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The twenty-three year old victim of brutal gang-rape on a New Delhi bus finally succumbed in a Singapore hospital following a period of physical and mental devastation – a devastation that needs a different kind of imagination for it to be properly understood. The first thing that comes to mind is: where is God in all of this brutalization? Where are the temples where money is being poured into by irrational, scared believers and the corrupt Indian rich who seek to bribe the gods in order to let them continue to loot an impoverished nation and let the poor die for lack of choice? Where are those priests in the temples, mosques, churches and the gurdwaras and their so-called believers – immoral and conscienceless characters – because they need to be blamed for all the violence in this communalized society? The legitimization of violence in a country like India is an altogether different thing.
I don’t understand this narrow understanding of a social problem by journalists, well-meaning individuals and the public in general. They want the rapists to be punished merely to be absolved of their own guilt because they know in their subconscious minds that they made the brutality possible through their unforgivable indifference to what happens to their neighbor fallen on the streets of the world. A sweet and sensitive friend of mine told me that he lived for five years in the city of Delhi and did not make a single friend. These are cruel and inhuman cities dedicated to external appearance and devoid of compassion and the cruelty and inhumanity is magnified because the context is a third world one. The urban collective conscience is shamed and wants quick results. It does not want to deal with the guilt more than what is necessary.
Anyone who has read Kafka knows that the law exists in order to induce fear and not to do justice. Punishing the rapists for their brutality is not the issue as much as I would like to see them punished. In fact I would think that they should be let free in order for the men on the street to actually suffer guilt and make serious efforts to bring about real change in the social order. The appeal to conscience is however futile where the majority of men are without one.
What we are seeing is the violence of a consumerist society. It’s a deeply brutalized society and the brutalization shows more so when it comes to the women. This is a patriarchal, woman-hating society. Look at the movies that are made in this country where women are treated like animals. What did you expect from those poor illiterate men who raped this woman? Having experienced violence on a day to day basis in the slums the only language they understood is the language of meaningless brutality. They were dramatizing the brutality that their bodies have experienced through life in the villages and the slums. The punishment will not make any difference to a conscience that is numbed by violence of another kind – the violence of poverty. Let’s not forget that the man who was with the woman was beaten up but not raped and brutalized like the woman was. It simply means that the perceived vulnerability of the woman is the issue.
The sad bottom line is: we have made the poor in this country violent and inhuman and left them to the mercy of manipulators from Bollywood and the television industry, the politicians and the urban middle class and rich Indians in general. Apparently the well-known actress Juhi Chawla wants the rapists to be given the eye for an eye kind of punishment – and that “death sentence” is too easy on the rapists. Let me tell you what is wrong with Indian mainstream films. The 1991 movie Benaam Badshah (An emperor without a title) has Anil Kapoor and Juhi Chawla in the main roles. Anil Kapoor plays the role of a goon from the slums and Juhi is a well-to-do middle class woman who is about to marry a doctor. The woman character is raped by the goon in the movie and the next thing she does is not go to the police to make a complaint as normal anyone would do. In fact what she does is to grovel in the dust for the goon to marry her now that he raped her and is the rightful “owner” of her body. I think she even sings a couple of songs to convince the rapist to fall in love with her. To add to the charade, the doctor too wants her to marry the rapist or at least he is happy with the idea since she lost her virginity to him. I’m sure that Juhi Chawla, if she really cared for the plight of women, would know better than accepting roles like this one that demean women.
I don’t think actors like Ms. Juhi Chawla or Mr. Amitabh Bachchan have any moral authority to condemn anything. I blame them individually and as an industry for this bad education given to the working classes and for perpetuating the victim syndrome among women, which means that most women – including the educated ones - tend to believe that being victim is part of the horrible destiny of being born woman. Today everyone wants the men to be punished. What about our role in creating these men and this atmosphere of violence in the first place!
Two things need to be addressed here: one is the dehumanization of the poor and its virulent consequences. Another is the warped virginity-obsessed Indian male sexuality. The former needs structural changes: give the poor and the working classes palatable food, education and basic healthcare. The latter is a more serious one. The kind of attention that the “sex act” is given as an end in itself is indeed morbid. We cannot have an entire culture dedicated directly or indirectly to be talking and thinking about sex on a daily basis. The men across this country – doesn’t matter whether they are brilliant engineers, software professionals or professors in universities – when it comes to women they believe what the rapists do – that the bodies of women are objects designed for male pleasure. A woman friend of mine said that a woman in this country does not exist who has not experienced violence in one form or the other. Likewise it is hard for me to believe that there are actually men who have not committed violence against women in one form or the other.
Humanization is a cultural process. I don’t believe that people are naturally “human.” We’re naturally beasts more than anything else. It took me twenty years to arrive at a radically simple conclusion that human nature is more or less the same everywhere: social and political conditions will determine to a large extent what people will or will not do. Male domination is a cultural problem. We need to humanize people in a situation where religion and economic exploitation play the diabolic role of dehumanization. India – for all its hypocrisy of being a deeply religious society – is the most godless country I’ve ever seen. In fact, living in India will convince you that God and the government are an excuse for you to do whatever you like if you have the power to do so. Women and the poor need God and the government because of their utter helplessness in the face of systemic violence. The men need the same God and the same government to justify male domination. We need to seriously change that.
In one of his most moving plays The Trojan Women on the plight of women in a patriarchal society especially in the aftermath of war, the Greek dramatist Euripides has the female protagonist Hecuba say:
O god, O god, whose slave shall I be?
Where in this wide world shall I live
My life out, doing drudgework,
Stooped, mechanical, a less-than-
Feeble token of the dead?
This is the sad truth of the working women coming from lower middle class and poor backgrounds because they face the brunt of male violence at its worst. If the conscience of the protesting men in this nation is genuinely affected by what has happened to the poor brutalized rape victim in New Delhi for whom death must’ve been a relief, the results must show at the personal level in how each man will contribute in his own way to the making of an egalitarian social order.
Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently working as an Associate Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.
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