Sunday, April 21, 2013

On Rape and the protests in Delhi (April 2013)

                The recent spate of protest in the streets of New Delhi, provoked by the police’s behaviour in the wake of reports of rape of a five year old, is certainly evidence, if it was needed, that we are a vibrant democracy. It is also clear that our democratic fabric has not been destroyed by the undemocratic political establishment that seemed to have entrenched itself in the last couple of decades. The rage and the sense of purpose the youth and students, mostly from the middle and the upper-middle classes, have shown in these past few days must convince one and all that we, as a nation, will frustrate the attempts to distort our democracy.
                The past few days have been a learning experience on another count and that is a matter of concern.  It is about the state of our television media. Their obsession to keep the politicos relevant by having the leaders of the Congress and the BJP on their shows is indeed sticking out. The point is that they have not only failed but are guilty of having tried their best to distort and destroy the system. In other words, they are guilty of trying to subvert democracy and even guilty of having preserved murderers and rapists in their midst.
                It is necessary to explain this statement at the outset. Beginning with the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 1969 and until the February –March 2002 pogrom in the State, the Congress (led by Indira Gandhi) and the BJP (led by Narendra Modi) stand accused of crime that also includes rape and murder. It has been recorded, in all those instances that the men who led the pogrom had also resorted to rape. This was true of the atrocities against the peasants who sought to resist dispossession in Singur and Nandigram. And even after some of the survivors registered complaints, the accused have hardly been punished in those instances.
                Lest it is mistaken, it is important to note that charges of rape are not restricted against the communal marauders and their political leaders. Charges of rape have been made against personnel of the law enforcing agencies. Irom Sharmila Chanu and her fast should remind us all about this. It all began after Thangam Manorama Singh’s dead body was found dumped in a ditch; and the autopsy revealed that she was raped. It is a fact that she was arrested and under detention before she was found to have been raped and murdered. But then, with the AFSPA in force, there was no scope for even a complaint against those who were suspects – the Assam Rifles personnel --  in that instance. Hence Irom Sharmila’s fast demanding repeal of the AFSPA is as much a struggle against immunity to rapists.
                Thangam Manorama Singh’s was not an isolated case. Phoolan Devi, now dead, was a victim of rape. She too could not seek justice the way the law prescribes. She could not register a complaint because the policemen would not even entertain any complaints from a poor woman like her and more so when the rapists happened to be men placed high in the social ladder. There was the case of Bhanwari Devi; when she first complained of rape the police did not take it up for investigation.  And when she persisted, the judge in the district court dismissed her case and even said that the accused being from respectable social background could not have raped her!
                There was an instance, recently, in Tamil Nadu, when a trial court found personnel from the police and the forest service guilty of rape. The trial court convicted them for different terms of imprisonment. The poor tribal residents of a hamlet in Vachati were attacked by the police and forest service personnel and young girls were raped in the course. That was an instance, rare one must add, when the rapists were punished. It happened thanks to concerted efforts by a groups of committed lawyers and political activists.
                It is in this context that one finds the way in which our TV channels have reported the protests and dealt with rape causes concern. The anchors scream seeking death sentence for rape and we find Sushma Swaraj of the BJP soon joining the chorus. That it is the need of the hour for the Government to wake up, take the opposition into confidence and amend the IPC to ensure that rape invites the hangman’s noose and that is the only way to stop rape. It is made out, as if,  those who do not agree with the death-sentence-for-rape cacophony are as bad as condoning rape. 
                The point is that there are laws to deal with the rapist and there is no way that we can remain a democracy without following the procedure established by law; even in dealing with as heinous a crime as rape. But then, the problem is with the shoddy implementation of the law. The police, for instance, is known for not entertaining a complaint by a victim or those on her behalf and most often so when the victim happens to be poor or from the socially and educationally backward class or the Scheduled Caste or the Scheduled Tribe. That was true this time too in Delhi where the victim happened to be the child of poor parents.
                This has provoked the youth, who until now had protested against the established political culture and the parties by staying away from the political world and living in the virtual world for a while. They had registered their anger, until recently, by dressing up differently and walking about in the malls. It is idle to argue that they join the chorus and simply condemn such acts the way Sonia Gandhi did or endorse Sushma Swaraj’s statement and go back to the classrooms or the shopping malls. They have found promise in the Aam Aadmi Party; and as it is most appropriate in a political democracy, that the youth become part of a platform and make it their own to change the world a tad better than what they live in. And hence they are there, on the streets, braving the Delhi heat.
                They may speak the language that the youth spoke in an earlier time in the streets of France in May 1968. But they are not wanting in focus. They all want the law, as it exists, to be implemented. They do not expect this small thing from the leaders who have ruled us hitherto. They are looking for a change. And it is best that this movement is not hijacked by the campaign for death penalty. It is necessary to note that rape is either an act of perversion or an instrument of power used by the oppressor to overwhelm the oppressed. The threat of a hangman’s noose will not deter the pervert or the oppressor in any case.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

What did the students achieve?                 

