A five year old girl was raped in Delhi. It was a gruesome incident and the scale of violence is unimaginable. Unlike usual lethargic reactions, The President, The Prime Minister and The Home Minister were quick to condemn the incident and expressed shock over the incident. Their reaction seemed more like an appeasement to public outcry. Why are they not shocked by the gang rapes and horrific incidents happening every day? Why are they not embarrassed when international community cautions their nationals about the crimes committed on women in this country in their travel advisory? How many politicians and ministers have visited the families of other victims?
The collective conscience of the nation will be shaken by such gruesome incidents and the reaction of the public is not only understandable but also desirable. But the selective justice is an eyewash. The commitment of the government should be on the following lines : No one should be a victim (prevention of crime) and every victim should get justice (fairness). Public mobilisation can initiate a reform but it is the state institutions which should ensure its consistent implementation. This trend of redressal by the state only after public outcry is not a good sign. The institutions are failing in their basic duties and public cannot be relied on highlighting every issue. If the nature of the crime is shocking, what is even worse is the arbitrary and callous functioning of police service (“force”) :
- In the incident which happened on December 16th and also in the recent one, the police could nab the accused in a very short time even when it required coordinating with other state police. Why is it that the police fail to put in the same amount of effort and aggression in other cases?
- What is the use of making tougher laws when a police officer bribes a victim to NOT register a complaint. While the police should be encouraging victims to come forward and report crime, this incident shows us how regressively our incentive structures are designed.
- These kind of incidents are bound to cause a gave provocation among civil society and when a senior police officer slaps a protesting woman, it only shows his pathetic understanding of social behaviour and human rights. He is more interested in showing who the boss is, a symptom of the colonial mindset in police force and in their training.
- Police Reforms : In a historic Judgment in Prakash Singh Vs Union of India, Supreme Court gave its directives for the state and union governments to initiate police reforms focusing on more functional autonomy and accountability. None of the states complied with the order and it is actually a contempt of court.
The nature of the incidents that are happening in recent times is also an indication of the collapse of our value system. There are two reasons for this. One, When institutions of governance fail, it has far-reaching effects and the vulnerable groups will come under attack. Two, it is not as if our criminal justice system collapsed recently. As Dr. Mehta argues, traditionally the moral values in our society were shaped by religion (belief/fear in god and the consequences of commiting “sins”) and family (respect for family values). These acted as informal regulatory institutions for human/society behaviour. To use Dr.Mehta’s words, these institutions are now delegitimised and their capacity to be a source of norms is questionable. While strengthening the formal institutions, we should also build new supporting structures based on education and collective social responsibility.
The collapse/weakening of these institutions of religion and family also showed us the deeply entrenched gender inequalities and imbalances in power structures. The quality of discourse on gender issues, both inside and outside parliament is shameful. There is an implicit (even if partial) justification that forceful, absurd and psychotic sexual expression is inevitable if we have to ‘allow’ women to exercise their basic rights and choices. If I have to summarise in one line, it is this : women should wear ‘appropriate dress’, should be back home by 7 PM, should not talk to men, should not carry mobile phones, should not be ‘painted and dented’. Even then they may not be safe, but they cannot even complain without following these ‘norms’.
Gender disparities are institutionalised almost everywhere. Female foeticide, discrimination at birth, in education and in employment is prevalent. These issues cannot be addressed without altering the structures of power, sharing of resources, social status. Without addressing these, having a tougher law will not help. Laws can only address aberrations in order, they do not have the potential to be a source of new norms.
However, these are social reforms and will take time. In the short term there is only one solution — ruthless enforcement of law and order by people who are committed passionately to prevent crime, administration of justice and high regard for human rights.
1. Police Reforms.
2. By her yardstick. Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Indian Express, 22 June 2012
3. Rage and Helplessness. Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Indian Express, 26 December 2012
4. The Caesarism of parties. Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Indian Express, 27 March 2013
5. Respect and save women. Shombit Sengupta, Indian Express, 06 January 2013