India Rape Outrage

Indian police officers lock the gate of a police station during a protest condemning the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a city bus in Delhi last month. Pic: AP.

Three weeks after the Delhi gang rape of a 23-year-old paramedical student on a moving bus on 16 December, there have been many shades of the incident hitting the national conscience.

Protesting the incident, for the first time, a mass upsurge spilled over onto the roads of Delhi and in other parts of the country as well; debate, discussion and dialogue defined rape in new perspectives; political masters and legal luminaries lent their voices; social scientists and psychoanalysts explained the issue; self-proclaimed godmen preached on it and the media provided platform to all of them like never before. ‘Rape’ for three weeks became a national issue in India and the most repeated word in the media in a long time. Rape incident stories have been pushed forward from page 7 to page 1.

It is not that the rape of girls and women is a new thing in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’ 2011 report a woman was raped every 22 minutes in India and more revealing was the fact that there were 572 cases of rape reported in Delhi alone in 2011. The national figure goes into tens of thousands. But, the display of anger and frustration over the December gang rape was unprecedented and many related it with the Arab Spring spirit.

Although two weeks after the incident on 29 December the unnamed victim succumbed to her injuries and died in a Singapore hospital, the protests and the debates still rage across India. Significantly, the people of India came to know the actual name of the girl from foreign media. Her injured male friend too came on a private news channel on 4 January to tell the traumatic tale – so that people should know about what they endured in those two hours before being admitted to the hospital; so that people should know how policemen fought amongst each other over jurisdiction of the crime; and, people should also know how they were lying naked for two hours in chilly winter night on road while the ‘great Indian middle class’ rubber necked, but did nothing to help them.

And, it was the same middle class, commonly known as “common man” that expressed anger, shock the next day demanding capital punishment, chemical castration, shooting to death and burning alive of the accused persons. TV channels’ ratings soared with the ‘male friend’s’ interview and the common men of India kept coming onto the streets with candles and prayers, especially in Delhi where the horrific crime took place.

The chief justice of India said rape cases must be dealt quickly at fast track courts as delay in the trial in rape case may be one of the factors contributing to the problem, whereas Ms Ranjna Kumari, director of the New Delhi based Centre for Social Research fumed: at the moment the law doesn’t act as deterrent. Speedy trials and harsh punishments are the need of the hour cried the anguished people.

However, a report said that in a rape case in the western Indian city of Indore, the accused was convicted and sentenced to be ‘hanged to death’ punishment within just 36 days of the incident. Making laws speedier or harsher is not enough, social mindset too needs to be changed, the top police officer of Indore was quoted in the report.

Meanwhile, a Delhi court ordered an in-camera trial of the gang-rape case while barring media from the proceedings. “It is the case of virtually a crowd occupying every inch of space in the court room even to the extent of standing next to the reader and stenographer,” said Metropolitan Magistrate, Namrita Aggarwal. The case will come up again before the court for hearing on Thursday.

Some lawyers, however, challenged the magisterial order to ban reporting of case proceedings. Interestingly, there was not much protest against the gag order from the media. There is no necessity of any gag order from the court, said some journalists, but not as loudly as they reported the gang rape story in their respective papers.

Amidst protests by lawyers two of them, Advocate M L Sharma and Advocate V K Anand, appeared in the court to defend the accused persons. They, the accused persons whom he is defending, will plead not guilty to the charges leveled against them in the charge sheet and they want to face trial, said advocate M L Sharma. He claimed he was approached by the family of the prime accused Ram Singh, Mukesh and Akshay Thakur, who have signed him up to defend them. Anand too maintained he would be defending Ram Singh.

In the 33-page chargesheet Delhi police have accused five of them Ram Singh, his brother Mukesh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur of murder, gang rape, attempt to murder, kidnapping, unnatural offences, dacoity, hurting in committing robbery, destruction of evidence, criminal conspiracy and common intention under the Indian Penal Code. However, the chargesheet against the sixth accused, who is being proceeded against separately before the Juvenile Justice Board, is yet to be filed.

Meanwhile, a self-proclaimed godman Asaram Bapu, home minister of Chhatisgarh state, Nankiram Kanwar and Samajwadi party leader Abu Azmi have created ripples with their outrageous comments on rape cases. On Monday the Ahmedabad based godman Bapu, first, said that the victim girl too is as guilty as her rapists.. she should have called the rapists as brothers and begged before them to stop… this would have saved her dignity and life.. can one hand clap?.. he asked and then, a day after, he called media “barking dogs” for misreporting him.

The Chhatisgarh state home minister, interestingly, blamed the “position of planetary stars for the spurt in rape cases” whereas the Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi advised girls that they should not be out with their boyfriends late in the night. “A system is needed to keep such behavior in check,” he said. Other purported causes of the rise in rape cases in India included:  eating chowmein [noodles], wearing jeans, T-shirts, mobile phones, internet sites, and watching video films by girls and women.

The famous Indian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar in a recent article has explained “we are caught between the extremes of traditional and western perspectives on women”. Some social scientist from one corner of the state quipped: rape is all about power and even powerful women rape. The buzz in Indian today is rape. And, the common man of the great India middle class appears to agape over ‘rape’ the most overused word in the Indian media today!