Look Back In Anger – But Also in Hope

Written by Kavita Krishnan | Published on: December 17, 2015
a misunderstanding.’ When men of a lower class grope or finger us, it’s treated as rape.” Another such complainant told me she wondered if it had been worth putting herself through the legal process; she had lost most mutual friends who chose to stand by the accused and turn against her; in her own social circles she was being branded a liar, and as she put it, ‘My integrity, rather than his violation of me and ignoring of my lack of consent, is on trial.’       
In these and countless other cases, the complainants feel isolated, vulnerable, betrayed by the system that seems determined to protect impunity. The discourse veers from demanding instant mob justice or severe punishment in a selected, exceptional few cases to the leniency and tolerance for rape in the vast majority of cases. In the latter, it has become routine to assume that most complainants are ‘false’, especially if they have accused one of ‘our own’. Women who file complaints of domestic violence and refuse to accept domestic violence as ‘normal’ are being accused of breaking up family and society. Now, increasingly, women who refuse to accept violations of consent by bosses, acquaintances, teachers or friends as ‘normal’, are accused of breaking up reputations of men and institutions.   
Misplaced Cry for More Severe Laws
Unfortunately, there is little discussion in the media about how we need to do more to support survivors and to implement existing laws. Instead, if on the one hand existing laws are being trashed as ‘draconian’ and an invitation for ‘false complaints,’ [19]on the other hand, there is a shrill cry for new and more severe laws to ‘deter’ rape. The Central Government and the Delhi Government have been pushing for lowering the age of juvenility in rape cases, and for the media too, December 16th is an occasion to project the juvenile convict who will soon be released, as the symbol of dangers to women on the streets. The Central Government is also proposing a ‘sex offenders registry’ in the wake of this case.
There are many reasons why such proposals are dangerous and misguided – though they of course suit Governments that wish to divert attention from their abdication of the responsibility to support survivors and implement existing laws.     
There is no evidence in India that any significant number of those convicted for sexual crimes go on to commit more such crimes. There is no evidence either, that juvenile offenders form a large percentage of rape offenders in India. It is well known that a large number of juveniles accused of rape have actually been accused by parents of girl-friends with whom they have had consensual relationships. How, then, will locking up juveniles in adult jails make women safer? Should we not instead seek to make better systems of reform and rehabilitation for both juvenile and adult offenders – to create ropeways to help convicted offenders turn their lives around and away from gender violence?

The Government and Parliament also flouted several of the Verma Committee recommendations: most notably, it introduced the death penalty for rape, criminalized consensual sexual relations between young teenagers, and failed to remove the impunity existing for members of armed forces accused of rape.   

More importantly – where do boys and teenage men learn rape and impunity? Every time we fail to punish an adult offender (as cited in all the cases named in the previous section, for instance) are we not giving them lessons in getting away with rape? Timely trials and surety of punishment in most cases, and a total end to victim blaming and excuses for rape, would be a much better deterrent than severity of punishment in one or two cases. 
Feminist activists and others have together issued a statement putting these issues in perspective.[20] But ironically, there is a tendency to accuse feminists – who work with survivors of gendered violence – of ‘supporting rapists’ when they argue against death penalty, castration or lowering the age of juvenility! So one is witness to the piquant situation where a Subramanian Swamy who openly defends Asaram and brands a teenage girl complainant as a liar, poses as a champion of justice by baying for sending juvenile rape convicts to adult jails – and the same Swamy brands feminists who oppose such a move as ‘soft on rapists’!     
The War on Women’s Freedom
Finally, let us ask if the autonomy and freedom that women had so passionately demanded, is being safeguarded?
The answer is a sad one. Women did – and still do – face the routine, systematic denial and crushing of autonomy, especially in matters of love and marriage – at the hands of families and communities, as well as hostels and factories. But now, this offensive is being compounded by a more organized political force.
A recent Cobrapost sting operation[21] has caught BJP and Sangh leaders on camera, admitting that not a single genuine love jihad case exists. Instead, these men openly admit to inflicting violence on women – in the name of ‘rescuing’ them – to force them to file complaints against their lovers!
The sting caught on camera BJP MLA Suresh Rana casually describing the violence and coercion used to force Hindu women to falsely accuse Muslim men: “A girl is a girl after all. It has always been said about them that they change in five minutes according to the circumstances. …they insist ‘No matter what, I will stay with him. I won’t go without him’. If she is taken aside and given two slaps, then she herself goes and gets the FIR registered claiming, ‘They sexually assaulted me … he has been doing it for a month.’ Then she will tell the whole story and slap a case on him. You can mould a girl the way you want.” 
BJP leader Sanjay Agrawal openly admits to bashing up and brutalizing Hindu girls to ‘persuade’ them: “If she doesn’t listen to us, we hit her. We get her beaten up. We misbehave (Poori badtameeze karte hain). Such a girl is treated with a wooden board (bilkul, phatte se bajwate hain). Are we wrong to do so?”
Agrawal also boasts of how the entire police and judicial machinery cooperate with the Sangh group to intimidate the Hindu woman into getting separated. Agrawal explains how this works: “We don’t let the girl appear in court for days. We say that the girl is not listening. They [police] say it’s alright, we will see her tomorrow. If she isn’t listening even tomorrow, they say it’s alright. They help us a lot. They send her mother to her to talk. We are not allowed to do that. They help us a lot. Judges help us, so does the SSP (Senior Superintendent of Police).” And judges help the cause by decreeing to handover the girl to her parents: “The judge gives the girl to us in his judgment. He hands her over to her parents. Once she is under her parents’ control, we can get her married in three days.”
If the system –especially police and judiciary - does not stand by rape and sexual harassment complainants, and treats most as ‘false complainants’, it is all too willing and eager to participate in violence and coercion against consenting women, and to pursue to treat patently false, coerced cases as though they were genuine. India’s ruling party is – as part of a concerted, countrywide campaign – sponsoring this all-out violence against women’s freedom, even as the Modi Government’s slogan of  ‘Beti Bachao’ ‘coincides’ with the Sangh’s ‘anti-love-jihad’ slogan of ‘Beti Bachao.’ And there are few takers among the Opposition parties for any real defense of women’s freedom and autonomy.
These are not good times (acche din) for women’s quest for truth, justice and freedom. But the ray of hope lies in that steady flame of movements that dauntlessly expand the space for this quest.
(The writer is Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association, AIPWA)