Thursday, January 03, 2013

On protests and Fetish

            The protest in New Delhi in the past couple of weeks should convince us that we are indeed a vibrant democracy. A section of the older generation that lamented the way in which the youth in our cities have ended as consumers may for sure regret having passed such judgment. Notwithstanding the numerous instances of resistance across the countryside, a section of our intellectuals were heard lamenting in the recent past. The fact is that protests are registered only when the middle classes show their anger and that indeed was evident in the past couple of weeks and there is no point grudging that.
            It is another story that Irom Sharmila Chanu has been protesting, for over a decade, against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a law that places the personnel of the army and the para-military forces above the law. For those who are familiar with the Irom Sharmila saga, her hunger strike began after women who were allegedly raped by the men in uniforms realised that there was no law, thanks to the AFSPA, that would even sanction the registering of a complaint with the police and seeking penal action against the rapists! Thangam Manorama Singh was allegedly raped and her dead body found in one of the ditches near Imphal. This happened about a decade ago.
Women bared themselves and stood in a line in front of the historic Kangla fort in protest with a banner that read: Indian Army, Rape Us. The Union Government refused to listen. Irom Sharmila began her fast. She was arrested and continues to be in detention. No political party agrees to see the AFSPA draconian. And as long as the law is in our statute books, there is no way that charges of rape against personnel of the forces can be taken up in accordance with the law. Hence Irom Sharmila Chanu demanded scrapping the AFSPA. This is true of the North-Eastern region as well as in Kashmir. We as a people, informed on nationalism by such men as Mani Ratnam (Roja and Dil Se) have other ideas though.
Almost a decade before that, in the early 1990s, Banwari Devi, a village social worker in Rajasthan, was raped by community leaders in her village. She protested. Her complaint at the police station was not taken up in the instance. She did not give up. She persisted with her protest. And when the case reached the trial court, there was a magistrate who held that the accused would not have raped because they were upper caste men; and the case was taken to the higher judiciary before the rule of the law was enforced. There was the Madura case earlier and the judges then held that since the victim was a tribal and she had sexual intercourse even otherwise the instance therein too could be construed as consensual sex.
This provoked a national uproar then and provoked a change in the law where the principle of criminal jurisprudence was reversed; that the onus of proving innocent, in rape charges, vested upon the accused and not upon the complainant.
Nearer home, we had occasion to recall the infamous Vachati violence recently when the CBI succeeded ensuring exemplary punishment to officers of the Forest Service and the Tamil Nadu police. Almost two decades ago, officers of the Tamil Nadu police descended upon Vachati, a tribal hamlet in Dharmapuri district and did all that the uniformed men are supposed to prevent happening. They were found guilty of rape. Unwed girls, in their teens were singled out by the brutes in uniform to enforce their authority. It is necessary to stress here that rape is more of an odious way to force ones power upon the woman. And this is indeed a pervert’s act that calls for social and cultural intervention in addition to the penal. I must stress that the penal action is a necessary step and there is no way one can argue against that. The argument is that the pervert must be socially ostracised as much as he is put in jail or even castrated.
The reason to recall these here is twofold. One is to say that even while celebrating the protest during the past two weeks in New Delhi and similar actions in other cities and towns, it is necessary to remind the articulate sections of our society that democracy calls for similar acts even where the concerns do not involve people like us. In other words, the rape laws will have to be changed so that the rule of the law applies to such men who consider it their `national’ duty to rape the women in Chattisgarh, Vachati, the Noth East and in Kashmir. And secondly to not make a fetish out of the tragedy that met with the 23 year old in Delhi with such demands that a stringent law, now in the making, be named after her. That will be a farce.