We are a society of hypocrites. Let us not be hypocritical about it. We have large mouths when we wax eloquent on how women are respected in our culture, how we revere women as mothers, sisters, goddesses and so on. There is no shortage of cheesy sentimental poetry on this subject. Godmen and godwomen, who sell spirituality in wholesale and retail, never get tired of talking about the war fought to protect the ‘honour’ of Draupadi or about the killing of Ravana for the crime of kidnapping Sita.
In international forums, our diplomats gloat about India’s democracy, an independent judiciary, free press and the gender, class, caste and religious neutrality our law offers to all, and hint about our neighbouring countries that are theocratic or autocratic with disdain. The moral superiority and smugness we exhibit while talking about ourselves used to be sickening once. Now, this farce elicits nothing more than derisive laughter from the rest of the world.
A glance at headlines in the last few days can indicate how deep we have sunk as a society. The Gujarat government released 11 convicts of an infamous gang-rape case committed during a religious riot. In a country that erupted in spontaneous protests over the Nirbhaya case in Delhi a few years ago and brought down the governments, this commutation of life sentence to rapists evoked no major outrage. The victims’ religion, caste, social status and political affiliation dictate our morality now. In a bizarre verdict,
a session court in Calicut, Kerala, gave bail to a self-proclaimed intellectual in a sexual harassment complaint filed by a Dalit woman.
The learned court remarked that Section 354A (sexual harassment) of the Indian Penal code would prima facie not apply if a woman wore “sexually provocative dresses”. By the same logic, can a jewel robber go scot-free if he can prove that the display of jewels provoked him to be a robber?
It will be of immense help to women of our country if a dress code on what’s sexually provocative and what is ‘sanskari’, as defined by the ‘morality uncles’, is published. Their diktat is clear. Suppose you are a woman and belong to the wrong caste or religion and happen to wear ‘sexually provocative dresses’ and get raped, you will have only yourself to blame in this country where women are worshipped as goddesses. The same Calicut court had applied its wisdom in another lawsuit against the same intellectual a few days ago. It concluded that the survivor of the harassment lacked common sense, and it didn’t believe that the prominent intellectual would harass anyone, knowing the victim belongs to the Scheduled Caste as he was an anti-caste activist.
On August 12, a Dalit boy was beaten to death by his teacher for touching the water pot meant for ‘upper castes’ in Rajasthan. On February 22, 2018, a 30-year-old tribal youth named Madhu was lynched by a group of people in the hamlet of Attapadi in Kerala. It took four years for the trial to begin, and many witnesses had turned hostile by then. The lynchers are influential and are connected to major political parties and fundamentalist minority religious organisations.
Recently, the special court cancelled their bail for influencing and threatening the witnesses, but the damage has already been done. The chances of Madhu getting justice are as much as that of the Rajasthan boy. When it comes to how the powerful treat the powerless in our country, it doesn’t matter whether it is the so-called ‘progressive’ Kerala or the ‘backward’ Rajasthan or the ‘shining’ Gujarat. The political parties differ only in the colour of their flags.
The learned judges who think the victim’s dress rather than the lecherous assailant is to be blamed; prosecution that takes four years to bring a trial in a lynching case of a hungry tribal; the teacher who beats his student to death for ‘polluting’ his divine water pot; the ‘cultural organisation’ that claims to have taken avatar to protect the traditions of our ancient land in the time they can spare after organising welcome parties for rapists released from jail—these are the real representatives of our society. This is who we, the self-proclaimed ‘Vishwagurus’, are really.
Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy