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Millennium Post

Focus on rapes that India forgets

The Justice Verma Committee has asked ‘all members of the public’ among others to respond with ideas, knowledge and experience, to assist the committee in reaching its objective of suggesting amendments of laws relating to crimes against women. The notice has been published in many newspapers. This act is rather usual but has been sold to the public by the government as some sign of its active response. Parliamentary committees regularly serve such notices to the public.

This usual practice has received unusual publicity due to the widespread focus and interest that has been generated in the context of the Delhi gang rape. The government has touted this consultation as some measure of its response to public outrage. That the awareness of such consultations is abysmal is failure of democratic governance. By taking advantage of this lack of public awareness, the government has now shed a spotlight so bright such that a not-so-rare practice is appearing extraordinary. This is a very smart stunt, not the committee setting up itself, but how the setting of such committee has been publicised by the government.

The committee has asked that the pubic send in their comments by emailing justice.verma@nic.in or by sending a fax at 011-23092675, by the 5th of January. It is indeed tragic that for the elite, the horizon of imagination about modes of consultation with an utterly poor, and regularly sexually brutalised, people is limited to email and fax. Unfortunately, when rapists target their victims, they do not discriminate on the basis of access to communication technology. Most rape victims and potential rape victims in the territory of the Indian union do not have access to fax or email. It is not hard to predict that this bureaucratic invitation will evoke very few responses from the billion plus populace. Most of the submissions will be in English, a minority will make their point in Hindi. The culture set by parliamentary committees, which explicitly state that submissions be made in English or Hindi, has excluded and turned off the majority of the literate. Still larger is the majority to which email/ fax are alien, if not unheard, media. That does not give them any respite from being raped; neither does it stop them from having opinion and rape legislation. The lesser that is spoken about the lack of governmental efforts to reach out to the illiterate populace about their opinion, the better.

Justice Verma and his committee might consider traveling to Chhattisgarh to hear out Soni Sori and her views on proposed changes to legislation, especially those that might lessen the impunity enjoyed by members of the army, police, BSF, CISF and CRPF, not legally, but practically.

People, who bear the brunt of every day atrocities, clearly are not qualified to comment well on these issues. Those who keep cases pending for years and award gallantry awards to supervisors of rape of inmates are. Access barriers and ‘expertise’ hence become methods of choice for shunting out popular opinion in a democracy – given that fundamental rights of expression become less violable under metropolitan scrutiny. A democratic state folds itself to fit the aspirations of the people. A heartless state expects the people to contort themselves to fit some alien definition of an engaged citizen, or else, not be counted at all.

How state views the participation of people in making legislation in a participatory democracy gives out how it views such processes in the first place – an unnecessary but unavoidable ritual that is not to be taken seriously.

Bureaucratism and alienation are every handy to help snuff out even the last possibilities of life of the ritual. All this points to a deeper disease, a malaise that reduces consultative democratic practices to things done for the record, not for the people.  Humane governance thus loses out to the clerical efficiency to bookkeeping. It is not that the government has never tried to engage the people at large. The Bt Brinjal consultations, where minister Jairam Ramesh held court at various areas beyond Delhi to hear what people had to say, were a positive step towards inclusive consultation.

This example has unfortunately not been followed up for other legislations. (IPA)
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