Campaigns, probes and trials are dictated by societal and political prejudices

Outrage over sexual abuse
Exactly on the fifth anniversary of the rapes and murders of Asiya and Neelofar in Shopian, two Dalit girls in a distant Badayun village of Uttar Pradesh were raped and hanged. It may have been a coincidence but there is much that connects the two incidents in two very different lands and two very different circumstances. The UP girls are alleged to have been raped and killed by the upper caste men and remain scot free due to an inherent and systemic casteist and sexist culture of oppression that exists in this region. The Shopian women are alleged to have been raped and murdered by men in uniform who remain shielded through tampering of evidence, botched up investigations and cover ups. Both are unfortunate and tragic symbols of different sets of culture of impunity that exist in these two areas, one fostered by deep rooted caste divisions and the other fed by excessive militarization and excessively powerful role for security forces and the police. These two cases also highlight the vast divide between sexual assaults that stir the so-called collective conscience and those that do not merit even a mention, leave alone a murmur of protest. And, that is why, May 2009 or May 2014 would never be December 2012. The bitter reality is that cases like Shopian and Badayun would never stir the national conscience as did the Delhi bus gang rape and murder of December 2012.

A casual glance at the trail of rapes and sexual violence across the country would reveal that probes, investigations and campaign in such cases are characterised by a clear pick and choose quality, depending on the socio-economic, caste or ethnic identities of the victims and the perpetrators, or their political influence. The place, social and economic class, besides political affiliations are often instrumental in how the discourse on sexual assault takes place and how justice is eventually delivered. In striking contrast to the response in Delhi gang rape case, the routine rapes of Dalit women and socially oppressed women, almost as a routine practice of vindictiveness, do not even arouse anyone’s curiosity, leave alone stir any emotions. Similar bias erupts in cases of sexual violence in militarized conflict zones like Kashmir and north-east. The fate of cases of rapes and murders of Manipur’s Manorama or Shopian’s Asiya and Neelofar would never be the same as that of the Delhi bus gang rape, both in terms of the campaign it inspired and the culmination of the legal case. Rather far from cold indifference, the prejudices and patterns of impunity propel a discourse of abject denial, forcefully propagated through official platforms and co-opted media.

Such trends point out to the inadequacy of both the intolerance to the culture of rapes and the amended laws or the whimsically fast track trials. Post the Delhi bus gang rape and murder, the amended rape law failed to incorporate the path-breaking provisions recommended by the Justice Verma panel report, The campaigns, probes and trials are dictated by societal and political prejudices, against the victims/survivors or with respect to the perpetrators. The nation’s fight against this culture of rapes and sexual violence would get nowhere without a proper understanding of what this sexual violence construes and without a concerted effort to end it, also without getting hamstrung with identities of the victim/ survivor or the perpetrator. The systemic and institutionalised impunity cannot be challenged simply with adequate laws as they stem from prejudiced mindsets. It requires a greater awakening, education and social consciousness in the real sense of the word.