In a gut wrenching and heart breaking interview on Zee TV, Amanat’s friend, the 28-year-old software engineer and only eyewitness to the December 16, 2012 brutal sexual assault, stated that three Police vans arrived at the scene almost 30 to 45 minutes AFTER the call to the police. Further they began to argue about which thana’s jurisdiction could be established as the couple lay bleeding, naked, cold and in urgent need of medical attention. Finally, they were taken to the Safdarjung hospital which was not the nearest hospital where the two were found, wasting further precious time. Instead of any apology the Delhi police have rebutted these allegations of callousness and said Police Control Room (PCR) vans reached the scene within minutes of the crime and removed the duo to hospital in quick time. To add insult to injuries, it is being reported that the UPA government is charging Zee TV for invading the privacy of Amanat because of the interview of the friend/witness who exposed police lapses. We are all familiar with the attacks on fundamental rights of the press and expression under this government and this is absolutely deplorable by any standards. One can’t even begin to imagine the trauma of the brave man who recounted the happenings of the night on TV, providing us a mirror to our administrative system and our own social behaviour, as he told us how passers-by saw the victims and yet walked away without trying to help them.
For more insight on police investigations and on our own social ethos in India in sexual assault cases, let us revisit the Priyadarshini Mattoo and the Aruna Shanbaug cases.
Priyadarshini Mattoo, a student at Delhi University’s Law Faculty was raped and strangled at her home in Vasant Kunj in Delhi in January 1996. Santosh Singh, guilty of the heinous crime, was her senior at college. In this case there was ample evidence that Santosh Singh had been harassing her and stalking her for some time (with even evidence of a police FIR which she had filed). There was further and strong evidence of his guilt as his entry into her apartment had been witnessed by her domestic help on the day of the crime. He raped her and then hit her with a helmet, leaving her face battered beyond recognition. The shameless Delhi police did everything within their powers to get an acquittal for Santosh Singh, including fudging evidence and concealing facts from the court. Why? Because, the accused's father was a police IG himself and a government employee from the prestigious Indian Police Services. The trial court actually acquitted him in 1999 and he was conveniently rehabilitated as if nothing had happened. He got married and became a practising lawyer.
Relentless media campaign and the resilience of the Mattoo family bore fruit when 6 years later the Delhi High Court convicted him of the crime and the judge pronounced a verdict of death penalty. Finally the death sentence was converted to life by the Supreme Court and even that doesn’t really matter because the guy has been out on parole mostly, thanks to the wonderful Delhi Government and the one and only Sheila Dixit! When someone makes a noise, promptly he is sent to jail and then he is out again....This is how the Indian criminal justice system works.
Now let us turn to the Aruna Shanbaug case where a young and beautiful nurse, Aruna, was brutally raped by a hospital sweeper, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki at the King Edward Memorial hospital in Mumbai. The assault, in 1973, left her permanently nerve damaged due to asphyxiation as Walmiki used a dog chain to attack her. Those unthinkable moments of brutality changed her life from someone who was engaged to be married (to a doctor in the same hospital) to a vegetative patient in the very hospital she worked. Her fiancé moved on and her family abandoned her after a few years. She continues to “live” in the vegetative state at the Mumbai hospital and in 2011 a mercy petition for euthanasia for her was rejected by the Supreme Court. Sohanlal Walmiki was caught and convicted, and served a sentence for assault and robbery ONLY. The hospital decided to ‘protect’ Aruna by not making her violent anal rape public. As a result no rape charges were even filed. Walmiki served his sentence and then went to Delhi, found work and was rehabilitated.
While we rage and upset ourselves over our newest braveheart heroine, Amanat, here are questions to ponder over.
