Behind the veil
The vicious grip of consumer culture takes a heavy toll on values, particularly affecting women and Dalits, writes Arun Srivastava
Crime against women is not a new phenomenon in Independent India. It happened in the sixties and the seventies, but the recent dynamics of this crime has seen evident distortion. In those years, violence against women had a political tenor and it was a resort as a feudal tool to silence the dissenting voices of the Dalits, primarily related to the agricultural scene. In the urban areas, the violence was too pronounced. It was the most effective weapon in the hands of the feudal lords and rich people to assert their rights, gratify their feudal ego and tame the assertive subjects.
While in recent years the perpetration of crime and incidences of rape have increased substantially, the basic character and nature of the crime have also undergone change. We have before us the most despicable incident of Nirbhaya. In fact, the Nirbhaya case has brought crimes against women on the national canvas. Nirbhaya was not raped to satisfy any feudal yearning, it has another dimension. The Nirbhaya incident is not an isolated occurrence, a large number of such heinous crimes have taken place after that. At the time of the Nirbhaya case, the urban middle class rose in protest. But the incidents that took place later, failed to evoke any response. The middle class had done their duty and was exhausted. The primary reason for feeling worn out was that they had no inkling of what was next, what should be the next dimension and the character of the protest. Who should the demonstration be against?
After any such incident, the urgency is expressed to protect the modesty of women. It is also argued that policing should be sharpened and focused while ensuring comprehensive police reforms. Ironically, till the next incident takes place, the prior initiative is buried in the high decibel, conscience-shaking drawing room discussions. Seldom is any serious attempt made to find out the reasons and draw a comparison between the present type of crimes and the earlier ones.
As usual, the Indian middle class has conveniently put the blame for not ensuring the protection of women on policing. The police have indeed been rather soft towards the criminals. Their common refrain is the patronage criminals enjoy from the politicians. But a look at the crime graph and background of the criminals would reveal that the number of such criminals is not more than five per cent of all the criminals. No doubt, the police need to be taken to task. But more important than this is the need to properly evaluate the reasons in the correct social perspective.
The National Crime Records Bureau data for 2016 on crime against women shows that the nature and character of the crimes reflect the social constitution and growth of the society and the social order. There has been severe degeneration in the social order throughout India. With crony capital entering the homes of the people, the moral sensitivity of the people has undergone a multidimensional change. The shadow of the capitalist economy has made people live in a delusional world. The social order has already turned into a product and consumer item, whether it is human relations, sentiments, feelings, or family norms. Women are no more than a consumer product.
Though this lecherous outlook could be seen anywhere, the north Indian states have turned most vulnerable. Some experts argue that globalisation and liberalisation have had little effect on the economic condition of the north Indian states and that it is the crony money flowing from institutional finance that has completely changed the mindset of the people of this region. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar record the maximum number of murders. The national tally on crimes against women, which includes rape, abduction, assault, and cruelty by husband and relatives, is up by 2.9 per cent over that of 2015.
It is not that feudal oppression has ceased to take place, but in recent times, money power has been propelling the beastly instinct. Some recent studies reveal that around 42 per cent of unmarried girls below the age of 20 have regular sexual relations. Abortions have significantly increased. In rural areas, Dalit women continue to be the target for criminals. But these are not primarily of the nature of reprisal. It is a vulnerability in play.
The 2016 NCRB report, which, for the first time, tabulated city-wise data on atrocities against Dalits, shows that a major chunk of crimes against them involves the violation of women. Assaults on women with the intent to outrage their modesty comprised 7.7 per cent (3,172 cases), while crimes/atrocities against Scheduled Castes (SCs), followed by rape, accounted for 6.2 per cent (2,541 cases) during 2016. Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of crimes against women at 1,065, of which 557 were rape cases. Bihar was second in reporting the maximum number of crimes against Dalits. Rajasthan recorded 5,134 cases of crimes against Dalits and 641 cases of crimes against women. Of these, 327 were rape cases. Coimbatore (3), Kolkata (9), and Chennai (10) witnessed the least number of cases of caste atrocities in 2016.
Incidents of rape of women have risen far more sharply compared to other crimes against women. While overall crimes against women have risen by just about 3 per cent, incidents of rape have gone up by 12 per cent. While 2015 saw 34,651 cases of registered rape, this increased to 38,947 in 2016. West Bengal (19,302), Rajasthan (13,811) and Uttar Pradesh (11,156) have reported the highest number of incidents of 'cruelty by husband' while Maharashtra (11,396), Uttar Pradesh (11,335) and Madhya Pradesh (8,717) topped in 'assault on woman with the intent to outrage her modesty'.
The majority of cases categorised as crimes against women were reported under 'cruelty by husband or his relatives' (32.6 per cent), followed by 'assault on woman with the intent to outrage her modesty' (25 per cent), 'kidnapping and abduction of women' (19 per cent) and 'rape' (11.5 per cent). Uttar Pradesh reported 14.5 per cent (49,262) of the total cases of crimes against women, followed by West Bengal (9.6 per cent or 32,513 cases) during 2016.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)