Witnessed voyeuristically, violence gets insidiously soaked
in to everyday life in India. Yet ironically, sensitivity towards
victims of such crimes remains abysmally low. So is crime really out
there just for a daily dose of entertainment, until it comes visiting
too close for comfort?
In a country that worships its celluloid heroes, there have long existed a separate strain
of actors called action stars. Action stars disregard the system and evidence
a disturbing sexist disposition in dealing with women. The wronged protagonist takes law in to his
own hands and corrects what the system could not. At the end
of the day it is still violence, but oddly, justified violence.
Cinematic vigilantes have not just remained in the celluloid
world. More recently, groups
have chosen to disrupt anything and everything that is unpalatable for
them, from a film to an exhibition, a musical show or a television program. And yet despite the presence of such ‘vigilant’ social
groups you still have women being raped, children being sexually abused,
girls being sold in to the sex trade and couples being killed for mixed
(inter-religious, inter-caste) marriages.
The system, as it has been, most often
targets the women who are themselves victims of the plethora of
crimes visible in society. A rape victim is made to relive her horror
to an insensitive machinery over and over again (even before a First Information Report is registered) until she either drops the
case or, worse still, commits suicide, as did Sarita. Sarita consumed poison in the presence of
her young daughters in front of the police station that refused to listen
to her complaints against one of their own. Her death eventually led to the
suspension of the constables. So in this equation of crime versus punishment, rape+death=suspension. An elopement equaled death in the case
of an inter-caste couple in Ballah, in the northern state of Haryana. The bodies
of the couple, after being strangled, were then ‘exhibited’ in front
of the girl’s parental home in an unbridled display of family honor, to be made an example of for anyone else intending to engage
in an inter-caste alliance. That the entire village backed the act and
the administration looked the other way is a reflection of how deeply
entrenched these social hierarchies and practices are, even those employed
to deliver justice and prevent such crimes irrespective of caste or
religious considerations tend to covertly, and often overtly, help maintain
theses social structures.
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How ignorant and insensate an entire
community can be was quite starkly evidenced in the agonizing experience
of a four
year old boy molested at
his preschool in Bangalore, in southern India, recently. Not only did
this prestigious preschool not entertain the complaint initially but
later, after sacking the woman accused of the crime, asked both the
police and parents not to pursue the matter. The reputation of the preschool
obviously outweighed the more serious concerns of not only letting the
offender go scot-free and potentially abuse more children but also identifying any other victims. Unfortunately,
that is what might eventually happen to the case since the police already
exposed how ill-equipped they were while groping for the clause of law
to invoke against the woman. And, tragically, the initial delay in
reporting the matter had been because despite the tell-tale signs on
his body the parents failed to perceive it as a case of abuse and continued
sending the boy to the preschool.
Clearly a case of gross negligence has arisen from an elitist mindset which assumes
that incestual and/or child abuse are symptomatic of particular social
and class contexts. Though the incident questions both the society and
administration’s capability in dealing with sexual crimes and assaults
in general and against children in particular, it also presents a bleak scenario of the manner
in which these crimes and their victims are handled when they occur
amidst the more underprivileged sections of society which continuously
struggle to find a voice for themselves within the entire system.
The sensational murder of Aarushi and
Hemraj in the National Capital Region (NCR) clearly points to this trend.
The uproar over the mishandling of the case and the ‘character assassination’ of a dead fourteen year old – though completely
inappropriate – comes more from a skewed class consciousness where
our collective conscience chooses to react to this case the manner in
which concepts of dignity, honor and reputation are being played out
over the untimely and tragic death of a young girl from a more privileged
background. The other death (of the domestic help, Hemraj) is almost
forgotten, remembered, if at all, and important only as far as his role
in Aarushi’s death is concerned. But we have known the police system
to have always operated like this.
Cases of missing girls (as happened
with the Nithari murders 18 months back in NCR) were not even registered
at the area police station and parents, mostly poor, migrants were dismissed
saying the girls in all probability had ‘eloped’. And yet again,
quite similarly, in the Aarushi case is the insidious validation of honor killing (til
proven otherwise) since the initial police theories revolved around
the premise of the usual suspects – compromising position, young daughter
and an unsuitable suitor (here being the domestic help). And even as
many wait to hear the truth, the killing of the girl in a fit of rage
by the father almost enjoys a tacit sanction. That…kind of explained
it! After all, what else could a father have done?
Each of these cases reveals that in
the entire socio-economic and political set-up and the manner in which
various administrative departments and its functionaries act within
it, only places street children, sex workers and transgender people in even
more vulnerable positions and the lack of any support services further
serves to institutionalize crimes against certain groups and sections.
Besides, while young boys are equally at risk as girls because of the
stereotypical roles and behavior patterns assigned, they find different ways of coping with it, very often manifested
in a spiral of violence and crime.
Certain cases will enjoy more attention
and pressure groups play a certain role in the dispensation of justice. But there
has been a consistent failure by the state to intervene and protect
the basic rights of its citizens and in dispensing justice whether it
is the case of rape victims or honor killings (despite the fact that
mixed marriages are constitutionally protected). Social isolation is
the mildest of punishments. While honor is reposed in the daughter’s
reputation and a higher percentage of girls are victims men have also
been punished, as witnessed in the Ballah case. The only difference is
that while the girl is murdered by her own family the boy too is punished
by the girl’s family and not his own. Ironically, Haryana, the state
that figures amongst the frequent offenders for honor killings is a
state which has enjoyed economic success through its land and is also
one of the states whose administration has repeated tried to block women’s
inheritance in the act of succession but failed.