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How to stop the rapes - Written in a fit of anger

Discussions are afoot from the parliament to pavement side chai stalls about how to make the existing laws even stronger and set up fast-track courts etc. to curb the incidents of rape. And how many of us are crying out loud “Hang the bast**ds”!

The nation’s TV channels, social networking sites are bursting with anger and sorrow and fear over the rape of the 23 year old medical student in Delhi. The news bits have a very wide appeal! But where is the real deal?
What really bothers me is the fact that, our civic system is painfully ineffective to stop or deter such crimes! Fresh cases of rapes, molestation, abduction, child abuse have been surfacing every day.

So, lets call the Gulabi Gang!

Who are they?

It’s a group of women and men who beat the sh*t out of those that torture women.

They are fast. They solve cases in matter of a few hours. I have seen them working round the clock surviving on a few rotis and a little chokha (mashed potato) or achaar in the villages of Bundelkhand – a grossly under-developed forested territory between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Also, they come with their own costumes – pink sarees for women, pink stoles draped around the male members’ necks. Pink means Gulabi in Hindi. They even carry their own weapon – the lathis. They are lean and fit – the perfect mean machines to move in the sun or run after abusers of women.

Sisters in my country, now compare that with the constable in your locality. Sleepy–eyed, pot- bellied, or too high and mighty to patrol the area.

Get the picture?

I make a humble appeal to the Government of India; if not for anything else, call Gulabi Gang because they are cheap! You don’t even have to buy them the lathis. None of the allies, perhaps, will threaten to pull out if only you can blame it on the recession, or, on the “vote politics” as most of the Gang members are from the down-trodden dalit communities.

Much better than maintaining that elephant of a police department (no?) which moves too slow, if not poked with a spike, and consumes too much?

But I am in a mood for introspection, and I am in two minds. Why criticize only the administration? Look around and you can see how a girl is put down by her own people. I grew up in an atmosphere where this was an everyday reality. The seeds of discrimination are sown in homes. As I write, I reckon somewhere some girl is having trouble this very minute, coming to terms with people around her. We, as grown up “independent” women are perpetually at the risk of being judged. “Someone called me a whore”, said once a dear friend. The traumatized girl had dared to turn down advances of a man she had liked, once. I shudder to imagine what other forms of bullying the growing girls, the grown women have to face daily in the suburbs, or in the distant villages where the pressure to toe the line is even stronger. And exactly how often do we hear the B word spoken even by women in utter nonchalance?

When it comes to maltreatment of women, these days, I cannot help but look inward. The erosion of social values runs deep. So, even as women we become agents of patriarchy. Probably, we should watch a little more, as to where we stand. As women of 21st century, do we like all the perks of feminism – suffrage, right to self-determination, increased earning, right to abortion; BUT shy away from the responsibilities? The responsibility of giving due respect to each other and not question a woman’s clothing choice or life style when she is violated? In my state, West Bengal, an Anglo Indian woman was raped at gun point in Kolkata – better known as the “Park Street rape case”. Questions were raised on the moral character of the victim, by people in the government, even before the investigation could be finished. Sadly, this government is helmed by Mamata Banerjee - a female Chief Minister.

Point is, as much as the rapists are responsible for their heinous act, the society is responsible for its inane attitude towards women and so is the state for its lack of efficacy to deal with gender crimes. There is room for introspection and change. For both.

It will take decades after, painful decades, before a real change occurs. And here comes the need for a sorority like Gulabi Gang. Before you trash this as over-simplification, pray, hear me out.

They have handled some thousands of cases of rape, domestic abuse, dowry, child marriage. How? By beating. To quote Sampat Pal Devi – the founder and leader of Gulabi Gang, “Law and order don’t work here in these villages”. “The officials are corrupt and take bribe. I don’t believe in taking our problems to the court. The cases drag on”. “And when even police and court fails, a sound beating always works”. I want to ask is today Delhi or Kolkata very different from Bundelkhand?

Apart from acting as a deterrent to the crimes, the Gang has been able to establish among women that – silence will only make their misery worse. Previously, perpetrators in the area thought a girl would keep quiet. Now it’s changed. The Gang has attacked at the culture of silence in its core. When the society doesn't listen, by all means, SHOUT! Instil the fear of rod, err, God, if nothing else works, for the time being.

Comments

JaniceW's picture

Gulabi Gang

I have heard of many cases where communities take it into their own hands to punish those who have committed crimes. Their actions are seen as effective in stemming the wave of crime but I wonder about the long-term effects of these actions. Rape is a crime but is not beating just as much of a crime? The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UN, states in Article 7: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment..."

What are we teaching our children when we inflict pain on others? Are there not other legal options to "punish" the attacker? Maybe there are ways to prevent the crimes in the first place? In a refugee camp in Ethiopia where women go out at night to get firewood or perform other vital tasks, they needed a dependable light to help keep them safe from attackers. Unfortunately, the flashlights that were provided to them by aid agencies were being stolen by the men. So the aid agencies distributed bright pink flashlights which the men keep their hands off as they would be too embarrassed to be seen carrying a pink flashlight..

