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വായന

10 June, 2014

Coping with rape crisis

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The shame of rape is weighing India down again. Barely 18 months after the gangrape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi provoked street protests and made headlines the world over, the country is coping with the fallout of another case involving sexual assault and killing of two teenaged girls in an Uttar Pradesh village. 

Pictures of bodies of the girls hanging from a tree sent shock waves across the globe. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon expressed horror over the incident. So did a US State Department spokesperson.

The US had no reason to be horrified. According to a UN report published last year, that country has an annual rape rate of 28.6 per 100,000 people. The Indian rape rate is 4.3. Even after allowing for varying rates of under-reporting in the two countries, the situation in India does not appear to call for a response of that kind from the US administration.

However, India has cause for concern. The rash of rape cases being reported daily points to a critical situation. Clearly the vociferous protests of 2012 and the subsequent toughening of the law to the extent providing for the death penalty have not made any appreciable difference to the situation.

Uttar Pradesh, where the recent incident occurred, is India’s largest state. If it were an independent country it would be the world’s fifth most populous, after China, residuary India, the US and Indonesia. In 2012, the last year for which official data are available, close to 24,000 cases of crimes against women were registered in the state. This was about 10 per cent of all such cases registered countrywide.

Until 2012 UP was ruled by the Bahujan Samaj Party and its leader, Mayawati, a Dalit woman, was the chief minister. In that year’s election the Samajwadi Party, whose support base consists primarily of the backward Yadav caste, came to power and its supremo, Mulayam Singh, installed his son, Akhilesh Yadav, as the chief minister. In this year’s parliamentary election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and its ally, Apna Dal, bagged 73 of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats, stunning both the BSP and the SP.

The rape incident inevitably got entangled in political warfare. Mayawati said the law and order machinery had broken down and asked the Centre to dismiss the Yadav government. Uma Bharati, a member of Modi’s cabinet, indicated readiness to consider the suggestion but Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh only said steps would be taken to improve the situation in the state.

Both Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav accused the media of targeting the state, overlooking the fact that rape was more common in some other states. The neighbouring BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh was mentioned in this connection but there were fewer than 17,000 cases in that state in 2012. The state that topped in crimes against women that year was West Bengal, with more than 30,000 cases.

Since the states vary in population, comparison of absolute numbers can give a distorted picture. Ironically, when the population figures are factored in, backward states like UP and MP appear to be safer for women than supposedly progressive states like West Bengal and Kerala.

UP, with 16.5 per cent of the country’s population, accounts for only 9.65 per cent of the crimes against women and MP, with 9.3 per cent of the population, for 6.89 per cent. West Bengal, with 7.5 per cent of the population, recorded 12.7 per cent of the crimes against women and Kerala, with 2.8 per cent of the population, accounted for 4.47 per cent of the crimes.

Rape has long been a caste war tool, and dominant castes have used it to assert their social authority. First reports had identified the attackers as Yadavs and the victims as Dalits. Official sources later said the girls belonged to the backward Maurya Shakya caste. Almost all the police personnel of the area were said to be Yadavs.

Mulayam Singh belongs to a breed of politicians who have been seeking to reinforce patriarchy. He had once talked about rape as a mistake for which a boy cannot be hanged. Along with Lalu Prasad, Yadav leader of Bihar, he played a major role in scuttling the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government’s attempts to introduce reservation for women in Parliament and the state legislatures.

Since the political leadership remains insensitive to gender issues, the fight against rape is bound to be a long drawn one.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 10, 2014.

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