While the horrific rape of Damini, Nirbhaya (December16, 2012) has shaken the whole nation, and the country is gripped with the fear of this phenomenon, many an ideologues and political leaders are not only making their ideologies clear, some of them are regularly putting their foots in mouths also. Surely they do retract their statements soon enough. Kailash Vijayvargiya, a senior BJP minister in MP’s statement that women must not cross Laxman Rekha to prevent crimes against them, was disowned by the BJP Central leadership and he was thereby quick enough to apologize to the activists for his statement. But does it change his ideology or the ideologies of his fellow travellers? There are many more in the list from Abhijit Mukherjee, to Mamata Bannerji, Asaram Bapu and many more. 

The statement of RSS supremo, Mohan Bhagwat, was on a different tract as he said that rape is a phenomenon which takes place in India not in Bharat. For India the substitute for him is urban areas and Bharat is rural India for him. As per him it is the “Western” lifestyle adopted by people in urban areas due to which there is an increase in the crime against women. “You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang rape or sex crimes”, he said on 4th January. Further he implied that while urban areas are influenced by Western culture, the rural areas are nurturing Indian ethos, glorious Indian traditions. As per him ancient Indian traditions gave great respect to women, and it is due to these values of Indian tradition, that villages are free from crimes against women.

The statistics from India fly in the face of Bhagawat. In a significant statistical observation and study of rape cases Mrinal Satish, faculty member of National Law University, Delhi, tells us another tale. He has used the court data and observes that 75% of rape cases take place in rural India. His observations are based on the cases reported in Criminal Law Journal from 1983 to 2009.

The cases of rape in villages, like that of Khairlanji and rape against Adivasi women may not be on the radar of the Hindutva boss, Bhagwat, but those engaged with the issues of dalits, Adivasis and gender issues cannot buy the simplified rural versus urban divide. One knows that patriarchy which looks at women as secondary beings, primarily as sister, mother or daughter, rather than a person in her own right. She is not a being with swayam (selfhood) of her own. As for as RSS ideology is concerned only men have swayam (selfhood). The full form of RSS, the male organization is Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh while its women’s organization is Rashtrasevika Samiti, do note that the word swayam is missing here, in the name of women’s organization.  

The myth that women had a place of honour in ancient Indian period is a well constructed one. During the long span of ancient Indian period the status of women kept changing, but women being subordinate beings was the running theme. During the Aryan period of pastoral life the women were supposed to commit symbolic self immolation after the death of husband, later this got converted to actual burning of the widows. It is probably around this period that two great epics were written, Ramayan and Mahabharat.

In Ramayan Lord Ram banishes his pregnant wife Sita, because of the rumours about her character amongst the subjects of Ayodhya. In Mahabharat, the Panadavas use their common wife Draupadi as a ‘thing’ and use her as a bet in gamble. Not to be left behind their cousins try to disrobe her in the court in front of the King Dhritrashtra! So much for the glorious place of women in ancient India! Later period’s values are well reflected in Manusmiriti, where the women were explicitly denied education and serving the husband and household chores were regarded as equivalent of education for the women. Manusmriti gives the detailed code for women and it leaves no doubt about women being subordinate or the property of men. The Gupta period (3rd to 7thCentury), which is regarded as the Golden Period of Ancient India, the women were having limited access to education and barring few names which are dished out to prove the glorious condition of Hindu women, mostly the women were having limited access to education. Their participation in Yagnas was secondary to husband, the Yajman, who was the primary being who had solicited the priest for the Yagnas. Yajnman word interestingly has no female equivalent.

The ideologues of the Mohan Bhagwat parivar attribute all the prevalent ills to the coming in of Muslims. This is a very clever ploy to externalize the internal suppression of women, and also of dalits. It’s not too long ago in history that during British rule, the continuation of this religiously sanctioned Hindu norm, Sati, had to be fought against by social reformers. The ghastly sati system, occasionally surfacing even now, and supported subtly by conservatives has not been easy to eradicate as religion was cited as the argument for preserving it. In the wake of sati of Roopkanwar in 1986, BJP’s Vice President Vijaya Raje Scindia, not only defended the sati system but also took out a morcha to oppose passing of the bill against sati. BJP of is the political child of RSS.

The travails of Raja Ram Mohan Roy in struggling against Sati system are a legend. The child marriage was/ is another such evil. While British wanted to bring in the law in early twentieth century to abolish child marriage, the argument to oppose it came from the sources of Hindu religion. It was asserted that as per Hindu norms the girl must be married before her first menses, Garbhadhan. It was argued that our religion’s norm about early marriage cannot be violated. The introduction of widow remarriage, the struggle to abolish Devadasi system, each of these has a long and painful story to tell about the status of women in India, in Ancient India, not influenced by modernization.

