Monday, December 24, 2012

The madness that passes as protest

Looking at the front page photograph of a huge mass of humanity, mostly male, pressing against police barricades at Raisina Hill, I can’t help but wonder how many women protesters were groped and mauled in the melee that is being created over the Delhi gang-rape incident. The crowd did not look like it was made up exclusively of socially aware, conscientious, ethical young men and women. On the contrary, it looked like the usual mishmash of opportunists, bystanders, watchers, and thrill seekers, augmented by a bunch of “swept by emotion and caught up in the flow” kind of crowd.

This has been the character of almost all the recent “citizens’ movements” from Anna’s crowds to Ramdev’s pressure cooker brigade, to this one. This is just another exercise in catharsis and guilt assuaging by the middle class Indian. We know we are largely to blame for the perpetuation of these social evils, and we feel vaguely bad about the fact, and these “MOVEMENTS” give us the perfect opportunity to feel like we are making a huge difference, which in turn relieves our guilty consciences. And yes, there are the usual numbers of opportunists, from pickpockets to those seeking cheap thrills from pinching bottoms. And this became super evident with the violent turn the protests took. As long as the actual protestors were conducting matters, everything was fine, and even when the police – unprovoked – opened up with water cannons and tear gas, the protestors did not retaliate, and stopped each other from reacting. However, pretty soon the more unsavoury parts of the mob took over and full scale rioting began, with its usual side effects, the looting, the mayhem.

While it feels great, and makes us all glowy and warm to think of how the “average Indian” (whoever that might be) takes so much interest in righting wrongs, demanding justice, and making his/her voice heard. But is that what’s really going on? And are we asking for the right things with this voice? Seems not, from where I stand. First of all, we have seen this farce before. The sudden upsurge of anger, the marching on the streets, the chanting, the slogans, and then the dissipating numbers, the disappearing crowds, until the whole things fizzles out. Seems to me like the same pantomime is being played out all over again. A couple of days, and then everything will be back to the usual grind, everything forgotten.

As for the demands, they are fairly ridiculous, and proof of how emotions, not thought, are calling the shots here. Demanding the death penalty for a crime where the maximum allowed penalty by law is seven years in jail, just shows the total absence of any understanding of how crimes are punished. There is NO WAY that a court can LEGALLY award more than the maximum penalty allowed, no matter how loud such a demand might be from a bloodthirsty public. Even if the law is amended, as certain groups and factions are demanding, it would still not apply to this case, which was registered when the old law was in effect. Also, let us not forget the hugely complicated and politically fraught process that needs to be gone through before the law can be changed. It isn’t happening for so many MORE basic things, it is highly unlikely it will happen here, and screaming is not going to make it so.

Anyway… to any rational person the answer to the problem is NOT awarding the death penalty in the “rarest of rare” rape cases, but to properly enforce the current punishments. After all, as the Apex court is already realizing, the “rarest of rare” definition leaves the decision TOTALLY up to the presiding judge, with all his/her prejudices and mental blocks. It is already being applied to randomly in cases of murder, how much worse will it be when you bring in a highly contentious and inhibition arousing matter like rape? Also, such a provision increases the tendency to let most of the offenders go free. “If it wasn’t bad enough to deserve the maximum, maybe it wasn’t so bad after all” is the usual rationale. It has been seen in effect for so long in rape cases which have managed to get to court, for years. Even with a seven year maximum, without any need to prove that it is “rarest of rare”, hardly anyone gets any sentence, with the few who do hardly ever going to jail for more than a year or two.

