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We cannot wish this away

‘It was just a rape’. This outrageous comment made by a former sarpanch of Garhi Chawkhandi village is unacceptable in any civilised society.

india Updated: Jan 08, 2009 22:11 IST

‘It was just a rape’. This outrageous comment made by a former sarpanch of Garhi Chawkhandi village is unacceptable in any civilised society. The village, located in the National Capital Region’s Noida area, is where the ten men — who allegedly gangraped a young MBA student on Monday night after forcibly taking the victim and her friend to a secluded spot — come from. The headman was not the only one defending the alleged culprits — the whole village has closed ranks behind the young men.

It is true that sarpanch’s comment is shocking, but it does not come as a surprise. Remember the Bhanwari Devi case and the judicial officer’s comment that the rape could not have possibly taken place because no upper caste man would ever rape a lower-caste woman? Prejudices run deep in feudal India. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that it is a rural affliction. The urban pockets of the country are also known to brush such heinous crimes under the carpet. However, the issue of rape cannot be seen as just a law and order problem. The culprits get away because of a mindset that does not see crimes against women as unacceptable. In fact, those five words from the Garhi Chawkhandi village sarpanch prove once again that unless and until our attitude towards women changes, there will be more incidents like the one that happened in Noida. In fact, the way the village has defended its accused is almost like someone trying to trivialise what is a horrendous offence.

In the recent past, the government has come up with stricter legislations on rape like in-camera trial, DNA profiling, no cross-examination of the victim, and even fast-track courts for disposal of cases. The police — which also believes in differential treatment of the victims depending on which strata of the society they come from — have undergone sensitisation programmes. But all these seem to have come to naught if the Noida case is anything to go by. The only solution is to accord a much higher value to women than is done at present. A woman’s dignity and autonomy is something that cannot be subsumed in a patriarchal order. The Noida rape case has also led to the usual politicisation of the issue with Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury asking for the death penalty for the accused. This is the last thing that women need. The laws are falling in place. And we can only hope that mindsets will follow.