Ok, I’m not a politician so I have no qualms in admitting it – I was wrong. In my last column, I said the Justice Verma Committee’s recommendations into Criminal Law Amendments were going to go the Women’s Bill way, that no political party was serious about it, and that it was going to gather dust in a forgotten corner of North Block, moving only in theory from one panel to another till they were certain it had faded from public memory. And in that aspect, it seems, I had miscalculated the government’s desire to ride the popularity charts. Hell, they said, why should we let that 80-year old Justice Verma steal all the thunder? He thinks he’s all that, but we, the UPA, listen to our people - so we’ll give them what they really want - the death penalty.
Yes, I was wrong in thinking the Government’s going to let this one slide. But I wasn’t wrong in writing that the government wasn’t serious in really bringing about change in the way sexual crimes are dealt with in our country. If they were serious, would they have dismissed Justice Verma’s attempt to really provide a severe deterrent to crimes against women? For instance, he recommended making refusal to register a case a criminal offence and suggested five years jail as punishment. That would have really put the fear of law into enforcement officials but guess what, now it’s only got a year’s punishment. Justice Verma hadn’t spared his own tribe, recommending that if a judge or magistrate is accused of a crime against women, they would lose their immunity. The mandarins of law and home ministry have rejected this outright because it would mean that senior officials would also lose their safety net. The result is that we’re back to the old position - if someone influential holding public office commits rape, the police will have to wait endlessly for sanction to prosecute them.
But my outrage and the outrage of other women who are screaming and asking why the government thinks it is alright if a husband rapes his wife, doesn’t matter. The UPA thinks they are making amends about not listening to the screaming masses at Raisina Hill by simply going along with the hysterical, mass demand - hang the bloody rapists! The government doesn’t have the energy or the patience to listen to minority voices ,like empowered, educated women who explained with facts, with data that the death sentence was not a deterrent, that it was going to lower conviction rates even further.
But who listens to rational, reasoned arguments when you’re racing with the BJP to prove that you are more bloodthirsty than they are? If Sushma Swaraj can ask for 10 Pakistani heads, then you can wave your ordinance with presumed heads of rapists on your side, just so that you aren’t called a ‘soft’ state.
We’re so keen to prove we aren’t a `soft’ state that even our government’s ad campaigns to provide awareness against sexual harassment are aimed to build a community of ‘hard’ men. The publicity campaign by Delhi police is like a manual of ‘What Not To Do’. It encourages men to be ‘real’ men that ‘harasses the men who harass women.’ While the experts are trying to delink masculinity with crimes against women, the ad campaign reinforces stereotypes that a real man has to protect and honour the women in his community. It all ties up with the kind of ignorant solutions our leaders are suggesting, like the Delhi Lieutenant Governor Tejender Khanna who wants men to emulate some Western cowboy hero and roam the streets at night with their licensed guns to protect women. I can see it very clearly now — the lumpen elements who are out every Valentine’s Day harassing couples will now have the Delhi Police ad in their hands. “We are doing what the police said,’’ they can plead, “We are saving our sisters from these men who are harassing them.’’
To me, this campaign is symptomatic of a classic problem of the government - passing the buck. Instead of just doing what’s their job, that’s using the police to man the streets, to catch harassers or perpetrators of crime and bringing them to book, they want everyone else to do their job. Instead of instilling fear in the minds of potential criminals, and ensuring that no one gets away, they are trying to raise an alternative army of citizens. Well, that isn’t going to solve it. It might have solved things a bit if the thousands of policemen involved in VIP duty were back on the beat, it might have solved things a lot more, if they had implemented the Verma Committee report in totality.
But promising the death penalty, and printing these pithy ads, isn’t going to make women safe. That was the ultimate goal, wasn’t it?
Sunetra Choudhury is an anchor/reporter for NDTV and is the author of the election travelogue Braking News. On Twitter: @sunetrac