The dirty four of Nirbhaya disrepute are hanged. We have deleted a nightmare, swept away a carcass of crime rotting in the backyard of civilisational finesse. The genie is returned to the bottle. Sexual calm will prevail, till the next rash of degradation erupts. The malady as such, we won’t confront. Of course, we have made progress in dealing with this running sore in the soul of our humanity. Man-woman relationship defines the essence of all relationships. It is the mirror that reflects how we relate person-to-person and how we relate to nature. Also, to ourselves as social beings, stamped with the need to be human. The progress we have made in this regard so far can be stated simply. In the past, a rape victim became a ruined woman, wholly worthless.
Today, she is a ‘Nirbhaya’, especially because she is murdered. This is bad news for men who fail to grow up to be human, but is embryonic justice to humankind, not just to women. Why only embryonic? Consider the following: Our manner of dealing with instances of rape—in this case rape spiced with cruelty to sharpen pleasure—fights shy of facing its core reality of human degradation. The essence of this degradation is the idea of woman ‘as the spoil and the handmaid of communal lust’ (Karl Marx). It is the idea that human beings can be used as tools and means, which is, to Kant, the quintessential crime against humanity. Our humanity is eccentric, or unbalanced, without a sense of fellow humanity.
Using fellow human beings, male or female, as instruments for any purpose, including political, is immoral. The lust to abuse human beings as tools stems from the mindset of power that rejects love, which is the spiritual element in us. For a man in lust, a human being is no more than an item of pleasure. Preferring the sadistic pleasure of lust to the shared joy of self-transcending sexual union denotes the nadir of human degradation. The social malady of rape will not be eradicated, not even controlled, without confronting this social-psychological reality. So long as man exists only for himself as a callous consumer of pleasure, rape will continue. Rapists will be hanged—as they deserve to be—but man will never become human enough to be a lover, or a protector of woman. There is a famine in the land: the famine of love.
Far too many are hurting; only we do not dare to admit it. Delhi has, in recent times, seen in conjunction the two faces of this famine of the human: ‘Nirbhaya’ in 2012 and communal riots in 2020. We fail the truth, if we overlook the underlying kinship of these events. Nirbhaya was a victim of male aggression; not only phallic, but also muscular and social. So also the 53 riot victims. Both events alert us to the same reality: We are losing our capacity to relate to people as human beings. We are humanity-challenged. Mutuality is the essence of humanity. Every one-way relationship—with man, woman, nature, colleagues, neighbours—is akin, in principle, to rape.
This provides a perspective on why the Metropolis is becoming inhospitable to life. ‘Choking’ signals nature’s compromised capacity for reciprocity. Breathing involves mutuality with nature. Rape does not become less of a crime for being collective, as in the rape of nature. The ensemble of a million anti-nature offences is what makes a city ghostly, where children strain to breathe and citizens fail to recognise others even at a touching distance from each other: the distance of pollution. Pollution of the mindscape is deadlier than the pollution of the landscape. Pollution is the man-made collision-point of nature and human nature. Man’s relation to woman can never be separated from man’s relation to nature and to neighbour. Woman is man’s intimate neighbour. Woman is his emotional heart and nature, their shared home.
There is also this other issue that the two events raise: the issue of development. While the drumroll of development blares, the plastered-over reality screams at us another story: the story of our ‘human’ under-development. The sexual union of man and woman is the most natural and necessary experience. It is a privileged experience in which the truth of what is natural in man finds its spontaneous expression. It is scary, if what is ‘natural and spontaneous in men’ becomes so inhuman. (So, when riots are explained away as ‘spontaneous’ eruption of sentiments, we need to stop and reflect.) There are times I feel one’s status in the next birth will be decided based on how one expresses one’s sense of fellow humanity, in particular sexuality, in this birth. You love as a human being ought to? Rest assured; you’re safe. Lusted and violated others? Get ready for payback time.
There is only one bridle-path to becoming human: love. The need to love is, hence, the most basic of all needs. The foremost need of a lover is the need to meet the need of the one he loves. That need is the essence of humanity; and it is so whether it is in person-to-person relation, or in governance. The proof that you are a monumental failure in governance is that your continuation in power becomes solely your desperate need, and a nightmare for the people, especially for the weak and the vulnerable. Using fellow human beings, singly or in large numbers, to serve one’s interests, unmindful of how it degrades them, is tantamount to rape.
In a sense, the rapist too is a victim: victim of a terrible misconception. He thinks he needs a monstrous dose of pleasure; whereas his need is to become human and social, even if there was no one around to tell him that it is so. The righteous indignation that has been in public display about the tragedy of Nirbhaya would amount to nothing in the long run, unless the hidden malady of which it is a visible symptom is diagnosed and treated. There is no indication as yet that it will happen.
Former principal of St Stephen’s College, New Delhi Email: email@example.com