The eye of the storm
Politicising crime cannot reduce the intensity of violence and infliction.
India stands ashamed, baffled, and angry yet again. Since the last two weeks, the entire country seems ashamed of what has happened to a child in Jammu & Kashmir. Uttar Pradesh, too, witnessed horror as the accused here was a lawmaker from the ruling party. Heads of all Indians were hung in shame.
While the collective conscience of the nation is vented on social media—the pattern isn't new. In the wake of any disaster, India's collective creativity flourishes unrestrained. Yet, the kind of mass movement which the nation saw during the horrific Nirbhaya incident is completely missing today. What is happening instead is the shallow practice of shadow boxing around the issue between varied political extremes.
The simmering anger reflects itself in the form of social media blitzkrieg which is there to see for all. A unique but disturbing element of the discourse is this ' intellectual rationalisation' of the issue at hand, the sudden love of some towards defining 'justice, crime, and punishment' through their own ideological point of view, within their own kangaroo courts set up on their Facebook walls. This is appalling.
This is appalling because in a country where 92 women get raped every day, where the NCRB data clearly shows the increasing trend of atrocities against women, where the national capital has attained the ignominy across the world as the 'rape capital', we are still busy debating and rationalising the issue, exploring its political and ideological underpinnings. The ever-busy argumentative Indian is yet again mesmerising the world with immaculate debates. As a society, this time around, we have stunned ourselves by 'rationalising' and 'problematising' the severely violated dead body of an eight-year-old.
In a country whose capital city alone accounts for 2000 reported rape cases in the last six months, out of nowhere, these two gory tales of child rape have sparked a fresh debate. The media has lapped the issue, the precise reason being the 'angles' around the issue which can be politically manipulated and used as a tool for polarisation. The fact that in Kathua, the rape has allegedly taken place inside a temple, and in Unnao – the lawmaker from the ruling party has himself been convicted – attaches humongous communal and political colour to the incident. The charge sheet filed in the Kathua case is nearly the goriest crime document sending shivers down the spine. The 'temple' and its sanctity lay in tatters as the details are too stark to be brushed off as an aberration. Naturally, the bubble has burst.
On the other extreme, there are the usual naysayers who, although, are quick to condemn the crimes committed, are against the 'communal colouring and undue politicisation' of the issue. Associating the criminals with a particular religion or political ideology amounts to tattering the secular fabric of the nation. This, they feel, is an attempt to sabotage the political credentials of the ruling party and therefore, they demand that no politics should happen around it. A problematic argument, a classical logical fallacy, this line of thought has surprisingly found many takers. Curbing the innate political element of the issue, however, appears as a mere attempt of face-saving. In a democratic country, everything eventually is political. The incidents which occurred in UP and Jammu are bound to shake up the communal psyche of the nation. But because we live in such political times, all they have invented is this strange logic to stay apolitical. However, it is they who have made sure that being apolitical is the new political in this nation.
In a democratic country, the religious identity of the girl who has been brutally murdered can never be shoved down people's throat. The brutality and the pain inflicted on her can never be diluted by quoting the several thousand other rape cases. It's a classical logical fallacy where an argument is belittled by pointing towards another set of historic facts. A rape is a rape; and, no number and historic precedence can demean the sanctity of the bereaved. Let's stick to Asifa and Unnao because this needs to be talked about and no one can run away from what's in front of us. The usual blame game around the role of the media houses has become too convenient an exercise in times like this. We can't simply problematise the narrative set by the media and wash our hands off the sins. To say that the entire narrative is falsely manipulated by the media is nothing but a half-baked attempt at distorting the truth that is right there in front of us. Cherry picking facts and angry, emotional attempts at rationalising the issue is farcical. As a country, let us not rationalise a crime as gruesome as rape.
It is here that the role of the civil society needs to be pointed out. It is here that we need to approach the issue beyond the obvious political extremes. No matter how much political posturing one attempts around this issue, the fact remains that rape and atrocities against women have emerged as the major social ill of our times. The sinister mix of technology and economic divide coupled with the growing marginalisation of women has given birth to the hydra-headed problem of crime against women. One needs to calmly approach the data sheets to define the gravity of the situation.
The Nirbahya rape had pushed our limits and the country saw people crowding the streets, demanding concrete action from the lawmakers. The Justice Verma committee came up with some very brave changes in the archaic Indian rape laws. But, the crime against women has gone unabated in this country since then—the reason being that India, as a society, has simply failed to curb women-related crimes. More than the lawmaking and policing, which have been ill-equipped and inexperienced regarding rape issues, it is the primordial mindset of the people which needs to be changed. The normalising of crimes against women is too common; and, people are trained to come up with strange reasonings in the defence of the crimes committed against women. This would only be changed at a more micro level i.e. the family and the school level. Gender justice and equality cannot be dealt with on social media or in the posh confines of our educational system. This needs to be taken down to the grass-root level with the help of better-educated teachers and sensitive law enforcement. Unless and until that happens, this nation would keep bumping across Asifas and Nirbahayas because the hate is here to stay. Social media debates are an eyewash, which is nothing but detrimental to the crisis underpinning this issue.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are strictly personal)