It is not likely that the judges who won’t even send rapists to jail will suddenly start hanging them, left right and center. An effective deterrent is never one that is heavy but never applied, it is one that may be lighter, but is applied efficiently. If the police register the cases without refusing to, if they stop further humiliating the victim with sneers and lewd comments, if the investigating agencies actually begin to investigate the cases lodged, instead of just making token efforts as a show or completely shelving it, if the cases are tried fast, and effectively, and if EVERY single rapist goes to jail for seven years, pretty soon no one will dare commit the crime. No one wants to lose seven years of their life. Forget the social environment we create that promotes rape, forget families that teach NOTHING of value to their sons, forget the whole socio-economic-political roots of the problem. Simply making it difficult to legally get away with rape will bring the numbers down. As of now, a rapist knows as a certainly that he will probably never be arrested. If he is arrested, he wont be prosecuted. If he is….by some strange and horrible chance… actually prosecuted, he won’t go to jail at all. If, horror of horrors, he IS sent t jail, which is a one in a 10,000 kind of probability, it will be a virtual holiday at a lightly guarded, easy going, jail, for MAYBE a couple of years.

Given this situation, it is actually surprising that more women are not raped everyday, as they are molested. After all, the punishment for both is the same… NOTHING. Just streamlining and making the legal system will change all that. It will make sure more women come forward to report the crime, and more cases are registered, and more cases actually go to court, and more rapists are actually convicted, for a sizable duration. THEN we will see real change. Screaming for a kill on the streets is NOT going to achieve any of this.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Mentality of Molestation

Using Public transport in a regular way after a gap of some twenty years has been an eye opener in some ways, and too familiar in others. The last time I regularly commuted by bus was in my first year of graduation, in Mumbai, Ages and Ages and Ages ago. In fact the only times I have regularly used public transport, especially buses has been in Mumbai, to get to and from college, and before that in school… 6th to 11th standard… to get to and from school.

Since then, buses have gotten better, Volvos are a lot more comfortable than the PTC or BEST buses I remember, and the routes seem to be longer and more varied, but the one thing that hasn’t changed for the better, and in fact has gotten much worse, is the daily molestation every single woman faces. In the aftermath of the news from Delhi, and all the other incidents one sees staring out of the papers on a daily basis, this all pervasive Indian syndrome of “eve teasing” takes on much more significance. It bears thinking about, to examine what it is about the society, the mentality, the values that we teach or fail to teach our children, that has led to this.

As I was telling my non-Indian friend recently, I don’t know of a single woman in 3 or 4 generations who has not been routinely groped, touched, pinched, rubbed up against, and otherwise sexually assaulted on an almost regular basis. Not a single woman out of the thousands and thousands I have spoken to, personal acquaintances or NGO outreach, or whatever, has been able to say honestly that she has NEVER faced such a thing. Each of them has been through at least one, often many, many more than one case of being accosted, assaulted, molested, and discomfited. This might shock a lot of men, who think such incidents are isolated, but I am sure it will not shock a single woman who has grown up, lived, and travelled in India. It is so common, in fact, that we just shrug it off as part of the experience of commuting. We take our own little precautions – the strategically hung backpack to discourage people wanting to get too close to the back, the rolled umbrella under the arm to “accidentally” prod the fellow getting too close, the large nappy pin in the purse to stick in the wandering hand – but we no longer pay much attention or waste much mind space on it.

That in itself should be enough to show how completely all pervasive it is. Even though it is just as much of an assault as a full-fledged rape, although it is just as much as a violation, a trampling of my rights and freedoms, an outraging of my self respect, it is so common that neither I, nor any other Indian woman, can afford to take it seriously or dwell on it. If we did, we would never step out of the home, where we are not safe either. What is it about our culture, our society, the way we treat our women and teach our men, that makes this atmosphere possible? What makes it so easy, common and OK to touch, molest, grope, pinch any and every woman in any and every space, which in turn makes rape just the logical next step. And what about the men who do this? How bad is their value system, how faulty the teaching they receive at home, that at the very instant they are saying they respect women because their mothers and sisters are women, they are also pinching, groping or rubbing themselves against some totally unknown woman? It is certainly not about attraction or sex, because everyone from 6 to 60 and from supermodel to the ugly duckling faces this. The only requirement to qualify for this treatment is that you are female.