The education is the key to the empowerment of women and an integral part of democratization process. It was a painful journey and the efforts of Savitri bai Phule in this direction are revolutionary in the true sense of the word. These efforts were downright opposed on various grounds, the main obstacle being the Hindu traditions.

As such what is being criticized by Bhagwat as modernization is basically the process of democratization of society. This gentleman is stuck in the feudal mode thinking and is upholding feudal of social relationships in the garb of Hindu glorious traditions. As per these traditions; caste and gender hierarchy rules the roost. The atrocities against women are not due to democratization, which this worthy is calling modernization or westernization. The core of modernization is caste and gender equality. The essence of modernization is abolition of hierarchy, based on birth-the hierarchy of caste and gender. The process of democratization is the march of society from formal values of equality to substantive equality, and this the march has to be the agenda of social movements. The roots of oppression of women lie in the patriarchal values, which is the carry forward of ancient and medieval values, related to feudal society, society with the rule of kings, where woman was regarded as the one whose arena is the domestic work. The condition of widows and the women who were burnt alive as sati reflects the glorious ancient tradition to which Mr. Bhagwat wants to push back the Indian society, undoing all what Indian society has been able to achieve through the struggle for Independence, which was not merely a struggle to throw away the British rule but also a struggle to do away with caste and gender hierarchy.

For Bhagwat, the ancient glory is a cover to hide the gender inequality. Modernization is seen in a superficial way by many. Here the ancient traditions are glorified without going to the core of the social relationships. One is not criticizing the past, but understanding it in the context of the social milieu, the system of production, the level of education etc. is what is needed.  Blind glorification of the past or blind condemnation of the past, both take the conclusions off the mark. To look down upon modernization as a crass process is a deliberate one, to try to bring in social equations, the epitome of which in a way is Manusmriti.

Here even the facts of statistics are being put upside down to prove a political point which is retrograde but covered in the cloak of ancient glory. The borderline between India and Bharat is not an iron wall, it is a fluctuating zone, merging and separating in a very fluid way. The need of the hour is to look deeper into the issue of violence against women. While all needs to be done to create a safe atmosphere, women’s safety and space for their work and creativity, we need to give a look at the social movements to overcome the chains of patriarchy, which is at the root of violence against women.




Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

Overcome by a sense of betrayal


The torrent of anger that erupted all over the country after the 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi — whom the media named ‘Nirbhaya’ — was raped and thrown out of a moving bus has obscured a profoundly disturbing anomaly: the rape was a criminal act committed by individuals. But most of the anger of the public has been directed at the government. Barring a few lapses, the Central and State governments acted promptly, and with commendable efficiency. The Delhi police captured the alleged rapists within hours and the government spared no expense in its attempt to save her life.

The police also showed an uncharacteristic restraint in dealing with the protesters. To control the crowds with a minimum of violence, policemen put themselves repeatedly in harm’s way. A constable, P.C. Tomar, laid down his life doing his duty. Many others were injured.

The Delhi High Court and the State government took the pent up grievances of women’s associations and other human rights groups to heart and acted speedily to meet their demands. The former set up five special courts to hear the backlog of rape cases. The Lt. Governor made it mandatory for police stations to register all complaints of rape and other crimes against women. So why did the media and the public spare no effort to shift as much of the blame as possible on to the shoulders of the state?

Smouldering anger

The answer is that the rape acted as the trigger for an older, and deeper, anger in people — one that has been smouldering for years in their hearts. This stems from a profound sense of betrayal. Democracy was meant to empower them. Instead, in a way that few of them understand even today, it has done the exact opposite.

Empowerment requires the rule of law. People feel empowered only when they know that they have rights, and that the institutions of government exist, first and foremost, to enforce them. The rule of law is, however, only another name for justice. Empowerment therefore requires justice. The bedrock from which the anger that erupted on December 17 sprang is the denial of justice. In spite of being a democracy for 65 years, the Indian state has not been able to create something that people value even more than material benefits: a just society. It has achieved this unique feat by making both its elected legislators and its bureaucracy, not to mention its lower judiciary, immune to accountability. It has therefore become a predatory state that the people have learned to fear.

The hallmark of the predatory state is the universality of extortion. In India, we regularly lump extortion together with bribery under the generic title of corruption. In doing so, even the most ardent of reformers inadvertently conspire with the predators to hide the true, ugly, face of our democracy. Bribery and extortion are, in fact, two entirely different forms of predatory behaviour, and have markedly different effects upon the relationship of state with society.

Bribery is voluntary. The bribe giver chooses to give money or favours to influence a choice, steal a march over rivals, or hasten (sometimes delay) a decision. Bribery harms the economy and society cumulatively over a period of time by preventing optimal choice, increasing cost and lowering the quality of the product or the service rendered. But it has limited political impact because it is a voluntary transaction between consenting adults and the injustice it does is confined to a small circle of rivals.

