Does The Heinousness Of Rape Become Any Lesser When Nationalist Or Communal Biases Creep In?

Posted on December 26, 2012 in Society

By Karmanye Thadani:

The burning issue of rape is one I have always felt very strongly about, and my mother, a film-maker, made a documentary titled Rape Compounded on this issue a few years ago, and in the process, she interviewed several rape convicts in the notorious Tihar Jail in Delhi, who hardly seemed remorseful about their most disgraceful act. My heart goes out to the girl raped in a moving bus in Delhi, especially since I myself live in that very city and I am her age (23 years). I shudder to think of any of my female friends undergoing this fate. The youth of the country has stood up unanimously for a right cause, though in quite a few cases, using the wrong means, and in my opinion, there can be no justification for anarchy (no, I didn’t say that about Anna Hazare’s rallies placing a demand for a legislation, which squarely fell within the right to peaceful assembly and right to freedom of speech and expression). Let me just say this — the youth feels compelled to convey to the administration — enough is enough, though I do firmly believe that the rule of law must be respected at all costs. I think castration is a better form of punishment rather than the death penalty (for the latter would, in many cases, actually incentivize murdering the victim) and we need fast track courts to try rape cases. I also agree with the idea that girls need to become tougher and more capable of defending themselves (of course, that may not be enough to ward off six beasts with an iron rod), which certainly doesn’t rob them of their femininity. To add to that, just as a column in The Hindu rightly points out that we should “not forget that the young rape survivor in Delhi was accompanied by a friend who too was subjected to violence and nearly killed” and we should talk about him too, now, we also certainly need to talk about a cop being killed for trying to maintain law and order.


However, coming back to this terrible gang-rape in Delhi, was the collective conscience of the nation stirred so strongly when we learnt about rapes of Muslim girls in Gujarat in 2002 or Christian girls in the Kandhamal district of Odisha in 2008 (this is not to say that they did not stir the national conscience, but so many of us didn’t unanimously feel as strongly about those rape victims like we did for this one)? Do most of us (women included) feel so very strongly about rapes committed by our jawans in Kashmir and the northeast (and I wouldn’t accept the argument that the recent outrage was owing to the rape having taken place in the capital of the country, for a fairly recent molestation incident in Guwahati did stir the national conscience, and so did a rape case in Mathura in the 1970s)? Does the heinousness of the crime become any lesser if it is inflicted upon another religious community (certain elements of which annoy us) during the course of a larger carnage? Or does it become any lesser when it is committed by our jawans, because we are hell-bent on entertaining romantic, filmy notions of them being the greatest heroes who can do no wrong, even when we know they have committed crimes, and quite a few (not all) of us tend to trivialize the whole matter, saying that the Indian Army cannot be stereotyped because of a few incidents? Sure, it can’t, and I have relatives and friends in the Army myself (some of whom, by the way, concede the wrongdoings of their own colleagues at junior ranks), but shouldn’t we express solidarity with those demanding that the rapists, even if they are jawans, should be punished? Jawans have not only been charged with atrocities, but in the few cases where investigations have actually been carried out, many of them, over a hundred, have actually been found guilty and convicted. Besides, many of them have been found guilty of theft, illegal poaching, corruption etc. as well, and we should not just refuse to confront reality to entertain our filmy notions.

This is not to say that this is a phenomenon unique to Indians or Hindus, and it’s indeed pretty much prevalent globally, especially across South Asia, where nationalist and religious identities are quite strong (ironically, treating religion as a badge of identity comes in the way of the humanistic essence of religion). Many Pakistanis’ faces turn red when they learn about rapes by Indian soldiers in Kashmir, but quite often (again, not talking of all of them), their reaction isn’t the same when it comes to rapes that were committed by their own soldiers in Balochistan (here’s a rather interesting video in this connection) or the erstwhile East Pakistan, and rapes of Muslim girls in Gujarat in India, for such people, evoke a much stronger reaction than those of Hindu girls in rural Sindh in their own country. Many (again, not all) Kashmiri Muslims on our Indian side fare no better, when it comes to how strongly they feel about rapes of Kashmiri Hindu girls by militants from their own ilk versus rapes of girls from their community committed by Indian soldiers, and likewise, many (not all) non-Kashmiri Indian Muslims too indeed feel more strongly about rapes in Gujarat in 2002 than those carried out by Kashmiri militants.

Yet, the fact remains that a rape remains a rape, irrespective of who commits it, and indeed, the perpetrator must be brought to book. As the above-cited column in The Hindu correctly puts it — “It is important we raise our collective voice for women, but let’s raise it for all women, let’s raise it so that no woman, no matter that she be poor, rich, urban, rural, Dalit, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever, ever, in the future, has to face sexual violence…” Let’s all be human beings first, please.

Interestingly, the youth of Shopian in Kashmir too came out on the streets after this horrific gang-rape in Delhi. A few years back, in 2009, two alleged rapes by Indian soldiers there led to a mass outcry that went on to manifest itself in the form of a strong demand for azadi from India, with a conflagration in the valley in 2010. This time, the youth of Shopian is speaking a different language — they are expressing solidarity with the protesters in Delhi and elsewhere in India, demanding speedy justice for the victim in Delhi as also for criminal justice reforms, with a reiterated demand for justice for the girl who was raped in their own city, which seems to be an earnest appeal to Indians to understand their plight in this climate and support them in their quest for justice (for reference, please see this), apart from a display of unity with the rest of India at least in some sense, and they have clearly tried to somewhat equate the two cases, even in terms of the lukewarm response of the government, which implies a lack of a desire to drum up Kashmiri victimhood and a desire to only seek justice for their rape victims from the same government the Delhites are protesting against. At a time when Kashmiri Muslims are not placing ideological considerations for azadi ahead of the much needed economic prosperity which is indeed coming to the valley (for more on this, please see this series of articles by me – – as also the piece here), the biggest stumbling block in their accepting India as their country is the fact that far too many human rights violations by military and paramilitary personnel have gone completely unpunished, including a mass rape in the village of Kunun Poshpora (and I applaud the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, for financing a documentary titled Ocean of Tears on the same) and for many Kashmiri Muslims, the occurrence of such human rights violations was the foremost or only reason for desiring azadi in the first place. It’s time we showed our Kashmiri brothers that we understand their deep-rooted pain (especially when they are making an effort to tell us that they understand our anguish), not only for our own sake, but in the spirit of humanity. So, are we willing to add the demand for justice for victims of rapes by our jawans in Kashmir and the northeast to our agenda for our struggle against rape? I do think the time has come for us to do so.

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi. A lawyer by qualification, he 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’, and he is currently writing another book on Sino-Indian relations. To read his other posts, click here.[/box]