Couple of days ago my classmate was terribly angered by the gang-rape of Delhi. So was I. After hours of discussion with her boyfriend, over the phone, she was still boiling. Once she ended her conversation with her boyfriend she continued the conversation with me, as I was with her. She picked up a bottle of Royal Stag from a wine shop and we sat under the ‘bargad’ tree in our campus to continue our discussion. She spoke how she, as a girl, feels about the whole incident and how it triggers a fear psychosis too and not just anger. While in complete agreement with the fact that the incident is brutal which needs to be protested we both could not agree with the demand for death penalty. At the same time we also felt that the outrage, though healthy, is partially governed by the fact that the culprits in the case in reference are weak. Not that we believe that makes the case against them weak. But they being from a weaker section adds strength to the outrage. Today when I heard Arundathi Roy voice a similar opinion, with greater clarity, there was a smile on my face because somebody, at a larger space, did voice my concern.
A.Roy, in her interview to, Channel 4, said: “Why is this crime creating such a lot of outrage? It is because it plays into the idea of the criminal poor, you know the vegetable vendor, the gym instructor, the bus driver actually assaulting a middle class girl. But when rape is used as a weapon against women by the upper caste or the army men it does not even get punished,” and adds “There are laws, but when police go and burn down villages and gang rape women..” and goes on to mention that there is a legitimization of violence, without failing to mention that in the end the women, from the upper middle and lower class, are finally paying the price.
A rape is a rape and every rape should be condemned, it is said, without bringing elements of caste, class, ethnicity into it. True. True at the level of rape which is violence by men on women. But what troubles me is the fact that only a gang-rape in an urban space, of a middle-class girl triggers a nation wide outrage. I do not intend to dilute the kind of importance is given to the matter in the parliament- at least at the level of discussion- or by the media or by the “mass” of this country. But when Khairlanji rape doesn’t create a nation wide outrage, when Manorama rape case doesn’t scare the day’s light of the entire nation, the issue of Soni Sori doesn’t bring tears in the eyes of people or bring people on the street, it is disturbing.
A day after the Delhi gang-rape issue hit the headlines a news broke from Bihar of a 8 year old Dalit girl being raped and in the next couple of days another report came from Tuticorin. Don’t know how many more incidents of rape took place in this country from then until now, the news of which either did not reach me- for me to mention here- or did not even reach the newspaper. When every rape is a rape no matter what class caste ethnicity the raped belongs to, why is there a selective empathy and outage against only one incident? Delhi being the capital of the nation, the power center or center of power, the girl belonging to middle class and the rapists being from a weaker section, which as A. Roy points, plays to the idea of the criminal poor, and it all disturbing the idea of safety among the middle class, is one of the reasons for the nation wide outrage and protest.
There are plenty of incidents, unspoken and unreported – to the media and the police- where men, standing up in the socio-economic ladder or social power structure, have sexually violated women standing slightly below them in the ladder or the power structure. Many female employees are sexually exploited by their bosses. Many professors sexually exploit their students. Many caste Hindus use rape as a tool against the Dalits. Many army people, as reported, have gang-raped adivasi women and Dalit women. How many times there have been mass mobilization and mass protests against these incidents? But when an incident takes place against a middle class girl in the heart of the power center the nation is outraged and media awakened. This is saddening and also disturbing.
Reviewing the year 2011, the year which saw revolt around the world, the great historian Eric Hobsbawm had noted, “What unites them is a common discontent and common mobilisable forces – a modernizing middle class, particularly a young, student middle class, and of course technology which makes it today very much easier to mobilize protests.” This was quite the same with the Anna Hazare movement in our country. An extension of the same is this, it appears, though the demand in this case of fight for justice in the Delhi gang-rape is justified and is very much valid and is urgent. The protesting “mass” is the middle class as the threat is majorly to the middle class and this protest doesn’t pick up the case of the 8 year old Dalit girl being raped in Bihar or the issue of Soni Sori.
Has mass revolt become the space of middle class and not the space of the wretched of the earth? This is almost what Hobsbawm had pointed out that its the middle class and not the working class which has occupied mass movements and creating the waves. This new awakening among the middle class is good but not enough, it appears, for it excludes the wretched of the earth. If the space of mass revolt and rebel is occupied by the middle class, it is extremely saddening as total liberation is not possible without the liberation of the wretched of the earth. Hence pointing at the unconscious of the selective empathy, as done by A.Roy, seems important to me.
At the same time, as pointed out by the editorial of EPW, what is disturbing in this particular case, is also the fact that the rapists were from marginalized groups. To quote from the editorial: “At times like this it is easy to forget that by far the most common sexual assaults are by people known to the victim – neighbors relatives, even friends. Such rapes are rarely reported. Another common type of assault that needs to be emphasized in this context is the so-called “power rape”, where the perpetrator is in a position of power over the victim, whether as landlord, boss, or police/army officer. The very identity of the perpetrators makes it likely that such crimes will never come to light. In sharp contrast, this rare case is one where the accused come from a marginal location in metropolitan society, whether in terms of their occupation(driver, fruit vendor, petty criminal, gym assistant…) or their place of residence in a slum.” The editorial further on goes to say, “Some experts quoted in the media have described the accused as psychopaths probably provoked by pornography.Such casual explanations are unhelpful to say the least. Psychopaths tend to be loners; they do not band together drunkenly,first to steal from a carpenter (who had boarded the bus earlier and was then let out), then to vent their anger on the male friend of the victim before doing what they did to the woman herself.It may be more useful to focus on the increasing incidence of vehicle-borne assaults, including cases of rape and gang rape reported in Delhi. The capital has the largest number of vehicles for a city, the highest vehicle density and the best roads in the country. But what makes Delhi distinctive is the peculiar combination of power and impunity that it both exudes and offers up as routine public spectacle. The desire to experience this heady mixture is contagious, and the closest that subaltern groups can get to this is the feeling of control and power in a moving vehicle. It is this desire that the men in the bus were perhaps giving vent to, and the city and its obscene inequalities deserve to be treated as accomplices in this brutal crime.”