Gangrape case in Delhi : People’s anger boils over

Gangrape case in Delhi : People’s anger boils over

Women of Delhi have poured out onto the streets in anger against the bestial gangrape and physical assault of a young physiotherapist and her companion in Delhi on the night of 16th December 2012. Students, women activists and organizations have come together in protests across the city. Their voices are ringing on the streets of the centres of power, in courts, in markets, residential colonies, universities, and they are backed by the shocked sympathies of major sections of people, while in Safdarjung Hospital the victim puts up a valiant battle for life.

This is an example of horrific, barbaric violence against women and has taken place against a background of daily incidents of rape by neighbours, teachers, within the family, on the roads by strangers, by those in positions of power and also those in uniform. It is part of the humdrum of so many other forms of violence within family and also societal, against women and girls. Gangrapes are another form. In Delhi, infamous instances of such gangrapes within the last decade were the Budha Jayanti Park gangrape of a young woman by 4 President’s bodyguards in 2003 (all convicted), the midnight gangrape of a young woman at Dhaula Kuan (2005, one convicted 3 not found), the Dhaula Kuan gangrape of 2010 of a call centre employee returning from work at midnight (two arrested, case pending), the gangrape of a young woman from Mayapuri Jhuggis by four men looking for fun in the early hours of the morning, and the gangrape at Garhi Chaukhandi in NOIDA in 2009 by 11 young men celebrating a cricket victory (case shifted to Delhi), all accused on bail). In these gangrapes the perpetrators are inevitably young, even minors (as one in current case and one in the case of a medical student in Delhi just outside her college). Recently in nearby Haryana, there were a spate of gangrapes for over a month; even on the day this incident occurred in Delhi, another case was reported in Haryana. These were mostly in small villages and small towns; the guilty from land owning castes.

The national conviction rate for registered cases (2001-2010) is 26%. (HT, Dec. 19) Between 2002-12, 5337 rapes have been reported in which in 3860 cases the accused were acquitted or discharged by the courts. In Delhi, in this period thus, one in four accused was convicted. In convicted cases too, judges in High Court have set rapists free because they cleared IAS Exams, offered to marry the girl, distributed blankets among the poor and other such variations.

The reasons for such violence are both systemic and immediate ones. The rapes are surely part of societal and family violence against women rampant in India. The feudal patriarchal values of India’s society, the status of women as a secondary sex, the upbringing of families giving primacy to sons, which instill a sense of feudal ownership towards sisters, and contempt for women’s rights- these are the backdrop. On this is working out the onslaught of decadent imperialist culture pouring in as the culture of globalization, with its commodification and commercialization of women’s bodies, loss of sense of social answerability, a culture of instant gratifications. This culture also assaults those who cannot afford it through media, films, songs. These twin assaults are very relevant for these rapes by sundry youth in metropolitan cities like Delhi.

There are several compounding factors in this incident in Delhi. The privatization of electrification of the city’s streets, so that there are dark stretches even on major roads, with the Delhi Govt. only being responsible for pointing fingers at the companies. The total failure of policing- The Delhi Police is getting 370 more PCR vans soon. On that night one PCR van was supposed to be at the very bus stop where the victim waited for a bus (it had gone for VIP duty) and three others (police changed its version from 7 others) on the 15 km. stretch on which the rape bus with tinted glasses moved. Seven police posts and several imaginary police barricades. So bring on more vans and more police; unless there is a will to stop the violence very little will change. The Delhi High Court is monitoring investigations, wants to know where the relevant policemen were. Unless the police officer in charge of the area faces punitive action for dereliction of duty by his team, the junior most police man will be identified with no results. The cases unsolved, the convictions delayed, long court procedures, harassment of victims at police stations and in courts, non scientific methods of investigation, send their own message towards emboldening the rapists. Thirdly, the public transport system in tatters- services tapering off in early evenings especially on weekends, contract buses running with tinted glasses while a senior transport official vouches that ‘they are all illegal’. It is a telling comment on the Dixit Govt. that the girl in this case waiting 45 minutes for a bus before resorting to this private bus. But women of Delhi better face this fact- the Delhi Govt. and its CM have absolved themselves on all counts. They are responsible for nothing.

