Special sessions and the politician’s syllogism

‘India’s daughter’ was cremated yesterday. (While on that, am I the only one who finds that appellation patronizing in the extreme? I understand the emotionalism behind it, but surely a society that failed the girl in life claiming her in death is merely adding post-mortem incest to gratuitous injury?)

Anyway. She was cremated. And we console ourselves with the knowledge, or rather hope, that she is in a far better place now.

But even as her ashes cooled, somebody’s daughter, an engineering student en route to her tuitions, was forced into a car, raped, filmed, dumped. Somebody’s wife died in Jaipur after her brother-in-law attempted to rape her and when she resisted, strangled her. Somebody’s daughter, a 14-year-old, consumed pesticide in an attempt to end a life made insupportable when her brother-in-law and his friend raped her over a period of six days. Somebody’s daughter was brutally attacked in the presence of her younger sister by the neighborhood boy who failed in his bid to rape her. Somebody’s daughter, who went out of her home to ‘attend a call of nature’ (providing toilets to the less privileged is of course not on anyone’s agenda), was spotted by a passing stranger — and raped. In Bhopal, somebody’s teenaged daughter, trying to make ends meet by working at a construction site, was gang-raped. In Patiala, where somebody’s daughter committed suicide the other day when police added humiliation to rape, somebody’s daughter, who was seeking a job in the police force, was raped, repeatedly and over months, by a cop and one other.

Somebody’s sister was assaulted by a conductor on board a moving bus in Bhagpat in broad daylight while others watched and her sister begged for mercy; when the bus was later intercepted and the girl’s family sought to question his conduct, the perpetrator and “his aides” responded with their fists. The police arrived and arrested two members of the victim’s family while allowing the conductor to go free.

The part that that gives me pause? It is not as if I did an exhaustive search for rape cases over the past day or so; these are just some instances that floated past me on my Twitter timeline this weekend. Plus, these partially catalogue rape, both attempted and accomplished; they don’t even begin to map the unnumbered instances of “eve-teasing” (read the brilliant Nilanjana Roy on how futile that expression is), groping and all other forms of harassment women suffer in the home, on the commute, at work and at play (Read this, to get a sense of how pervasive abuse is).

Meanwhile, the search for instant solutions continues, driven largely by the media. On ‘Black Saturday’ (an honorific accorded 29.12 to distinguish it, presumably, from all those other gray and tan and off-white Saturdays when rape and molestation do not surface on our collective radar), I watched one TV anchor ‘grill’ Federal Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. Sir, will you give us your assurance that charges of murder will be filed against the six rapists? ‘Yes, I assure you charges will be filed and we will ensure the strictest punishment.’ But sir, will you give a time-bound assurance? ‘I have assured you that charges will be filed…’ But sir the question is will you give a time bound assurance? ‘I have just assured you et cetera.’ Anchor concludes: That was Home Minister Shinde who did not give us a time-bound assurance despite our repeated demand for a time-bound assurance and so we still don’t have a time-bound assurance…

Here is veteran journalist Kanchan Gupta’s recap of a ‘fast track’ court that provided a ‘speedy trial’ — just so we know what we are asking for.

Elsewhere, for the entirety of a ‘special news hour’ that lasted 180 minutes, a noted anchor harangued a succession of panelists into agreeing with him that the government should ‘immediately, without any further delay’, summon a special session of Parliament. (And if there is some irony in summoning for a ‘special session’ a Parliament that, this year, set records for the least number of days worked, the least number of discussions, the least amount of time spent on question hour, the least number of bills passed, the most number of disruptions and walk-outs, leave it be).

What is this ‘special session’ supposed to do? Introduce the death sentence for rape, for starters. But how to introduce a provision that is already available to judges? As recently as March 2012, a Sirsa (Haryana) court had imposed the death sentence on Nikka Singh, 22, who raped a 75-year-old woman and then murdered her by strangulation. (In passing: Among the more risible outcomes of the presidency of Pratibha Patil was her wholesale commutation of life sentences imposed on 35 convicts, as she neared the end of her term. These included five people sentenced to death for rape. Oh, and to continue the comic interlude, one of the rapists she looked leniently on — Baburao Tidke, convicted for the rape and murder of a 16 year old — turned out to have already died of AIDS five years before Ms Patil posthumously accorded him a fresh lease of life. The disbelieving laughter that incident provoked echoes, still. This is the same Pratibha Patil, by the way, who now screams for blood.)