Extortion is an entirely different form of predation. It requires no contract; no negotiation; and therefore no element of consent. It is a simple exercise of brute power by an employee or representative of the state over the citizen. Its commonest form is to deny the citizen the services to which he is entitled until he agrees to make a ‘private’ payment to the functionary in whom the power of the state is vested. Every act of extortion is a fresh reminder to the citizen of his or her impotence. This becomes complete if he or she is denied redress for the abuse of power.

In India this has been all-but-denied not simply by law but by the Constitution itself. Article 311 of the Constitution reads: “No person who is a member of a civil service of the Union or an all India service or a civil service of a State or holds a civil post under the Union or a State shall be dismissed or removed by an authority subordinate to that by which he was appointed.” It makes it clear that this injunction applies to not only civil but criminal cases as well. For the Central services, the empowered Authority is the President of India; for the State civil services, it is the Governor. This has meant that no prosecution can by initiated without the permission of the Central or State government. As the dismal experience of the Central Vigilance Commission has shown, in civil cases this permission is rarely given.

Complaints against police

One set of figures illustrates the impunity with which civil servants can break the law. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s annual report Crime in India 2007, between 2003 and 2007 citizens filed 282, 384 complaints of human rights abuses against the police. Of these only 79,000 were investigated; only 1,070 policemen were brought to trial and only 264 — less than one in a thousand — were convicted. All but a handful stayed on at their posts, free to wreak vengeance on those who had dared to complain against them. It is therefore a safe bet that the actual number of such abuses is at least 10 times the number reported. It helps to explain why a girl who filed a complaint of rape with the police in Lucknow about two months ago was raped by the Station House Officer, then repeatedly by the investigating officer, but could not muster the courage to get the latter caught, and report the former till she felt empowered by the protests in Delhi.

The Constituent Assembly lifted Article 311 almost verbatim from a clause in the Government of India Act 1935 whose purpose was to protect British civil servants, notably the police, from incessant harassment by sharp-witted Congress lawyers. But the 1935 Act did not put the civil servant above the law. This was because he could be held accountable, as Edmund Burke had shown, by the British Parliament. In independent India, however, this restraint was destroyed by the progressive corruption, and criminalisation, of the political class that it now serves.

The root cause of both is the lack of any provision in the Constitution for the financing of elections. In Britain where the average constituency covers 380 square kilometres and has around 60,000 voters this is a nuisance. In India where the parliamentary constituency covers 6,000 sq km and holds 1.3 million voters it has proved a catastrophe.

In the 1950s, the need for funds was met to a large extent by the rising industrial class and by the Princes. But when these two began to desert the Congress in favour of the Swatantra Party and the Jana Sangh in the 1960s, Indira Gandhi banned company donations to political parties and abolished the privy purses. After that the only way in which political parties could stay in the game was to break the law.

Over the ensuing decades, two sets of predatory networks have developed to finance, or otherwise influence, elections. The first is of criminals who provide the muscle to intimidate voters; the second is of local money-bags and power-brokers who rally support for candidates belonging to one or the other party in exchange for favours when it comes to power.

As these have become more entrenched, they have virtually eliminated intra-party democracy at the grass roots and progressively reduced the number of constituencies in which State and Central party leaders can bring in fresh candidates chosen on the basis of merit. In the current Parliament, for instance, at the last count 159 MPs had criminal charges pending against them. Another 156 are second generation ‘princelings’ whose parents established the clientelist networks that now serve them. The State Assemblies are even more closed to new aspirants: 44 per cent of the MLAs in Bihar, 35 per cent in West Bengal and 30 per cent in Gujarat face criminal charges. The proportion of ‘pocket boroughs’ is also higher in the States than at the Centre.

Predatory state

The perennial need for money lies at the roots of the predatory state that India has become. Today, its ruling class consists of corrupt politicians who are served by an extortionate bureaucracy and police that are shielded from public wrath by nothing less than the Constitution of India.

In earlier decades, people’s anger was held in check by their faith in the democratic system. They therefore gave vent to their demand for accountability in the state by turning out to vote in ever larger numbers and regularly overthrowing incumbent governments. Only in recent years has it begun to dawn on them that democracy has become a part of the problem and cannot therefore be part of the solution. The protest is therefore moving closer to the borders of revolt. This has been apparent in the Maoist uprising that began in 2005, and has driven the state out of large parts of 83 districts in the country.

The Anna movement last year was another turning point because it was the first time that the urban middle class took to the streets. December’s mass protests in Delhi were the second time. History teaches us that this is the point at which the state usually begins to crumble. Were this to happen in India, it would not lead to the emergence of a more just and accountable Indian state but to its disintegration.

There is still time for our Central and State leaders to remember that no society that has lost its sense of justice, and, therefore, its moral legitimacy, has survived for long. But they are beginning to run out of it.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

[courtesy : "The Hindu", 15.01.2013}

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features