The lack of political will to act for the safety of women and against violence on them resounds from the courts, and in the response of the Chief Minister of Delhi- ‘We are not responsible for law and order’. It is a technicality she chooses to flaunt at this time, when the reality is this is not the content of her relations with Delhi’s home affairs and any way her party is running the Govt. at the Centre. The spoken version of CM Dixit on the Soumaya murder case also spring to mind where she castigated women who travel late at night. (Journalist Soumya was returning from work).

The crocodile tears of the entire spectrum of parliamentary parties has been on full display in Delhi in this incident. BJP (Sushma Swaraj) set the ball rolling demanding hanging of the accused. There was not application to the reality that no punishment at all occurs in most cases; the conviction rate in cases of rape have dropped in the last two decades from 44% to 26%, there is dilution of the punishment for rape by individual judges. The quantum of punishment itself can be discussed, but what about ensuring of punishment? Congress CM Shiela Dixit also wants change in punishment, not in rate of punishment itself. Mayawati also moved to demand capital punishment for rape, Jaya Bachchan (SP) cried in Parliament, while Sonia Gandhi and Meira Kumar went to visit the victim in ICU and threw the hospital into disarray, so deep was their concern.

So one is moved to ask- what about rapes by men in uniform in areas with AFSPA as in J&K, in Manipur and in other areas? Why do parliamentarians not cry out in protest; why deaden sensibilities of the people into almost ‘allowed’ and ‘unallowed’ rapes? Should there not be punishment for rapists and women-killers in anti Sikh genocide of 1984, of the rapes and murder of women during Gujarat genocide of Muslims in 2002, of the Uttarakhand women at Muzaffarnagar during SP-BSP rule, or the woman abducted from Park Street and gangraped in a moving vehicle under Trinamool rule. The CPM never even acknowledged the Nandigram rapes by CPM goons, For Congress, BJP, BSP, SP and other parties capital punishment is a mere slogan to attract attention to a ‘radical’ alternative to distract from the really radical solution needed- a thoroughgoing social change.

A powerful broad based movement of women in Delhi is the answer, not more policemen. A movement is needed to encompass all women to stand up, speak for justice to this victim and thus for rights to themselves. They must demand fast track courts to sensitively and speedily deal cases of especially gangrapes and hand out punishment to the guilty. The police investigations must be scientific and non-humiliating to victims. It is cosmetic to speak of Shiela Dixit’s helplines; NCW helplines outline what such measures amount to in practice. And for policing in Delhi to be effective, senior officers in charge of Dists should face punitive actions. There must quick meting out of justice; Justice must be seen to be done. Ensuring punishment is the issue not the quantum alone.

But most of all the incident must inspire the women of Delhi to come together to fight every incidence of violence together. Demonstrations must involve women working in offices, in factories, women of residential colonies. Not only women, but a powerful youth and cultural movement for progressive values has to be built in the city.

The laws have been modified to allow women to work at night, and this is being used in establishments, in factories, in bars, hotels, call centres with no responsibility fixed on owners of securely transporting the women back home or from home to work. In other ways too, the cultural onslaught of imperialist culture on patriarchal India is working overtime to the detriment of women. It has brought even urban women of middle classes, young skilled working women into the ambit of gangrapes, which was mainly the lot of poor women at the hands of socially powerful.

There are figures of rapes- Delhi has largest number of rapes. 635 cases reported in Delhi in 2012 (21.12.2012), 109979 raped in 5 years in India. These figures are all fragmentary- they are cases where FIRs were registered; are rapes by uniformed men in areas of AFSPA counted in or not, etc. etc. Women and women’s organizations must seriously consider the bigger picture. From the 1980s movement for laws against rape in custody to struggles for laws against dowry deaths and today where are we? What is the fate of these laws, and what of their implementation? Not that these battles were futile. But while we continue to fight for corrections in the immediate we must strengthen the movements for revolutionary change of this system itself which upholds the framework where patriarchal values flourish.

(Translated from Pratirodh ka Swar, December 2012)