On December 22, Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde tried his best to appear statesmanlike at the press-conference. Flanked by a couple of other ministers and a smattering of bureaucrats, he announced that the government had heard the rape-protesters of New Delhi. The poor should learn something – it is not enough to be displaced, raped, maimed, killed, brutalised for years. It is also important to know how to chant slogans in English and write them in chart paper. The star-studded press conference was not so much about firefighting – after all, youths holding placards written in English are not a major electoral constituency. It was more about appearing sensitive to a larger populace. Shinde even tried the ‘common man’ approach.
He said he understood the outrage — for, he too was a father. Lesser mortals are lesser in more ways than one. Rare are the moments when people in power include themselves in ‘everyone of us’, as if we are one community. When the ‘common bond of humanity’ ploy is used, those in the charmed circle of Lutyen’s Delhi and its South Delhi spill-over nod liberally in agreement. One would almost want to believe that Shinde’s daughter would buy a Rs 10 ticket on a green Delhi Transport Corporation bus and travel from Daryaganj to Kapashera border after a hard day’s work like many, many others. No such luck. Shinde has Z plus security. One of his daughters, Praniti, is an MLA. With more police force out to protect his powerful daughter than what would be deployed to protect an average neighbourhood, it is hard to imagine an anxious father of a commoner here.
After all, in the last five years, Maharashtra, Shinde’s home state, has had the largest number of candidates with declared cases of crimes against women, including rape. At least 26 Congress candidates to different legislatures had such cases against them (source: Association for Democratic Reforms). Shinde may say these cases are politically motivated or ‘law will take its own course’, but surely, as a father, would he take chances? If not, what have the people done to deserve these candidates from his party? That the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and the BSP also have numerous such candidates does not help matters? What do Smriti Irani and Sushma Swaraj think about the ‘jewels’ that their party has been nominating? Why is the tirade against the bad guy always directed towards an inchoate other or society at large, when there are more tangible alleged-rascals inside the party? There have been calls to ‘fast-track’ legal procedures for such cases. Ostensibly, this fast tracking should also apply to the alleged crime committed against women by Tricolour and saffron ‘social workers’. Shouldn’t it?
In a statement after meeting prime minister Manmohan Singh, Shinde said, “The government will take immediate steps for the amendment of the Criminal Law for enhanced and more effective punishment in the rarest of the rare cases of sexual assault such as this.” This is something that has a resonance with a significant section of the protesters where public hanging and castration have been demanded. But there is rape and there is rape. The state has hinted that it might toy with the idea of death penalty or something more severe than the present punishment for ‘rarest of the rare cases’. Is the alleged rape of a 56-year-old woman in Gujarat by a Central Industrial Security Force personnel a ‘rarest of rare case’? Does the alleged repeated sexual brutalization of Soni Sori in the custody of Chhattisgarh police qualify as a ‘rarest of rare case’? Was the alleged gang-rape of a 12-year-old mentally challenged deaf and mute girl by three CRPF personnel near their Warangal area camp a ‘ rarest of rare case’? Is the alleged rape of a Congolese child by an Indian Army jawan posted as ‘peace-keeper’ a ‘rarest of rare case’? Did the forensic evidence of DNA match matter in that case? Did anything matter? Did anything get fast-tracked, or was a clean-chit thrown back on the face of the victim?
What about the Kunan Poshpora tragedy of 1991 – the alleged gang rape of more than 50 Kashmiri women by army jawans? It has been 22 years. Does ‘morale’ come before justice or does ‘honour’ look different when viewed through Tricolour blinders? Or are these ‘rarest of rare cases’ not ‘rarest of rare’ precisely because they are not rare? I sincerely hope the Delhi youngsters who besieged the Raisina Hills only to be lathi-charged back have all this in mind, when they chant ‘We-want-justice’.
The author a postdoctoral scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology @gargac on Twitter, firstname.lastname@example.org