by Aparna Mehrotra
November 27th 2019 carried the news of a gruesome gang rape and murder in the State of Telangana. A 26 year old veterinarian had been raped by a group of 4 men and burned alive. The crime, not an aberration – nearly 90 cases of rape are registered daily – evoked widespread outrage by the public. The sentiment mirrored the response to the horrific December 16 gang rape in the capital city of Delhi in 2012. The Verma Committee, which was formed in its wake to recommend changes to the criminal justice system in its January 23rd 2013 Report stated that rape and sexual assault are not merely crimes of passion but an expression of power.
The furore called for execution of the rapists, being led at the helm by lawmakers calling for public lynchings of the rapists in parliament. Conspicuously absent from the outcry was any kind of inward reflection on ourselves as a society that continues to coexist with such heinous acts on a daily basis. To an outsider it would seem like this incident was the only of its kind with only one effective solution – wipe out the perpetrators.
On 6th December 2019 came the news of all four suspects in the Hyderbad rape case being shot dead in an alleged encounter with the police in the wee hours of the morning at 3:30 am. A wave of celebration followed. With emotionally charged congratulatory messages online and with fireworks and sweets on the ground – “justice has been done.” Our temporary rage had been given temporary direction with a temporary “solution.” In the face of sheer bloodlust, we didn’t feel the need for the legal system to ascertain whether those killed were in fact the perpetrators.
Statistics show that in a majority of cases the rapists are known to the victim or are even close family members. Rape incidents are not isolated acts of violence, but the ugly and gruesome end of a spectrum which builds and bolsters the psyche that a woman’s personhood can be violated. Newspapers carried pieces of abdication by lawmakers and law enforcement in doing their duty in the wake of the November 27 rape. But there is a more sinister abdication which we are all guilty of – in looking at our own complicity in enabling an environment that treats women as lesser humans. The Hyderabad rape and murder is most unfortunately not an oddity. It is a consistent feature of, and truth about our society. We cannot take on the provisional role of instigators and delegate and disregard the labour of understanding the genesis of this crime as something esoteric, limited to the world of academics or specialists. Each one of us has a duty and responsibility. Because when we abdicate, the damage we inflict is the damage we ourselves sustain.
Be outraged, but not selectively. Sustain it. Be outraged when popular culture demeans women and passes it off as entertainment. Be outraged at the unequal power relations between men and women that inundate our everyday lives. Be outraged when you see women excluded from decision making roles. Because when we outrage selectively turning it into a bloodthirst that seeks revenge and not justice, it results in normalising and even celebrating blatant subversion of the justice system to achieve an end that serves no purpose. An extra-judicial killing leaves each one of us - and those less privileged infinitely more so - vulnerable to be tried outside of the legal system. It solves nothing. Due process protects us all.
Aparna Mehrotra is a lawyer based in New Delhi and consultant with Justice Adda