Seeking Justice: To kill or not to kill?

(A shorter version of this blog post was first published on December 23 as a Facebook note- 6 days before Delhi’s braveheart breathed her last.)

The news of the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old Delhi medical student left us all shocked, angry and horrified. As details of the woman’s torturous ride on the bus full of marauding beasts started trickling in, a stultifying sense of helplessness gripped even the grittiest among us. One of the bravest friends I have ever known broke down, while some others could barely control their tears. Many voiced anguished demands for death penalty for the monstrous crime; there were also those who argued for other severe forms of punishment such as castration.

(Some, of course, were still busy sharing pictures of their dinner, iPhones, and that variety of high-heeled footwear that makes flying from possible danger impossible. Incredible as their resolute determination to look the other way while a fellow human being just got devoured by a bunch of deviant maniacs is, I wish them health, safety and a lifetime supply of rose-tinted glasses.)

Then there were those who came up with the argument that sounded firmly opposed to the idea of protesting against what happened on the bus that night. The argument mostly stemmed from a perceived sense of injustice perpetrated by mainstream media that is invariably Delhi-centered, and focused on the struggles and celebrations of the dominant classes and castes. One could imagine them quickly scan Google news, dig out last night’s dirt from the ‘darker parts of India’ such as Bihar, Orissa or Jharkhand, and slip in an update about it saying, “See, this happens everywhere. Now can we please stop bringing up that intestine-less woman and return to more appropriate discussions on Dabangg, Fevicol and football?”

Even more misplaced is the assumption that those who were appalled at what happened on the night of December 16 are short-sighted, ignorant little urban men and women who cannot understand the sordid, complex realities of life that come together to create monsters out of perfectly normal human beings, and who also naively assume life will be a walk in the park once the brutes are sent to the gallows. Tenaciously sticking to the ‘down with death sentence’ line, many also continue to describe those asking for maximum punishment for rape as unevolved, medieval minds whose demand brings them exactly at par with the ones who cannot decide what they enjoy doing the most- rape, mutilation or murder.

There is a third group, of course, that finds Facebook unfit for any discussion outside the realm of food, fun and fiesta. While passionate discussions over Tendulkar’s retirement or Bebo’s wedding attire are welcome, invitation to protests via social network, feminist groups, poems, cartoons and quotes are quickly labelled dramatic, superficial, over-the-top and plain embarrassing.

***

Now, the answer to why crime in Delhi gets better TV coverage than those happening elsewhere lies partly in the high-profile tag attached to the city- proximity to the seat of government and better overall infrastructure make it important for most TV channels to set up and run huge offices, a network of reporters, video journalists and OB vans in the city. A similar unevenness in coverage of criminal incidents in state capitals and the rest of the state exists in other parts of the country, too. And smaller towns and villages get ignored almost entirely.

Extensive coverage of Amar Jyoti Kalita notwithstanding, the general inability or even lack of inclination of mainstream media to cover the hinterland does not justify the demand to ask those who want justice for the 23-year-old medical student to shut up. The logic is simple- if your support for a victim of sexual assault depends on where in India it happened, then it becomes important for you to immediately stop claiming to be a genuine supporter of women’s rights. Such a cavalier decision to lend conditional support to rape victims, and to insinuate that a Delhi-based rape victim is somehow luckier than a Bengal-based one, because the former has TV channels and Yuvraj Singh talking about her even as she battles for life, pits one hapless woman against another and sends dangerously confusing signals about what being a feminist is.

***

As far as the ‘don’t kill, change the society first’ argument goes, it is important for those protesting against the protests to know most of those who are at India Gate, facing water-canons, signing petitions or writing blogs are aware of exactly how patriarchy functions, how the society nurtures hatred towards women, and how a rapist isn’t born so, but grows up to become one. The explanation that everything from Hindi soaps to Bollywood to our own friendly neighborhood is complicit in the crime that happened that night is not lost on anyone. The demand for better education, gender sensitization, street-lights, robust, sensitive police, self-defense classes in schools and colleges and fast-track courts remain unchanged. Those demands, if anything, have grown stronger over the past few days.

So, it is patently wrong to assume that the demand for death sentence has replaced the demand for a more gender-sensitive society. Right now, the two demands co-exist. Even for many of those who have so far been unwavering in their opposition to capital sentence, the need to give cold-blooded beasts a second chance has very, very slowly metamorphosed into a powerful, all- encompassing, desperate need to see them dead and gone. And this has happened because while brutality against women everywhere has flourished unchecked, no attempt to protect and empower women has materialized.

Allowing these savages to continue to live, among other things, heightens the sense of insecurity among women living anywhere in India. It strengthens the belief that Indian leadership’s pretense at civilized behavior, which takes the form of grandiloquent defense of the criminal’s rights and snobbish comparisons with Saudi Arabia on television and international forums while in reality ruling a pre-historic jungle means cruelty against women must, almost as a rule, go unpunished. This in turn means women must always live with the debilitating fear that rape is inevitable unless they are lucky enough to escape it for their whole life.

And criminals can smell fear. Criminals relish fear.

While many of us continue to cutely trust lawmakers, administrators and judiciary, the other side- the side infested with those who consider women deserve varying degrees of punishment every now and then- has not been playing fair. The other side has not been reading books. It has not been following television debates. It does not respect the belief of the relatively civilized half of the society in the sanctity of life, even that of vermin; indeed, it scoffs at it. It knows we will forgive the most heinous crimes, and rescue the most remorseless of criminals.

 

It thrives on our faith in the ability of the depraved to correct themselves.

Let us, for once, shock the degenerate out of their faith in our ability to forgive.

And then, we could all return to our demands for brighter streets and a better society.

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