The protest movement by the students across Tamil Nadu seems to have abated after almost a month. Even if one cannot rule out any further eruption, it looks as if the form of protest such as mass sit-ins and relay hunger strikes are over for now. That we are now closer to the end of the academic session and examinations are just a few weeks away is one reason why the protest actions must be suspended.
It is, however, important to note that the protest actions during the weeks that went by had let in a whiff of fresh air into the political-scape of Tamil Nadu that had turned stale in the couple of decades after the 1980s. A perverse mindset had dominated the culture in the college and university campuses across Tamil Nadu in this period. Those in the professional colleges were behaving like rats in a race and simply chasing call centre jobs as the means to liberation. All that mattered to them was a H1B visa even if it meant a torturous wait on the pavements aside the US consulate in Chennai.
The student community in the arts and science colleges, meanwhile, were victims of a conspiracy that sought to pervert all aspects of life in the college. Eve teasing, caste based mobilisation and celebration of bus days were turning into acceptable forms of collection behaviour by the students; cinema’s contribution to this distortion was immense and none of the political parties in Tamil Nadu cared to criticise this onslaught. It is a fact that the mobilisation that was witnessed in recent weeks was not expected by many who watched the political-scape in Tamil Nadu with a sense of dismay.
It was refreshing to see students voicing their concern for the cause of Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka and demanding that their own government stand up for the cause in a UN forum. Well. It revived the spirit of 1967 when students marched on the streets, in all big towns in the US,  against their own government’s ugly war in Vietnam. Here was a moment in Tamil Nadu where the students expressed their concern for the rights of human beings in another part of the world; for a people whom they did not know; on issues that concerned the rights of fellow human beings.
The `national’ media, rooted in New Delhi made a fetish out of `friendly’ relations with Sri Lanka to deride the protests. And rather than seeing the protests as a manifestation of a vibrant democracy – because democracy is all about collective mass actions in the cause of others as distinct from conspiratorial and self centred moves by sections of the people for their own preservation and vested interests – many pundits were busy deriding the whole movement as merely the product of machinations by the DMK and the ADMK.
True that there were politicos, mostly from the fringes, who reached out to the students. Some even sought to guide them by posting lessons on the social media sites. But that was all. The dynamics of the protest and the slogans that were expressed in the banners that the students held were evidence that the students were not playing into the hands of any one of the parties and they were there, on the streets, with a mind of their own.
As for the media rooted in New Delhi, they saw the whole epoch as a manifestation of Tamil Nationalism. Well. If concerns for the human rights of the Tamil speaking minority and a protest demanding that the Government of India spoke out against an act by the Lankan army which ended in the massacre of a huge number of Tamil speaking people and also the inhuman torture inflicted upon a set of people because they spoke Tamil is to be reduced to Tamil Nationalism, it is tantamount to saying that sympathy to the Palestinian cause is Arab nationalism; or to speak out against the crimes in Guantanamo Bay is Iraqi Nationalism. That is incidentally the doctrine of George Bush and it is sad that the New Delhi based media peddled.
And there were sections from Chennai too who were peddling this agenda. They were insisting that the mass murder that the Lankan army carried out was not called genocide until the whole thing was inquired into. Well. These were also the same people who stood up for Mahinda Rajapakse while his forces were throwing bombs across the Tamil majority Northern and Eastern province; some of them even praised him for having ensured peace in the Island after three decades of war. Well. These are also the people who are known to have stood up for similar acts by the Indian State in Chattisgarh, in the North-East and elsewhere. They do not care for human rights as long as their own lives are secure.
All this lead to one last question: What did the students achieve? Well in tangible terms, the movement did not succeed in forcing India to stand up and speak against the genocide in the UN. It did not even lead to India staying out of the Commonwealth meet. But then, movements are not judged by tangible gains. If that is to be done, Spartacus did not succeed in his own times. Slavery continued even after he revolted. But then, Spartacus sowed the seeds of liberation from slavery. Likewise, the protests were only a new beginning and it certainly brought in a whiff of fresh air in Tamil Nadu.