Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Shameful rape; even more shameful politicians and media

Yesterday was a horrific day. Yet another shameful rape was committed in Delhi on yet another innocent young girl. As if this was not shameful (and painful) enough, our politicians yet again attempted to score brownie points against each other. And our media yet again lost its balance and behaved churlishly, allowing itself to be exploited by politicians and failing to conduct any meaningful debates that could provide solutions for the future. For TV, it was a great way to earn some TRPs and consequent advertising rupees; for politicians yet another forum to play their dirty games.

Everyone missed the point. Too much focus was placed on Delhi being the crime capital. Of course it is, but that’s old news. It has been so for decades. Having lived in Delhi and Mumbai both, I know how my wife feels about going back there. I also know what it is like for women to travel alone in Delhi; and how dressing restrictions get imposed on them thanks to the lecherous goons on the streets. But its not as if this rape could not have happened in any other metro in the country. In fact, almost every month, there are stories of similar incidents from Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and every other large town in the country. Why single Delhi out then?

Then our politicians. All of them grandstanded in Parliament and pretended like they would explode with anger. It made me wonder if this was the first rape case that had occurred in India; or even the most gruesome. Had they not found Pallavi Purkayastha’s rape and murder in Mumbai a few months back worthy enough of a similar exercise? How many rapes have happened right under the noses of our MPs since they came to Delhi? Why this sudden outrage? I can tell you this wasn’t the proverbial last straw that broke their back. I will tell you the real reason. Our politicians don’t care about the rape or the victim. But they care about the political opportunity that the rape has created. They know that there are elections approaching in Delhi. Nothing like an emotive issue to kick-start the election campaign. Wait and watch. More and more drumbeats will be heard against the Delhi government in the days to come. This rape was just the beginning.

All that the politicians were interested in doing last night was criticizing Sheila Dixit. Of course the CM of Delhi is responsible for the law and order situation in her state; and at an appropriate time, she must answer questions and give comfort to her people about what she will do to make their city a safer place. But doesn’t decency demand that this be done at an “appropriate” time? Should we attack her first or should we express concern for the poor victim first? Not one TV channel wanted to discuss the victim’s plight or condition; except when news came that she was in fact not doing well. That kind of tragedy builds TRPs and it was flashed on screens eagerly. The most insensitive of all politicians were the ones from BJP, keen opponents as they are of the Congress in Delhi. They finally got the chance to attack Sheila Dixit (remember they couldn’t lay their hands on her for the CWG scam). For Smriti Irani, putting on a dour face with overtones of anger may come naturally; but let me say that she looked more fake than even as an actor. C’mon guys, have some decency. Discuss the issue; keep the politics for another day.

And then the display of what can best be described as “testosterone” politics. The BJP demanded capital punishment for rape. Now outraged as I am at this rape, I do believe our politicians must carry a cool head on their shoulders. They are leaders after all. They have to handle issues maturely, even in the face of grave provocation. There are many different types of crimes, all gruesome; and while rape is surely one of those extreme types, it is lower on the crime totem pole than terrorism and homicide. We cannot let our emotions get the better of us. If we continue like this, we will soon become like Afghanistan, where anything and everything is considered fit for capital punishment by the Taliban. In the past, some voices have urged that even drunken drivers should be given the death penalty. Anna felt that even the corrupt should be given the death sentence. Religious bigots may demand the death penalty for adultery. I am sorry, but I am totally against capital punishment, except for terrorists. For rape, there is a much better solution already available: chemical castration. Get the guy’s libido; but spare him his life.

Coming now to media. Why did TV channels not keep the discussion apolitical? Why did they allow politicians to make it into a partywise slugfest? TV channels are not fools. They did it because they knew that the incident had the potential of becoming the flavor of the evening. And on a day when nothing else as sensational happened (after all who cares for important financial bills being passed), they found this to be the best thing to do. Shameful to say the least. The level to which our TV media can stoop should make us all sit up and demand something be done.

Like I said the real issues all got skirted. Kiran Bedi made some sensible points (for a change) saying that it was the responsibility of parents to raise their boys well. I totally agree. I have myself held the belief that we may have progressed economically as a nation, but we haven’t progressed one bit socially. A friend recently pointed out a term that exists for this gap between economic and cultural progress. It is called the “cultural gap”. Unfortunately, most of our media and politicians work towards increasing the cultural gap. What this country needs is social reforms and social reformers who can bridge the gap. It’s a real tragedy that the only self-proclaimed social reformers we have are the types of Anna – who prefer to beat people who consume liquor with belts. Better not to have such reformers. We need reformers who can talk to society about unpleasant things; and compel it to change. For rape is as much a reflection of our society as it is of lax policing, bad governance and lousy politicians.

If we have to avoid this problem from becoming bigger, we have to start immediately. We have to start in our schools. I remember having a subject called “moral science” when I was in school. Much as I found it a bore in those days, I think it helped me become a better person. I am sure most schools don’t teach this subject any longer. Why then are we surprised when some of these kids grow up and become rapists? We also have to look at society’s attitude to women in general. Women are treated like objects in this country, traded between families for dowry. And when women complain, they are attacked like two days back in Mumbai when Sonal Lapashiya (mistaken by the attacker to be his wife) was attacked with a sickle for filing a dowry complaint against her husband. One police commissioner after another makes comments to the effect that women are themselves responsible for their rapes by dressing inappropriately. And think of this. After so many years, we still haven’t been able to remove khaps. These khaps often order hits on young couples who refuse to obey pre-historic social restrictions. Some khaps in UP have also said that women should not wear jeans and shouldn’t carry mobile phones. Lets accept it. We are a depraved society. That’s why we need social reform, not capital punishment.

Then we have to look at fast tracking our judicial system. I am appalled at the slow pace at which our judiciary works. And of course, no one can question it. No one can demand accountability from it. When an Indian student was murdered recently in the UK, the courts there brought the culprit to book in just six months. Our system would have taken decades. We also have to think about our policy of reservations. When a majority of cops are recruited on grounds other than merit, how can we expect better policing or investigations?

The real truth is that we are ourselves responsible for the rapes that happen in our country. We have brought this state of affairs upon us knowingly. We cannot pretend to be surprised or shocked. We are all guilty of this. We, the people, our politicians, and our media. All of us should hang our heads in shame. Lets look inwards for a change and decide not to allow this mess to continue any more.

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