On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old girl met a terrible fate on board a bus. After the six men raped her in their absolutely brutish fashion, the girl was thrown on the side of the road with her friend, left to die. Passers-by went without taking any of it into consideration, and eventually when she did get to hospital, the girl fought back bravely, but succumbed to her injuries.
To say India was angry in the aftermath is saying nothing. Protest waves flowed from all quarters, and the national capital was held siege by angry people, demanding legislative reform. The first step to that effect came when a committee was appointed to examine the changes that were to be made to the incumbent legal system. A second phase came in when some of those suggested changes were approved, and India had a tougher legal system, applying the death penalty to the offender in a rape case.
And yet, even as that was going on in the foreground, rape cases piled up across the country. Tribal women, foreign women, little girls, teenage girls and young mothers: the list only had addenda from every quarter. Why?
The flaw lies in many sides. The first flaw falls in the larger ethos of the prevailing mental attitude. A society that is disposed towards treating women as chattel, considering women as nothing more than just property that would bring money when sold under the guise of marriage, or trafficked, or even beaten up brutally within the confines of a home, cannot change just with a dose of legal reform. The undercurrents of a prevailing mindset that is so dead-set against the equality and emancipation of women needs tackling, not through legal reform, but through education. The second flaw falls in the approach to rape as a crime. Rape is not only about sex, or about lustful intentions. Rape is about the fact that a man, or a few men, believes or believe that they can have sex with any woman they want to by asserting dominance. Rape is about their faulty perception that a woman’s conduct can be “regulated” by threatening rape, or actually carrying out rape. Rape is about their ridiculous perceptions that the way a woman dresses determines if she should be raped or not – and rape is also about the continued agenda that the media and mainstream entertainment outlets continue to reiterate: that a woman is only about her body, and that she is all about being at a man’s disposal, to such an extent that the few films that are made with a woman-centric theme are considered an exception to the norm. If there needs to be a positive trend in the reduction of the instances of rape, there should necessarily be a shift in attitudes. The third major flaw falls in the lack of sufficient strength in the security sector. A robust security sector are the teeth to the paper tigers that legislations otherwise are. What use is a law if there is no implementation, and what use is there in rhetoric that professes a need for implementation if it does not establish an institution with sufficient capacity to bring the law into action.
If the incident in Delhi in December was a call for action, the recent incident in Delhi concerning the five year old is a grim reminder of how much is left to be done, and how little has already been done. It’s time to wake up, really.
By Kirthi Gita Jayakumar