear in the country and in the media against this gruesome incident was not as loud as I would've wanted it to be, nor did the response last as long. I'm trying to understand why. Are these the reasons why we are frugal with our response on this horror?:

1) Do we believe that the decisions of a tribal court do not affect us?

This incident is not about a tribal court, it is about abuse of power and stifling of human rights. When we allow any individual's rights to be stifled, it means that we will not have a say when our rights are stifled by someone more powerful too. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

2) Do we think that we're more 'evolved' than the tribals and are 'safer' from sexual crimes? Is it the 'tribal culture' which facilitated this crime or 'rape culture'?

Why did the villagers call the girl 'immoral' when the police interrogated them? Did they hope her allegation could be discredited by calling her 'immoral'? What gave them this hope? Is rape-justification confined only to tribals? Don't you recall any other parallels where the victim was tried to blame for her own rape, be it a village or the national capital (link) ? Doesn't rape-justifying mindset reflect a more fundamental issue about our society's failure in making every citizen comprehend the right to individual freedom ? What makes a chosen few, be it Khap Panchayats or religious fundamentalists believe that they have the right to decide how everyone else should live or what others must (not) do? What claim do they have on everyone else's lives?

3) Do we think that sexual crimes in West Bengal do not concern entire India? Do we think that criminals who commit sexual crimes understand borders? Please take a look at this:
A UP based Panchayat ordered a rape victim to marry the rapist against her wishes (link)
Six year old rape victim from Rajasthan was ordered to marry her rapist's son by a caste council (link)
AP Panchayat offers Rs. 1,500 to silence a rape victim's family (link)
When we associate sexual crimes with boundaries, we are ignoring the fact that sexual crimes happen within every geography and section of people, urban or rural, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, across people of all religions, castes and ages. If we define these crimes through borders, it means that we've failed to understand the magnitude of the problem.

Let's try and teach a lesson to the West Bengal government which has been consistent in ignoring sexual crimes against women. Let us support those protesting against the government's negligence. Let's not give out the message to politicians, like we've been doing for the last 60 years that Indian public has a lot of tolerance towards its government's failures. Let's not take this condescending attitude towards crime against women. Let the outrage in our silent voice be heard.

P.S: This post might be seen by readers as coming too late. I confess it has been in my drafts since long and apologize for the delay.

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