The point, however? The sentence of death is already part of the palette of punishment — why ruin the hard-earned holidays of a bunch of Parliamentarians to dot those ‘i’s?

In passing, do we even remember that a bill designed to curb violence against women has been pending before Parliament for any time these last six years? And it has been pending because our Parliamentarians have been too busy walking out when they are not creating “disruptions”, to debate, discuss and pass the bill? That another bill, aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, has also been languishing ever since 2010, because Parliament hasn’t had the time to get down to it? Seriously — we are now calling for special sessions of Parliament to do what no one had the time or inclination to do during regular sessions lo, any time these past few years?

Why this frenzied demand for instant solutions? Simple: fatigue. For all the grandiose pronouncements of determination, for all the solemn vows that we will never forget, for all the self-serving announcements in the media that this ‘issue’ will be kept on the front-burner for as long as it takes, we know the truth: that in days, a week, tops, the energy will flag. 180-minute news-hours will become also ran mentions while we move on to the latest scandal du jour. It will happen, it is inevitable — after all, didn’t we make similar pronouncements about corruption?

Before that happens, though, we need to be able to claim a victory — any victory — as a salve to the collective conscience. (Reminds me of George Bush, prominent codpiece and all, claiming ‘Victory’ in Iraq through a stage-managed photo op after the Saddam statue was toppled and before the real war on the ground had even begun).

These urgent demands of today are the manifestation of the politician’s syllogism which runs thus: We must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do this.

A ‘solution’ has to have some relation to the problem it seeks to solve. Step back for a moment and consider this: The Delhi rape? It happened in a bus that was plying without a proper license — a bus, in fact, that continued to operate despite complaints from no less than the DTC. It happened in a bus boasting windows tinted a darker shade than what was permitted, and covered over by curtains; the cops let it pass despite specific laws proscribing such and a specific Supreme Court stricture demanding that the capital’s cops enforce compliance.

What laws were lacking, that these things happened?

What law was lacking, that kept police from taking cognizance of this? What law was lacking that led police to behave thus and cause a young woman to end her life? What new law can we pass to ensure this does not happen? Which law will you amend to ensure that police don’t allow someone who molested a differently abled woman, deaf to her screams, “gives them the slip“?

Do you remember Mathura? She was somebody’s daughter, too. While her family stood outside, she was raped inside the very police station where she had gone to register a complaint. There was outrage then, too. Laws were passed, others amended, then too. And yet, as the grim catalogue of crimes against women in the 38 years since, nothing has changed.

And all this is just the police. If by chance or due to public pressure, investigations are carried out and cases registered and brought to court, the judges turn them down. When judges convict and hand down salutary punishment, the perpetrators go to the higher court in appeal, are promptly given bail, and the case is never heard of again. (An earlier post recorded the more famous of such instances).

What do we have to show for all the laws we already have on our books? This: 635 reported cases of rape in Delhi alone. And one solitary conviction.

The problem is not inadequate laws, or lack of laws — the root of the problem lies in lack of enforcement of existing laws, which in turn confers on the rapists a sense of immunity, even of entitlement.

If that is the problem, then the search for a solution has to begin with police reform. (As Saikat Datta points out here, the politicians who we now demand should meet in “special session” are the root of this particular problem.) Empowerment of the police to act without fear, and deterrent punishment when they fail to act, are among the pre-requisites of such reform.

And if we must reform our laws — and there is little doubt we must — then that reform should be sane, sensible, considered reform that addresses the real problems. (Read Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy’s recommendations, for instance)

But that is a long, tortuous trail to take — it is far easier to stick political band-aid on the issue and move on to other preoccupations. Hence these demands for ‘instant solutions’, If we want real solutions, lasting solutions, though, then that is the road we need to take, the conversation we need to have, the goal we need to pursue, no matter how long it takes.

PS: Here, a round-up of essential reading on the Delhi rape and related issues. If you come across interesting links, please add to the comments field? Thanks.

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