So how is it that we bring up our sons to see any and all women as simply objects? Something that can be touched, caressed, massaged, insulted, and assaulted without the least hesitation? They don’t even need to see a face! More than one incident faced by any woman would involve someone pressing their erection into her back in a crowded bus or train, or a disembodied hand travelling between bus or train seats to fondle a breast. Are they really getting their jollies from it? What kind of repressed, devalued society are we living in where not only do people have no healthy outlet for sexual urges, but think it fine and dandy to get cheap thrills through non consensual acts? Do they really get any pleasure at all? Or is it just a case of going home and telling their buddies “I touched A boob today” and whose boob, whether they wanted you to touch or not are complete non issues? Is it at all surprising that such bravado, such mob mentality, such mutually pushing MASCULINE behavior so often leads to the next step… actual rape?

What kind of mentally ill, totally repressed, desperate men are we rearing, with what kind of nasty attitudes to sex and sexuality, that this kind of behavior becomes routine, normal, even expected? And why does the public not hear about it more often? My own male friends have been shocked, again and again, to hear how common it is. Why? Because women JUST WILL NOT talk about it. They will generally not protest or make a noise when it is going on, will not report it at home, or to authorities, and they will not discuss it with most friends, especially not male friends. Numerous reasons behind all that of course. First of all, we are Indians, we do not talk about sex – even sexual violence or assault. In fact the concept of sexual violence does not exist, and molestation and rape are seen as just incidents of sex. Hence comments by high ranking cops like “they are having many male friends, they are sleeping with so many, but if they are forced, immediately they are shouting RAPE”. The morons obviously don’t get the fact that it is the FORCE that DEFINES rape. If there was no force…it would be sex….if there is force…there is no sex…there is rape.

Women are brought up from the cradle to be modest, self effacing, not putting themselves forward, not demanding, doormats. No matter what happens to you, you don’t complain, you tolerate. This applies even more to anything with any kind of remote connection to sex in any way at all. Hence 80% of the rapes are not reported, and almost 100% of molestation is silently tolerated by women who feel ashamed to make a noise. If they do make a noise, as a certain woman recently did in a metro train in Delhi, they are abused, assaulted, and made to feel like the villains by everyone around. This only encourages the pervert who knows he is sure to get away with it. After all, in a country where reportage of rape is one of the lowest in the world, and punishment of rapists is so abysmally low, what are the chances of ANY action being taken merely for touching a breast without permission? Even when they go as far as rape, or gang-rape, the entire country is too busy dissecting what the victim was wearing, what she was doing out at that time, what time of day or night it was, was she drinking, was she pubbing, does she have a lot of male friends, is she sexually active, to pay any attention to actually catching or punishing the culprits. Most of the country does not even see anything wrong with what the men did. If she talks, dresses, acts like that, what do you expect? She was asking for it… is the general conclusion.

Not surprising at all then that we Indian women find ourselves on the edge all the time, looking out for trouble all the time, suspicious of ALL men ALL the time, never comfortable in any situation which has any sizeable number of men involved because we know how quickly that can turn into a mob, a gang, a wolfpack. The sad part of this all is the few Indian men who are ethical, conscientious, and would never even dream of violating anyone’s space get tarred by the same brush. They become the object of suspicion for all Indian women because of the nature and actions of the perverted 80% of their gender. Until a woman is seen as a person by society, instead of as just a daughter, mother, sister, daughter-in-law, until the “ghar ki izzat” or family honour stops being her duty to keep, and hers alone, until every woman has a right to decide what she will wear, what she will study, whether she will own a mobile phone, who she will marry, whether she will live with in laws, whether she will have the right to live her life the way SHE wants, until we stop expecting her to mold herself according to anyone and everyone else’s wishes and convenience, this is not going to stop. The only way to curb this alarmingly escalating wave of sexual violence against women is to start thinking of them as HUMAN BEINGS with rights rather than that half of the race born only to serve men.