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No country for women

Recent gang-rapes and our reaction to them tell us how far we’ve descended in six years after Nirbhaya

columns Updated: Apr 20, 2018 19:20 IST
Advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat, lawyer of the Kathua rape case victim, talks to media after filling a petition in the Supreme Court, April 16. No action has been taken against the Kathua Bar Association lawyers physically trying to prevent the police from filing a charge sheet.
Advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat, lawyer of the Kathua rape case victim, talks to media after filling a petition in the Supreme Court, April 16. No action has been taken against the Kathua Bar Association lawyers physically trying to prevent the police from filing a charge sheet. (Sushil Kumar/HT PHOTO)

When we allowed our anger to spill over into the streets following the December 2012 gang-rape of a physiotherapy student, we didn’t ask about her religion. We didn’t put labels on our fellow protesters’ ideology. And we certainly didn’t entertain any of the usual questions about what she was wearing and why she was out after dark.

Our collective anger resulted in a new law and while we believed that mindset change would take longer, we trusted that it would inevitably follow.

Yet, how far we’ve descended in six years became clear as news of the premeditated gang-rape, torture and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua began to gain traction.

At more or less the same time, another rape, also of a minor girl was making headlines in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, the state presided over by a man who swore to unleash anti-Romeo squads to curb sexual harassment.

In Surat we have learned about the body of a child found with over 80 injury marks on her body -- raped and tortured for days before being strangled to death. In Kulgam, Kashmir, news is trickling in of yet another minor girl being drugged, raped and sold for sex. In Nagaon, Assam, an 11-year-old was gang-raped and then burnt alive.

In the long course of a brief fortnight, there is the realization that rape and its attendant brutality is now an everyday crime, grotesquely ordinary in its routine-ness, recounted in almost dull, pornographic detail. This is the India we now accept.

But Kathua tells us something more. It tells us that a crime as awful as rape can even be debated. It exposes the deeply polarized fault-lines that were absent in 2012.

One side is out on the streets protesting from Delhi to Kochi, agitating, organizing, venting.

The other side functions as rape apologists, not bothering to conceal its support for rapists and rape culture.

Where in the civilized world do you have marches in favour of those accused of rape? In Kathua, the two BJP MLAs who attended a Hindu Ekta Manch rally in favour of the rapists have, finally, resigned (why they were spared the ignominy of a sacking beats me). The Kathua Bar Association’s brazen obstruction, without any consequence, of police officials trying to file a charge sheet in the office of the chief judicial magistrate is almost as disgusting as the contents of the charge sheet.

How do we explain the fact that we no longer speak in one voice to condemn an outrageous crime? Do we really need to append our conversations with a ‘but’ and a ‘whatabout’?

Does it take days for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to issue a statement with all the usual platitudes about justice for India’s daughters?

How do we understand Rahul Gandhi taking his own time to finally descend to India Gate with his candles and his belated outrage?

When Bollywood actors post selfies expressing their outrage, we question their motives, why one of them was wearing make-up? This is our discourse? And then a male journalist tweets: “When your cup size dwarfs your IQ.” This is our understanding of women’s dignity and self-assertion?

The past two weeks have been a sombre and depressing lesson to the women of India. It tells us what priority politicians accord to us, it shows us how our bodies – yes even of our children -- are so easily dispensable, it confirms rape culture has seeped into the very soil of our nation.

It shows the absence of leadership and the decline of basic decency. I fear for my daughters, and yours.

@NamitaBhandare writes on social issues

The views expressed are personal