Sunday, December 23, 2012

Protesting Rape in New Delhi

Running away from tear-gas (the smoke that you see).
Tens and thousands of protesters with placards lined up the avenue from India Gate to the Rashrapati Bhavan, all the news channels reported, to demand justice for the gang-rape of a 23 year old in a public bus who is still in a critical condition at a hospital in Delhi. The politicians, the law enforcers, and the public, for once seemed to be on the same page in terms of condemning the brutal attack. I had to see it for myself for this, I felt, was a sign of a progressive India that would not stand for such heinous crimes.

Yes, there probably were about a hundred thousand people there, may be more.  It was heartening to see so many people out on the streets. The news channels called it the largest protest against rape in Delhi.

The warm fuzzy feeling in my heart subsided soon. Here is why:

Damper 1: Blood Lust

One of the many lamp-posts "occupied" by protesters.
Alongside the cries of “We Want Justice!” were the following slogans and placards:

-          Rape the Accused
-          Hang the Rapists
-          Goli Maro Saloko (Shoot the bastards)
-          Delhi Police Ek Kam Karo, Churiya Pehenke Dance Karo (Delhi Police do one thing, wear bangles and dance)
-          An Eye for an Eye – So, what for Rape?
-          Yes it is another story. It has to be the last story. Only Death Sentence
-          Law for Rapist – Hang till Death. Or no Vote.
-          Capital Punishment is not a Solution. Make the accused rapists suffer Castration.
-          We want Justice for the Innocent. Hang them to death.

While you could probably find a few who were against capital punishment, the popular demand of the day was for death, along with some sexist chants about effeminate policemen. They all seemed to be out for blood.

Damper 2: Aggressive Policemen

The protesters were out for blood, yes, but all they were doing was chanting and marching up and down. There were some who were trying to break down a barricade that the police had set up, but largely it was a peaceful protest. Yet, the policemen that surrounded the Presidential Palace felt the need to use tear gas and water cannons on the crowds. If the crowds were unruly, it was only in situations where people tried to escape the police attacks.

I was surprised. I could not understand why the police would behave this way. Do people not have the right to protest in democratic India? At a time when state officials spoke along the same lines in terms of condemning the rape, why do the state representatives on the ground (aka the police) behave differently?

Damper 3: Gnawing Questions

  1. If Delhi is the Rape Capital, why was this the first time that people came out on the streets in such large numbers? “Because it could’ve been me,” said a friend. And that is the harsh reality. When a rape takes place in a capital city, in a public bus, to an urban, middle-class woman, people identify with it and they protest. There is no such empathy for rapes that occur in rural areas and slums, for Dalit rape victims, for adivasi rape victims, rape victims in Kashmir or in Chhattisgarh. So, perhaps there will be some justice in this case, but rape will probably still go on.
  2. To what extent was this rape a product of “neoliberal India”? This was a case of poor fruit vendors and petty salesmen raping a middle-class woman. Were they reacting to the woman or to the system that creates these harsh inequalities in such a brutal fashion? Has the system, by focusing on economic wealth only, neglected those who were left behind, who can only find expression in such unimaginably cruel acts?

There is a silver lining, however: Today, the whole of India seems to be against rape. That may not be good enough, but it is a start; a start to understand that rape is not only about individual responsibility, but also about social responsibility.

 - Saturday, December 22, 2012