By Karmanye Thadani:
We, Indians (speaking of the majority), are very good at being sentimental fools. The way saas-bahu serials excel at TRP ratings and depressing ghazals are so popular testifies this fact. We scream our lungs out for a Jan Lokpal Bill without reading its provisions as against those of the government version (this is not to say that speaking for myself, I prefer the latter over the former; I don’t, in fact, after having read both, and only after reading them, I did participate in Anna Hazare’s rallies). We vote for MPs or MLAs based on caste, religion or charisma, but not the policy initiatives he/she will offer in the capacity of an elected member of a legislature, and even if we do examine his/her work, we see what he/she does in terms of developing the constituency, which is actually the work of the Panchayat or municipality! There has, however, been a mild change for the better in the last few years, as I have noted in this article, and the appeal I have made in this article to give policy initiatives more preference in voting than claims of self-righteousness made by parties in power or the opposition, or irrelevant considerations of religious or caste identity, still holds good. This is obviously not to say that I claim to be the only one in our country who genuinely gives priority to policy issues in this country and there are many others, but overall a minority, and I am proud to be a part of this minority, but hope it becomes a majority some day, and the trends exhibit optimism.
After the horrific incident of a brutal rape of a girl who was getting back home with her male friend after watching an English movie in a multiplex in Delhi, the urban elite class got a sudden jolt, which it didn’t get when it learnt of rapes by some of our jawans and even militants in Kashmir (I am not excluding the Kashmiri Hindu girls raped by militants in this context), and we would have certainly reacted the same way had a girl working as a maid been raped in a slum (just the way Taj and Oberoi became more worthy of our attention than VT Station during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and how the murder of a rich model Jessica Lal came to mean so much in the country with the world’s largest murder count). They now demand change. Fair enough, for revolution generally stems from the elite class, and if genuine reforms are introduced, they would benefit all sections of the society, including those in militarized zones, for the Supreme Court has already declared that the draconian AFSPA will not apply in rape and murder cases.
However, while the desire for change was clearly visible, what was not so clear in the recent protests was what the protesters actually wanted in more concrete terms. Without placing crystal clear demands in the sphere of public policy, such protests, I am sorry to say, remain only token protests, and with all due respect to the fervour of those participating in them, I stayed away from them, though I did participate in the protests led by Team Anna for I felt the Jan Lokpal Bill was a meaningful document. These protests could not stop more rapes from occurring, and more have taken place across the country in the last few days. Yes, the government felt prompted to act for this particular girl who unfortunately could not survive the brutal attack, but what about countless others?
There has been some meaningful talk in the media of the required policy shifts. The Times of India, my favourite newspaper for its non-nerdy and fairly neutral presentation of facts (I never really found the excessive glamour that so many people complain of, and I’ve been regularly reading it since 2005), came up with a six-point agenda – punishment by castration (for if the death penalty is introduced, the rapist would murder the rape victim to reduce chances of being arrested in the first place), recruiting more women in police stations (from 7-8% to 20%), increasing patrolling vans (from only 635 in Delhi currently), the use of GPS technology and CCTV cameras where possible in all public transport and police verification of public transport personnel.
Now, this does indeed make a lot of sense. I may humbly state that I would like it if our protesters make these six demands loud and clear aside from their emotional rhetoric. I would, however, add to these points, another one that many have already brought up, which is the trial of rape cases in fast track courts. Also, for policemen or the examining doctors who make sexist remarks ridiculing the victim, there should be strong punishment (which can even be imprisonment), like there is for using communal, racist or casteist slurs. Also, castration should be accompanied with rigorous life imprisonment.
And please, it is stuff like this we need to talk about, not just changing mindsets, which is necessary but a rather abstract objective. If changing mindsets were so easy and the only way to effectively prevent crime, there would obviously be no need for a police or judiciary in the first place.[box bg="#fdf78c" color="#000"]About the author: The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi and has co-authored two short books, namely ‘Onslaughts on Free Speech in India by Means of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘Women and Sport in India and the World’. A lawyer by qualification, he is currently writing another book on Sino-Indian relations.To read his other posts, click here.[/box]