How do rape convicts (especially in high profile cases like Mattoo and Shanbaug) get so easily rehabilitated by society? How was it possible for Santosh Singh to get married and also become a practising lawyer in Delhi? Similarly, Sohanlal Walmiki was easily able to find a job in Delhi (I read in another hospital!) and was able to move his entire family and live his life to the full, after having served his prison sentence. We have said enough about the culture of rape and our social responsibility. It is time we asked how many of these criminals and rapists are easily able to find social and even political rehabilitation in many cases? Again, a personal story for the record. A friend’s neighbour in Ranchi, as is apparently well established, burnt his wife to death. There was no conviction despite evidence and he happily lives among ‘civilized’ people who only limit their social conscience to gossiping behind his back of his evil deeds! He did not have a problem finding an apartment and no one finds it offensive to live next to this guy, whose behaviour otherwise is odious in every way as he picks up petty quarrels and bullies those around him. If at all and shockingly, people are scared of him. The chalta hai (shit happens!) attitude till our own backyard starts burning is the issue here. We learn to live with the stink, why?
Sohanlal Walmiki and Santosh Singh (not to mention Manu Sharma, Vikas Yadav and so many others) make a mockery of our sensibilities. We allow them to live amongst us as long as it is not ‘us’ they harm but another. The very fact that these guys didn’t have a problem finding jobs, finding homes, speaks volumes about a society and what it is willing to tolerate. Not an insignificant fact to mention here, how innocent Muslims in India will not find apartments and houses while we easily rehabilitate violent criminals and rapists, we vote for them, we give them jobs and share our neighbourhoods with them. What is wrong with us?
The other question we should be asking is about chemical castration, which is about decreasing male libido and sexual desire among rape convicts. In all these three cases (Mattoo, Shanbaug and Amanat) the culprits were motivated more by revenge and ‘teaching a lesson’ to those they attacked. Priyadarshini Mattoo had rejected the proposals and constant harassment of Santosh Singh, her university senior, and had even complained against him which infuriated him. Sohanlal Walmiki wanted to teach Aruna a lesson because, according to him, she nagged him constantly and scolded him for not doing his work well. We all know that Amanat’s rapists have said similar things. It was when she resisted by hitting and biting them that they became more violent with her. How can then rape be considered a sexual crime alone? It is a crime against a particular kind of assertive women in these three cases where they fought hard and resisted. It is a crime to uphold gender hierarchy and it is about the exercise of power. This must be understood clearly as we debate the quantum and nature of punishment. Rape is VIOLENCE of a particular brutal nature and those committing it should be shamed by society in every way possible. Isn’t it odd that rape survivors are shamed and the accused rewarded?
Finally, my point about “middle class” sensibilities and in response to the arguments put forth by a commentator on the GIGGN blog where I posted my first article; that rape is ONLY committed by upper caste men against lower caste women and that Amanat’s plight outraged everyone because she was middle class. Any crime against anyone should have the same yardstick of punishment and justice and we know that in hierarchical societies, the ‘oppressed’ is also not a stable category. It doesn’t take minutes for the ‘oppressed’ to become the ‘oppressor’. Mattoo, Shanbaug and Amanat are not from the same strata, similar family background and neither are their perpetrators. Mattoo was denied justice because her perpetrator was upper class, son of a high ranking police officer. Shanbaug was denied justice because the doctors were guided more by middle class sensibilities to ‘protect’ her from the media and from the stigma of anal rape. It is certainly not arguable that class and caste oppression exist in India but to dismiss ‘middle class’ women as unworthy of support, or to hint that any crimes against them is less important is deeply troubling. Fact is that it is always a middle class morality that fundamentalist and reactionary groups adhere to and hence the need to rescue society from such moral policing becomes important. Moreover, when you look at the perpetrators in the two cases mentioned before (the son of a police officer and a hospital sweeper), there is something other than class/caste that decides how rape accused are rehabilitated.
It is heartening to see that for the first time in years people have taken to the streets over an issue that concerns gender justice and women’s rights. This isn’t the time to be cynical and condemn the protestors. We must join in large numbers and keep demanding justice and accountability. We must keep introspecting. This is no time to rest.