Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rape in India

The victim of a gang-rape on a bus in New Delhi died in Singapore and some may wonder why. Medical experts are of the view that the doctors at Safdarjang Hospital were doing an excellent job and were taking good care of her. The Government of India took the decision of moving her out of the country despite her fragile condition, against medical advice, must be held responsible for hastening her death.

Dr Samiran Nandy, a renowned transplant surgeon of the country, commented “I just can’t understand why a critically ill patient with infection in blood and body, high grade fever and on the ventilator is being transferred. It will take weeks in this case to even look into the possibility of an intestinal transplant, so why hurry and take the patient out from a facility which works so well. It seems more of a political move”.

Dr Kaushar Mishra of Primus Hospital has expressed similar views, “There is no question of a transplant at this stage. The infection has to be controlled first, and the patient stabilized. I do not understand what the hurry was to take the patient out. Safdarjang Hospital, like other major hospitals in India, has excellent medical facilities and doctors to take care of the critically ill’.

Yet another senior doctor has said, “When the Prime Minister can be treated and operated here, what is the specific medical need to move a patient to Singapore? What the government is saying does not seem to add up”
Indeed, at a time when India is promoting and advertising itself as a destination for medical tourism and does not tire of boasting of the excellent medical expertise that the country has, why  move the young woman out of the country on supposedly medical grounds of good treatment, and contrary to expert medical opinion?

Without minimalising the tragedy of this woman's brutal death, many may also be wondering why cases of sexual and physical attacks on Dalit-Adivasi women generally go unnoticed. It is a common happening in most of those villages. There are thousands of such incidents happening every day in a country like India. No outcry, no protests, no demonstrations. Caste-based and ethnicity based rape, molestation, attempts to rape, assault, violence, discrimination and dishonor has been over-looked by the mainstream organizations including women's organizations. The poor, working class, Dalit-Adivasi women's struggle to survive day to day with human dignity. A young Dalit woman said "there is no girl in our lane who has not been coerced or raped by the dominant caste men when they go to the fields to fetch water or for work”.  Which upper-caste young woman, rural or urban, has ever had to brave repeated rape without to keep her family supplied with water?  The Indian judicial system has always turned a blind eye in such cases when the offenders are from the rich and elite class and is deaf  to the cries of the victims if they are from the Adivasis, Dalits, minorities and the poor.

Arundhati Roy speaks unwelcome truths, truths that essentially do not go down well when she explained that while nearly 10 Indian industrialists make it to the first 50 in the Forbes World Richest Men List, the capital of India is dubbed as ‘The Rape Capital' and is a combination of incredibly crowded, ill-smelling slums; wide modern roads and elegant villas; the extremely poor and wretched; the fabulously wealthy and super-indulgent, and yet India is unable to protect its women traveling in buses. She asked why this case should be seen as an exceptional crime demanding widespread protests and demonstrations; something which didn't happen in many prior instances of violence against women meted out by the upper class/caste, police and army.

 The present case of the rape of a medical student is not essentially any different from the many of the rape cases but as Arundhati Roy points out, the victim was from the upper class and the perpetrators were poor. According to National Crime Records Bureau, around 17.6% of the rapes cases across India in 2011 happened in the national capital and more than 4489 cases of violence against women were reported in Delhi alone in 2011. The current is different though because of the numbers of people taking part in protests?  The important question here to be asked is that why were the protesters not able to raise their voice when countless women from Adivasis, Dalits, minorities and the poor were subjected to torture, gang rape and subsequently murdered in most inhuman conditions at Delhi and elsewhere around the country? What about the cases where rape was used as a means of domination by the upper caste or police. Soni Sori was an Adivasi school teacher and human rights activists in Chhattisgarh who was falsely accused for acting as a courier for Maoist Naxalites. She was subsequently arrested in 2011, stripped naked and tortured with electric shock at the orders of the then District Police Superintend. The torture was so cruel so that the doctors at Kolkata Medical College had to strenuously remove the stones that were forcefully inserted into her vagina and rectum by the state police.  Ankit Garg, the police officer who had Soni stripped naked in front of him and ordered three of his police men to sexually torture her was awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry while  Soni, whom Amnesty International has cited as a prisoner of conscience, still languishes in jail. 

Sixty five years since independence, caste and class divide still hold its clout in the Indian thought processes. It has now became the norm that you can get away with any crime against the poor including rape and murder if you have the clout of money or influence over the political system. The rich and elite have the laws and state machinery at their disposal, they could always get the tables turned in their favor. It is not that India does not have laws to protect women. There is no dearth of laws to prevent sexual offenses and to severely punish the perpetrators of such crimes, with new legislation on the way. The Criminal Laws Amendment Bill, 2012 is under discussion in the Lok Sabha. Another piece of legislation called the Protection against Sexual Harassment at Work Bill, 2010  But it is an issue of the lack of will power and the failure to enforce them.

Nor is not all about inflicting stricter punishments against the guilty but ending the way women are looked upon as a commercial commodity and the lower classes and castes as lesser human beings. 

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