Archive for the ‘Asaram Bapu’ Category

Rape & Passive Resistance: Lawyer, Godman and Scientist.

16 March 2015
An article in Asian Age by Flavia Agnes, Women’s Rights Defender and Lawyer, “Inside The Minds of Rapist“, was recommended by a dear friend with words “Well written  by our old feminist friend Flavia“. I read it with interest because the documentary by Leslee Udwin, the ban on airing it, and the resultant inevitable “debates” had already spurred me on to write “India’s Daughter: Is India The Citadel of Rape?“; and I was eager to know what new insights one may gain from a lawyer with long history of helping rape victims through the labyrinth of torturous legal process. She says she has not seen the film, but was “alarmed by voices embroiled in a bitter controversy“. Though she is alarmed, she is confident that:

The ecosystem built laboriously by women who gave their entire life to making rape unacceptable to us as a nation has a solid base. It cannot be destroyed by the telecast of one documentary“.

Two things remain unanswered on reading the article: What does she mean by the ECOSYSTEM, and why did she at all see the telecast of one documentary [or the bitter controversy following it] as a THREAT, even if an impotent one? She eschews the culture of banning by the state whether to “save its women” or to “hide its shame”. She endorses the viewpoint expressed by some others, including lawyers, that the fundamental right of the accused to a free and fair trial would be compromised were the documentary to be aired; and laments that the judiciary failed to intervene proactively to postpone its airing until the conclusion of the judicial process. But, when does the judicial process end? After the supreme court decides the appeal of the convict; or were the convict to be sentenced to death penalty, after the president decides the convict’s clemency petition. The appeal in SC is already pending for over a year. The interminable and mind numbing delays in India’s judicial process are already a formidable obstacle in “speedy” and “hasty” court decisions. Do courts need another protective layer to keep them away from the “harm” public opinion and action may cause? Highly influential people, including legal luminaries, voice their opinions on civil and criminal cases all the time. Such prominent voices, often well regarded by judges, are likely to “colour” their judgment. Should all such scholarly debates be all stopped until judicial process has terminated? The great outpouring of disgust and anger that the streets of Delhi saw in the December of 2012 forced the callous government to first “suppress” the protests and when that failed to air-taxi the near-dead victim to Singapore in a fake show of great concern. Government was then influenced. Mainstream media was influenced to give 24×7 coverage. Even judicial administration was influenced to conduct a day to day trial in a special court, which too received unwavering media attention. Are we still to believe that the trial judge would have been impervious to the clamour for death penalty? There was a demand even to do away in case of “heinous” crimes the “juvenile-protection” available to below 18 years offenders because we were told that the juvenile accused was most brutal in his conduct; a demand that supreme court declined.  Even the two defense lawyers, who made it to the documentary, had already had their “say” during the trial phase. The days of “Fair Trial”, whatever that means, ended long ago when societies became “consumers of news” and Mainstream media became its fountainhead. Why should the judges of high courts and apex court be treated to be so gullible as to be swayed by a single documentary? Had the higher judiciary acted to “postpone” airing as author has suggested, then it would have been an open admission of its “vulnerability” to “extraneous influences”. India doesn’t mercifully have the system of jury trial like US; wherein inexperienced greenhorns sit in judgment over life and death matters. “Fair Trial” may and do get compromised in such jurisdictions; but in India where “hardened” professionals with vast experience decide such issues such a risk must be considered low.
She dismisses the argument that the BBC documentary provides a platform to air misogynist views for banning it [..foremost among them being that women invite rape], but at the same time is conscious of the well entrenched “establishment-bias”.

Our senior police officers, politicians, religious leaders, even judges have endorsed this [misogyny] openly. A death row convict mouthing it does not give it credence; it only serves to demonise him as the evil other“.

Ironically, this observation of her’s is a “natural safeguard” to ensure a “fair trial” for the accused, but not for the victim. She doesn’t explicitly say so, but her inclination is clear about what she thinks of victims and accused making it to “Reality-TV”.

The culture of parading “real victims” is not only accepted but applauded in talk shows like Satyamev Jayate. Udwin has gone a step further and shown us “real rapists”, a trend which will soon catch up“.

Author takes a momentary pause on one statement of the accused.

If she had not struggled, we would not have killed her“. Then she adds, “Most find this abhorring. Does it mean that women should quietly succumb to rape without a protest? Well, my response, relying on what a few gangrape survivors have shared with me, is: Should we not develop a survival instinct among our women beyond pepper strays, mobile apps, karate lessons and CCTV surveillance?“. And rounds it up with what one rape survivor had told her, “My only concern during the rape was that I should emerge alive at the end of it. So I talked to them, pleaded with them to be gentle, not to hurt me, to think of their mothers and sisters. This brought in some change, they calmed down and did not kill me“.

