Originally Published 2013-01-08 00:00:00 Published on Jan 08, 2013
The recent brutal gang rape in Delhi is not just significant for its violence against women in India, it is also a commentary on the country coming of age, of our desire to move forward, and of our resolve to treat what ails our society.
India faces coming of age in rape aftermath
The recent brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in a moving public bus in New Delhi has pitted the youth of India in direct confrontation with the government.

Enough has already been said about the case from the perspective of the victim and millions of women in the city and the country. The underlying reasons and the emerging trends thereof, however, haven't been spoken about, and need to be examined.

India is a country where several periods of civilization coexist simultaneously. For every modern liberal woman balancing her family life with her career, there is a Khap (Caste-based) Panchayat meting out medieval justice in the form of honor killings.

In the recent case too, the mother of the prime accused, Ram Singh, said on the day of his arrest that her son may have been wrong, but asked what the victim was doing on the roads with a male friend after dark.

President Pranab Mukherjee's son, Abhijeet Mukherjee who is himself a sitting MP, made a sexist comment about the protesters being "dented and painted women," drawing flak from all segments of society.

In such a society, conflicts are bound to arise. The idea of India as an entity is therefore facing a divergence from within. And in this period of transition, if this idea gets distorted, we will have a very difficult time in correcting it. Delineating these centuries from each other in an emerging economy is not an easy task.

However, a start can be made by educating those who are at the helm of affairs.

Feminism as a part of the curriculum needs to be introduced at school level along with basic respect for women at family and community levels.

A rape is not only a sexual crime, but also a crime of power and must be dealt with accordingly.

In interactions with some rape victims, it emerged that many of them were targeted for being too liberal where a man "had to show them their place." In such a clash, the victims are invariably women and children because of their vulnerability.

There is an urgent need for reforms in the way Indian police work and criminal elements find it easier to get away with crimes like these. Massive educational, police and judicial reforms need to be initiated so that criminals don't believe that they can get away with their actions.

An interesting development over the past few days has been that of the young liberal-minded India demanding basic safety still being entangled in insisting on a medieval form of justice.

Public lynching, stoning by a mob, castration, capital punishment and other such actions against the rapists are now being demanded forcefully by the protesters.

This reiterates the existence of many centuries within every Indian in this period of transition. On the one hand you demand that society moves forward accepting women to be as empowered as their male counterparts, while on the other, you demand gruesome forms of justice dispensation which existed at a time where women were considered inferior.

This contradiction needs to be addressed. If the society wishes to move forward, changing course midway may not be the best idea and can further delay this progress that we all seek today.

In practical terms, capital punishment or the other suggested forms of justice may prove counterproductive in the long run.

A person with a criminal bent of mind may not be able to control his physiological urges even in future, but knowing the horrific consequences, he may make one last attempt at saving himself from punitive action by killing his victim.

In conclusion, we have to ask ourselves, is our anger justified for just this rape when the gender ratio in India remains poor, especially in the northern parts of the country where female feticide and infanticide is still rampant?

This rape is not just significant for its violence against women in India, it is also a commentary on the country coming of age, of our desire to move forward, and of our resolve to treat what ails our society.

(The author is an Associate Fellow with Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

Courtesy: Global Times, Beijijng, January 7, 2013

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