Calcutta Notebook

Violence against women is on the rise. Dowry-related deaths no longer get frequent front-page coverage. Nor do op-edit pieces on dowry make impact these days on drawing room feminists. It is rape, in most cases gang rape, that hits the headlines quite often throughout the country. Surprisingly Bengal and Andhra top the list in rape violence, albeit communists once had substantial influence in these two states. Their women’s organisations are still functioning but they are more interested in women’s reservation issue, not rape. They never forget to mark some auspicious day as they do it every year on March 8—international women’s day. Also during election season they take trouble to organise a rally to two in support of their respective party candidates. In truth violence against women is a lively topic for academics and researchers who pen exhaustive write-ups on the issue without influencing the society at large. Interestingly, Bengal is being redefined by certain critics as a state situated in India where ‘the government takes rape lightly but cartoon seriously’.

Police invariably take rape cases reluctantly, no matter who are involved—hooligans with political patronage or influential people with money bags behind him. They react when they face political pressure. Again it is political connection that stands in their way of tough action against the rapists. Political parties including left parties have only one-point agenda of how to win elections or lose them. If rape, even brutal gang rape and murder, cannot fetch votes, they don’t bother about it as if it is a minor social evil.

Not a single day passes without the media reporting on rapes, eve-teasing, molestation of girls and house-wives and brutal murder of women by lumpens otherwise sheltered by political heavy-weights and medium-weights as well.

Rape victims hardly get justice in law courts. Nor can they succeed in most cases to summon enough energy to lodge complaint to the police. In this patriarchal society even educated women, not to speak of the illiterate or semi-literate from subaltern stock, are afraid to face police. The reason is simple : reports on policeman indulging in rape, arson, misbehaviour and arbitrariness abound. How police and para-military forces resort to calculated rape in areas of disturbance during their routine operations and raids is now an open secret, albeit the persons in authority always deny such allegations.

Bengal’s junglemahal is still dotted with police camps. So is Chattisgarh. And how tribal girls and women were raped and molested by security forces in the name of combating maoists, is now a burning issue for human rights groups world-wide. Incidents of rape of tribal women in Chattisgarh by Chidambaram’s blue-eyed boys in uniform are so frequent that the media, otherwise not averse to sell such horrendous stories, is losing interest. Maybe, for them it is a situation of ‘law of diminishing return’. Or official stick may play the trick of black-out. In other words rape is being increasingly institutionalised as a weapon to punish those who refuse to kowtow to the authorities. In war-or in any conflict it is really a strong weapon for rivals to humiliate each other.

Justice delayed is justice denied. And it is nowhere so pervasive as in rape cases. Sathin Bhanwari rape case is a classic example of how legal resistance becomes ineffective and irrelevant for certain rape victims.

‘‘At the time of rape, Bhanwari was working in her village as a primary change agent—known as a Sathin—for the Rajasthan Government run Women’s Development Programme’’. She drew flak from village patriarchs by actively campaigning against child-marriage. It was too much in a conservative feudal environment. So Bhanwari had to face the ordeal—the rape took place in 1992. ‘‘Today, 19 years later, the case is still pending with the Supreme Court, and Sathin Bhanwari continues to live with her rapists in the same village. Two of the accused have died’’. Thus observes Taisha Abraham who has written elaborately on different occasions on Sathin Bhanwari’s plight.

The ever growing incidence of rape violence from every state illustrates among other things how criminalisation of politics has reached a stage where ordinary people always feel insecure and helpless.

Rape is not an issue before the left, not to speak of the political right. They have lost direction. And their frontal organisations including women’s platforms, are mere vote-catching machines, geared up during electioneering. Sometimes their own cadres get involved in such gruesome crimes against women. Human Rights Movement is so weak and so localised that it can hardly mobilise public opinion against rape and rape-related violence, in a big way. And without strong public opinion it is next to impossible to fight this curse in a situation where political parties won’t like to intervene. Official Human Rights Commissions maintained by the Centre and State governments are at best decorative democratic institutions with no authority to force the governments to take stern measures against rapists. And now a molestation case in Assam on July 9 outraged the nation. Because of furore throughout the country the prime accused Kalita was arrested on July 23 from Varanasi.

Forced into desperation, people are trying to resist rape violence and support rape-victims by organising local initiatives and those who lead are paying the price heavily as it happened recently in the murder of a Kolkata School Teacher Barun Biswas, who dared to defy political powers and organised the people of his native village in 24 Parganas (N) district against the gang-rapists. As there is no alternative these local initiatives are the only hope for the helpless.

True, moral degradation is interlinked with all pervasive economic crisis affecting the society, political parties, ruling and opposition, have failed to address the burning problem the society faces because of steady decline of political honesty and morality. Corruption is everywhere and corruption in turn is aggravating criminalisation of politics.

Vol. 45, No. 3, July 29-August 4, 2012