Unto the Gallows

The latest victim of male wantonness breathed her last yesterday, she was only 23. The public outcry is justified. To quote: In India women are neither safe inside the womb nor outside it. Hurt, horrified, scarred and certainly unsafe, they demand the rapists be castrated and tortured as brutally as their victim was, and then hanged to death. And even the offenders seem to agree, albeit they only want to be hanged. For the countless protestors, campaigners and mourners this seems like the ultimate and the only logical solution. An eye for an eye. A life for a life.

In retrospective, 14th August 2004, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged to death at the Alipore Central Jail for the murder and rape of a 14 year old in 1990. The same “masses” then created an uproar protesting the inhumanity of the death sentence and questioned its place in a society built on the dignity of human life. They were right then, they are right now. Janata janardhan (masses are the lord).

An issue arises not because they demand the death sentence but the reason they demand it for. They believe that hanging these offenders will deter men from ever wanting to lay hands on a woman let alone violate her. Quick question: Didn’t the hanging of a rapist in 2004 serve as a precedent enough or are our men so vile and morally corrupt that the perpetrators from among them need to be periodically hung to awaken them? If the latter is true then we certainly do not lack men to send to the gallows. Our Armed forces, the BSF, CRPFs have for decades detained, beaten, stripped, molested, abused and sexually assaulted women in the North East, Jammu and Kashmir and the Naxalite states, in the garb of suppressing insurgency. Fathers, uncles and brothers rape minor girls every day. Husbands rape their wives (yes it’s still rape if the woman refuses sexual intercourse, irrespective of the fact she is married to the man wanting it-it is called marital rape!). Most of them however go without making national headlines. There’s no public outrage (save a few human rights organisations), no media upheaval, no candlelight vigils, no pages on social networking sites, no clamour for reforming the law.

Men do or do not defile women because of the laws or the lack of it. Men defile women because for millennia an unspoken knowledge has been passed onto them that women are commodity, to be treated and disposed in the manner they seem fit. And the government, the judiciary, the internal security can do nothing to stop it. Because from Sudan to Malaysia to India to Australia, the US, the UK, the UAE, women being raped, whether in broad daylight, in darkened alleys or in the confines of their own homes, is a global phenomenon and the state of the nation has nothing to do with it! We don’t need better governance; we need a better human race! A race with conscience, a race in which men do not look at every woman as a means for sexual gratification, where women refuse to be seen as an “item girl” or a “pin up” or a “centrefold” (this is not to say that women who are raped are at fault, but the faction of them that projects, in magazines, movies or otherwise, that women in general enjoy being jeered at and lusted after). This consciousness does not come from better education opportunities, reducing unemployment, or from gender equality policies. It comes from self-reckoning, from taking stock of how we treat the women in our lives- in our homes: the ones we beat, abuse and assault, our workplace: the ones we molest, in public: the women we leer at. We must be the change we wish to see in the world. Because after all, like they say, the greatness of mankind can be judged by the way it treats its women.