India – Criminal Indifference


“A brutal crime shocks the nation, but even as public discontent grows, our ’leaders’ waffle and play the blame game. But we can’t pin all the blame on our self-serving politicians – it’s us, Indian citizens, which have allowed regressive ideas and criminal behaviour to flourish….”

My article on violence against women was published by Eurasia Review on 25 December 2012 and can be found at : OpEd: India – Criminal Indifference

India – Criminal Indifference

As the year ended, the nation was shaken to its core by the brutal rape of a young woman. The barbaric incident and the shocking details of the torture inflicted by the six depraved criminals may have left us distraught, but are we willing to change things? And where do we start? The system may have failed, as many say, but blaming the government solely would be futile – the rot goes deep into our society.

Govt & The Police: At Our Majesty’s Service

Our police system, largely unchanged since the colonial days, is still based on the concept of protecting the ruling classes, through brutality and fear. Ask any youth – especially a woman – of their experience with the men in khakhi, and the recollection will probably make them shudder.

The police may not have been around to protect the woman (whose injuries are so severe that she might never lead a normal life even if she survives) but was ready to attack peaceful protesters gathered in central Delhi – a VIP area reserved for our nation’s ruling classes. The police clamped down on protests, kicking and beating even old women and children, seemingly going out of their way to intimidate the press.

Ministers and political leaders, meanwhile, condemned the protesters – some still spouting regressive ideas that women should not be outside after nightfall, others asking the protesters to go home satisfied as the UPA chairperson had deigned to meet a handful – and played out their traditional roles of being indifferent to the realities of life in India. Then, closing down the Delhi Metro – the sole ‘safe’ means of public transport for women in India’s ‘rape capital’ – showed just how out-of-touch – and cruel – India’s rulers are. Meanwhile, it was alleged that police officials tried to intimidate the victim and her mother while a magistrate was recording her statement!

And then, how can we forget rape laws and the outdated justice system, which often puts the victim on trial. Blaming the rape on the woman, claiming she had ‘provoked’ a rapist, and subjecting her to unimaginably regressive tests and questioning is just unspeakably cruel. This is not what a civilised society does. And then there is the not-so-insignificant issue that most sexual assault gets fobbed off as ‘eve-teasing’ or ‘molestation’, terms that minimize the horror of sex crimes.

But can we expect a transformation? Not till we change. Safe in their Delhi fortresses, surrounded by armed guards, and living a life of luxury at the taxpayer’s expense, it’s unlikely our politicians will want any change in the system, as that would only reduce their grip over our nation. So, change must come from society, but sadly, the rot in the government emanates from the decay in Indian society.

Societal Shame

It’s a matter of shame that a nation which prides itself as a rising power still gives public space to arguments against individual choice and liberty. That we still allow self-proclaimed ‘defenders of our heritage’ to argue against safety and liberty for half our population, doesn’t show us as a modern democracy, but a feudal tyranny.

It’s nearly 70 years since we gained independence, yet we don’t want freedom to reach a large swathe of our population. Women have been killed for ‘disgracing Indian culture’, attacked over their attire, and assaulted for having the temerity to turn down a suitor. And then there’s female foeticide – the fact that even many ‘educated’ Indians prefer to deal with the ‘problem’ of women by preventing them from being born shows just how cruel we are. Violence against women doesn’t stop here. Our society almost seems to fear women, or rather, men fear a loss in power should women be allowed to take their place in society. So we ban them from talking to their friends, don’t allow them to carry cell phones, and if all else fails, yank them out of school.Come to think of it, this also makes no sense economically – we’re all wondering about our stalled economy, while forgetting, as an Asia-watcher once said, would China have progressed so much had half their population been persecuted and not allowed to contribute? We can even look back at WWII – Britain, which encouraged women to join the war effort as factory workers, still kept its head up during the Battle of Britain against a much more industrialised Germany, which only looked at women as ‘childbearers’ that had to be ‘protected’. Is it a miracle that the world’s wealthiest and most equitable societies are the ones – in Scandinavia – where women have equal rights and are not regarded as second-class citizens?

Meanwhile, observe this moment of shame: Many women participating in the peaceful protests at India Gate reported being pawed at and groped by drunk men – who were ostensibly there in support for a safe nation? Is that what we have become? When miscreants attend a rally calling for justice for a rape victim, and take advantage of the crowds to sexually assault women?

The India That Is Not Delhi

For Indians living in other parts of India that aren’t Delhi, the situation’s far worse. Not only has the national capital snapped up the lion’s share of infrastructural projects – seemingly to give some illusion of a being a developed nation – but the realities of life our countrymen in other parts of the nation face rarely finds a voice.

Just looking at crime against women, in the week since that fateful night in Delhi – reports of over 100 rapes have come in from across India – In one case, a seven-year-old child was raped and murdered, in another, a rape victim was once again assaulted by the very police officers she had gone to seek help from. Sad? Shocking? Or does it make us question the nation we have become? Where the lofty ideals of our forefathers, who sacrificed everything in their fight against colonial tyranny, has been laid waste by a state that seems to prefer emulating the colonial regime.

Even these are probably just a fraction of the cases that make it into the public’s view – for every case on TV, there’s bound to be several more incidents of pain and suffering inflicted by a cruel society and an indifferent state.

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