On New Year’s Eve, when instances of mass molestation in Bangalore came to the fore, all hell broke loose. The media was abuzz with more instances of molestation caught on CCTV cameras, with ministers retorting to the incident in their usual repulsive tone and protest and solidarity movements spreading across the country, resisting the lack of safety for women in public spaces.
Needless to say, movements such as #Iwillgoout are brilliant initiatives to reclaim public spaces and speaking truth to privilege. But in all these developments we forget to notice that our outrage to instances of sexual violence against women, and the public manifestation of it, is unfortunately selective.
It was in the same fortnight of events that the National Human Rights Commission confirmed 16 rapes committed by police officials in Chhattisgarh. In resistive narratives of feeling safe on the streets, we forget that our urban middle-class/upper middle class privileges blind us to sexual offences committed by the State and its machinery, not on the streets, but inside homes.
Is it because we cannot relate to it closely that these instances do not seem unconscionable to us? Or is the selective outrage because we are insulated and immunised from such instances completely?
In the constant battle between the State and the Adivasis (I will not use the State-sponsored term of "Maoists") in the red corridor belt of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, instances of sexual violence and rape have become disturbingly common.
In the pursuit of possessing mineral reserves that are abundant in areas such as Bastar and Dandakaranya, rape is but another strategic ploy used by the State to percolate fear and terror against its foes. A strategy that the State has exerted in its other favourite location - Kashmir, which has probably seen our country’s worst mass rape by the Indian State.
In order to understand this strange anomaly where outrage is manifested against the unknown “other” man, but not against the known State, a discourse set in nationalism becomes important.
In the year 1972, Mathura - a young tribal girl - was raped by two policemen in a rural district of Maharashtra. Pursuant to a long drawn trial and subsequent appeals, the Supreme Court acquitted both accused with the disgusting logic of not having visible marks of resistance on the body, among other things.
The judgment led to an outcry and movements across the country, with law professors sending open letters to the Supreme Court and rape laws being amended.
Fast forward 45 years later, hundreds of incidents of rape of tribal girls by the police become common in the red corridor belt of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, and by the armed forces in Kashmir and no one bats an eyelid.
The recent NHRC report confirming the 16 rapes by police officers in Chhattisgarh is not an isolated one-off incident but rather part of the larger list of atrocities the Indian State has chosen to perpetuate within the red corridor belt and which escapes the popular discourse of the Indian population.
The level of violence in places such as Bastar and Sukma and the impunity the aggressors receive from the State (and by the larger society) makes one remember the words of Hannah Arendt on the banality of evil:
"Evil thrives on apathy; and cannot exist without it" - Eichmann in Jerusalem
So what may be the reason that led to the huge outburst in the country back in 1972 when a tribal girl was raped by the police machinery, and none now when the same is committed so many times by the police machinery?
|It is no representation of feminism to be selective in the manifestation of outrage.|
Well, for starters, the case of Mathura was not a deliberate warfare strategy employed by the State, which is not so true of the latter. As Nandini Sundar points out "it is no coincidence that Bastar has India’s biggest mineral reserves".
The narrative of development which we have been so used to in our vocabulary seems to us as progressive growth of the country, but for most part of the red-corridor it is synonymous with violence and bloodshed.
It is in this context one needs to understand the gravity of sexual violence perpetuated by the State in the red corridor. These acts are not just emanating from a disturbing perversity, but also from a carefully planned mission to own the land of bauxite.
All of us are morally culpable in such an evil unless we call out the atrocities committed by the State. As long our politics allows us to only express anger and outrage for instances that we can relate to from an urban-class position, then the principle with which we claim men to acknowledge the privilege they possess and engage with it in itself lacks credibility and is flawed.
It is no representation of feminism to be selective in the manifestation of outrage. But for anything else, is not feminism about embracing diversity? So why are we devoid of looking at the diversity of sexual offences?
In an ideal world, and in ideal circumstances, the State machinery will be held accountable for its countless violations on Adivasi women. But neither is it an ideal world, nor does luck favour the Adivasi woman.