Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Existing bias

The shocking and highly condemnable kidnapping and rape of a 7-year old girl, as well as inflicting severe injuries on her body, in Madhya Pradesh (Mandsaur) once again highlights the issue of safety of girls and women in this country. There are limits to the manner in which bodies of innocent children are becoming sites of crime. The incident once again underscores the importance of nationwide fight against such crimes which have become order of the day. Even more shockingly, such incidents are becoming tools in the hands of political parties across the board to play their dirty politics and further communalise a polarized society. This must stop immediately, whether it is in Mandsaur or elsewhere in the country. If rapes including those committed against minors are to be tackled, the country needs a collective effort, due diligence in the legal justice procedures and reshaping the gender inequalities in this country which lie at the root of sexual violence. Unlike many other cases, thankfully, in Mandsaur the police acted swiftly, arrested the accused and are speedily pursuing the investigations, as indicated by media reports. Speedy investigations followed by speedy trials are only some of the many imperatives in dealing with cases of sexual abuse. The need to constantly review existing laws is also important but this should not be dictated by the principle of revenge as is unfortunately the case with the recent ordinance, advocating death penalty for perpetrators, brought about by the government with respect to rapes of minors. The malaise is much deeper and far more widespread than it is being imagined post Delhi bus gang rape of 2012, when massive protests forced the government to sit up and amend the laws related to sexual violence. However, long after the laws were spelled out and implemented, they have been unable to curb the culture of rape, prevalent across the country, partly because the law itself suffers from lacunae, partly because the implementation is selective and more because it needs more than just laws to combat the scale of sexual violence. The insufficiency of the laws does not lie in the lack of stringent punishment but more in ensuring mechanisms of immediacy and efficiency of collection of evidence. The non implementation is an offset by inherent prejudices and biases within the system including institutions of justice – from police stations to court rooms. Indeed there are prejudices and biases deeply rooted and ingrained in the society that lie at the root of sexual violence, sense of gender based power equations and not necessarily sexual lust fostering a culture where women’s bodies are treated as weapons of aggression. The politicization of rapes and political defence of rapists, in forms that are subtle and crude, stems from this mindset, further disturbing the efficiency and efficacy of probes and quests for justice. And this bitter reality reveals that the battle against sexual violence is a long drawn one which does not solely lie in fast tracking legal and judicial processes. One of the most horrifying manifestations of such a prejudice was recently seen in the Kathua rape and murder case of a minor girl. Not only did it reveal that the outrage over sexual violence can be selective but communal hatred can be invoked to mobilize people in the name of nationalism and project the accused as victims. As long as the discourse on rapes remains divisive and as long as the outrage remains selective; tinted, coloured and shaped by caste and social hierarchies, the battle would only be half begun and justice would remain limited to a few select celebrated cases. The answer to end the culture of rapes lies in not just legal justice mechanism but also in the way of life through massive awareness and education against gender based prejudices. That this bias exists at the highest level of the country is exhibited by the official denial of a recent global report on sexual violence that described India as the most dangerous country for women. First of all, there is a need to grapple with the obnoxious reality of the enormous scale of sexual violence.