I am not equating stealing with rape but I use this as an example to think about what punishment could be meted out that shames the attacker in an effective way to prevent him from raping again, and prevents other men from raping knowing what the consequence is. They obviously do not fear the police or local government. But is there another solution other than corporal punishment that can help prevent rape in the first place?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this as you are embedded in the culture and know what works best in India. It would be great to start a dialogue where we can brainstorm ways to prevent rape and the violence against our sisters around the world.

sui generis's picture

Alternative to beating

Dear Janice,

Thank you very much for your response. Your concern against corporal punishment is spot on. But what's happening in India and other parts of the world today defies our common notion of the way things work. I come from the soil of Gandhi and Tagore and realise eye for an eye would leave the world blind. However, let me talk about what I see in the field, hear everyday from women irrespective of class or academic back ground. I cannot say all, but at least all women I meet or know, have experienced some form of traumatic abuse as children or grown women. They, all of them, look fine on the surface. Their achievements (both material and non-material) in life are amazing. Makes me wonder the kind of strength it takes to defy trauma of abuse and move on, claim the world on their own terms. I am in a stage of life, that I feel it's easy to forgive. One has got to move on, right? But it's darned hard to forget. The situation here is of a lull before a big, powerful storm. A large section of Indian women have been taught to be docile since they were kids. Good Indian girls are supposed to be that way. But these days I talk to women (from all the major metro cities) and more than ever I feel something has altered. The other day, I went to a meeting of women's rights activists at Women's Commission in Kolkata - my city. The emotion, the anger couldn't have been missed. They did not really talk of corporal punishment since this was a formal meeting, but an activist did say something of similar effect: had I been at home, in an informal atmosphere, probably I would have said beat the shit out of these abusers, she said.

To put it mildly, things are simmering. What happened? Have men and women suddenly become blood thirsty? One can't avoid thinking, that probably this is coming from a deep-seated frustration at the administration's lack of political will in dealing with gender crimes. Latest reports show, a big number of Member of Parliaments have been accused of gender crimes. Still they have been able to take part in policy making for the country!

The Delhi rape has shaken the nation. Processions and gatherings have been held. But what's the situation now? The 23 year old rape victim's friend is battling a lonely battle according to a recent report. No political leader seems to have time to extend any support to him. They are demanding kickbacks in return of their support (which happens to be their job) according to an open letter penned by him. Insha (http://worldpulse.com/user/16263) has talked about the Konan Poshpora rape victims. The perpetrators were none other than the military. Similar things have happened in the Northeastern region of my country. The survivors are yet to get justice.

I would love to see values being instilled in the families so that kids don't become rapists/abusers. but is that happening any time soon? I would love to know of a way that would be a rapist's "pink flash light" . That he would be too embarrassed to carry... Lets brainstorm, as you suggested. Hope is the only option in the long run.

What you mentioned Janice, is the voice of reason and compassion. And that's how it should be.

Maybe I veer a bit, but can't help mentioning this particular experience. My eyes teared up when youtube videos of Gaddafi being physically assaulted by angry men surfaced during those stormy days of Arab Spring. But why did it come to that? Why would a Gulabi Gang come into existence, at all?

It's time we think.

Trust me, we all go through periods when we want the attackers to suffer as much as the victim did.

I realize that there is no quick fix here and there is a culture of violence against women in India that has grown stronger over the decades. I wish I could answer your question "what happened?" and could provide you with a ready solution, as with every minute that goes by another woman suffers.

I did some research and there is an organization in India called the Lawyers Collective who have an initiative (the Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative, LCWRI) whose mission is the empowerment of women through law. Their work is based on the belief that law is an instrument of social change and can be used in different ways to further the constitutional and human rights of women. Their area of focus concerns violence against women with particular emphasis on the issue of domestic violence.

Their objectives are as follows:

1.To provide legal assistance to women facing domestic violence, sexual harassment at the workplace, victims of sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and discrimination faced in matrimonial matters.

2.To file PIL’s in order to enforce human rights standards.

3.To organise and participate in alternative dispute mechanisms, such as conducting Lok Adalats in collaboration with statutory bodies.

4.To document experiences gathered in providing legal aid

5.To facilitate a survivor’s group to support women litigants while accessing legal remedies, generating livelihood options and providing a support base for campaigns

It is through the active work of women such as yourself, organizations such as the Lawyers Collective and NGOs that an environment can be created where activism and research, fieldwork and theory inform each other in order to bring about systemic legal change for a more just society. Take a look at their website as I am sure you will find their work to be of interest.

sui generis's picture

Thanks

Thanks for the information, the society needs to deal with the issue of gender crime every sane way possible. Impressive work by the collective!

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