How a person responds in an emergency depends on her/his personality, core value system and chance. Last, because same person may respond differently depending upon her emotional state in identical or very similar situations. Continuous training can make sizeable difference in emergency response behaviour through conditioning as demonstrated in the case of personnel of Fire Brigade, ICU interventionist, Hazardous plant operators, military or such other cases. I do not know if it is feasible to develop such “survival instinct” among almost half [forget for a moment India’s “missing daughters”] the population; but if society learns to treat a rape survivor no differently than it did earlier it would certainly help. Most people would readily part with their wallet or purse if confronted by a armed robber who seems willing to use his power. Losing a wallet or purse is not stigmatised, but instead would receive approval for being pragmatic rather than foolish. The blame and scorn that patriarchy heaps on a rape survivor makes women more vulnerable to “foolishly” resist rather than “pragmatically” yield. I again do not know which is the easier route: to reform patriarchy or to train women in survival instinct despite patriarchy; however, it need not be an either or situation. I sense that author’s intentions are honest, pragmatic, and more importantly untouched by misogyny from where she has reached her aforesaid formulation. But, this position suffers from two very serious infirmities. 

-Asaram Bapu too issued a much controversial statement in early 2013: “She should have taken God’s name and could have held the hand of one of the men and said I consider you as my brother and should have said to the other two, brother I am helpless, you are my brother, my religious brother. She should have taken God’s name and held their hands and feet…then the misconduct wouldn’t have happened“. Forget, surviving, he claimed that rape it self would have been voided. Even a woman scientists at that time said the same thing as the author; “Had the girl simply surrendered (and not resisted) when surrounded by six men, she would not have lost her intestine….“. This pair is coming to the same or very similar formulation from the other end of the spectrum. Wouldn’t this singularity confuse and confound most minds save except very agile by looking deceptively like -two sides of the same coin. How does one avoid this pitfall? 

 -Where does one draw the line for the “cultivation” of such “survival instinct”? Passive resistance proposed would or should trigger in the event of actual threat of rape. But like Defensive Driving, shouldn’t Defensive Avoidance be more advisable?: do not go out at night, if unavoidable go in a company [preferably of women], avoid being alone with man/men -especially father [And since cases of fathers raping daughters far outnumber “stranger rapes”], and so on. It may appear I am trivialising author’s proposition. I am not. I am genuinely concerned where to draw the boundary and why. Take for example the cases of atrocities on  Dalits or Depressed classes. The scale of gruesome violence against Dalits increased with Dalits resisting the indignities and depravations they suffered. Should Dalits quietly give in to upper caste demands and dominance to avoid pain of violence? Would that make their lives better?  More such examples can be added, but the point is that change is brought about only through resistance despite pain and suffering. Whether it is worth fighting for or not only the sufferers can decide.

It is harmful to be prescriptive or normative in such a complex topic that is hopelessly tangled with several anchor points. I wish that author had not casually used a newspaper article -a severely  “retarded” medium- to introduce such a delicate viewpoint. No doubt, the documentary was more about the “case” rather than being about the “patriarchal culture”, which it had pretensions to. But that shouldn’t have been the entry point for her position as same would eventually get drawn into more “bitter controversy”, which had alarmed the author in the first place. Her concluding remarks too leave one none the wiser.

But if we have to break new ground, rather than get enmeshed with same old clichéd rhetoric about why men rape women, we need to understand what goes on in the minds of rapists from our own class backgrounds“.

No doubt, the perceived class difference between the victim and the accused along with murderous brutality of the rape fed the revulsion and anger in that December; but would “what goes on in the minds of rapists from different class backgrounds” be much different? Is the mindset that leads to rape of a seventy+ nun in West Bengal much different than that of a father who rapes his daughter in distant Mumbai, Delhi or elsewhere? Isn’t the uniting theme behind the rape culture, Men’s “absolute Power” over Women [or sometimes other men], whether they be sister, daughter, mother, relative, wife or an acquaintance or a total stranger? Understanding what goes on in the mind of individual rapist would be worthwhile and rewarding pursuit, and would add depth to our knowledge of “rape culture”; yet it is unlikely to alter significantly the bedrock on which it sits.
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PS: The author narrates a case of Asmita [name changed], who and her sister are raped by their father repeatedly. Defence lawyer got the father out of the clutches of Child Sexual Abuse Act by fudging daughter’s birth certificate. However, it is not explained as to why father was tried under IPC Section 354 [outraging modesty] and not under Section 375 [rape].