I read about the recent Mumbai rape incident, its proceedings, the protest marches and empathy in people. I then read about Asaram’s “alleged” attempt to rape a minor girl. While reading both, I felt certain kind of difference in the tone of the news. I wondered if both news items are around rape, why do I not get the same feeling about the perpetrators and the victims/survivors? And then I read about how a rape case of a college going Dalit girl in Haryana was reported with least empathy and the protest group was termed as “angry Dalit mob”.
So I went back to read the reports on Mumbai case and Asaram. In the case of the journalist girl, the assaulters were declared as “monsters” by most of the popular media, before even they were put to trial. There was a deliberate and repeated mention of “slums” as their locality. It was first page news. Of course it has to be; it involves a tragedy with a reporter. In the later case, the perpetrator being the self-acclaimed godman, all the words were chosen very carefully, for example “teenager allegedly molested by Asaram.” Nowhere in the report was Asaram called a monster. Three girls allegedly raped across the landscape of our country belonged to three different socio-economic backgrounds and so did their “alleged” perpetrators. If we look at the reports carefully, we realize, perhaps the concept of power is in play, in the act itself and the way it was reported.
I wonder how does an act of rape done by slum-dwellers more heinous than that by a rich godman? Why does a Dalit girl deserve less empathy than a journalist? How come media revealed the identity of the girl as being “Dalit” in first place? Is a low caste/class identity for public display and open to scrutiny? Sometimes I feel like an idiot when I think about these questions. Are these questions real or just a figment of my flawed imagination? If they are real, why are things like this? And if they are not, why do these questions keep popping in my head?
And then I am reminded of a comment that one of my students passed while discussing hunger and equity. When I asked how is it to focus on an educational assignment while you are hungry, she said, “bhaiya, but what’s new in that? We are used to it. It’s normal.” I don’t know what troubled me more – the answer itself or the way it was said as a matter of fact. Whatever it was, what has remained with me is – they have got used to it. Whether its hunger, rape or oppression. They all have been internalised as part of life some people’s life. And hence it’s no big a deal.
May be it doesn’t matter to them. And may be so it doesn’t matter to media even. However, what’s more scary is our demands in response to such tragedies. What do we seek as a solution? Stricter laws and more policing? In the same newspaper, I read (somewhere on the 4th page, as a side report) about the quality of schooling in 23 state districts in Maharashtra is below average, Mumbai at a far off 14th rank amongst 35 districts. And we still don’t recognize that a better education may be, just maybe, one of the solutions to many of our problems, including gender based atrocities. It’s interesting that we demand courts and policing, which are dictating and oppressive in nature, against a good quality education which can be liberating for all. And why not? With such oppressive structures, the oppressed can further be oppressed. A Salman Khan can still freely roam around the city after killing so many people and media will refer him as “sweet, unlucky boy”. An Asaram may never get arrested. But those from the slums will be scouted and booked within few hours of crime.
Pardon me if I am sounding horrible here. I, with no intention, mean that those who perpetrate a crime should not be brought to justice and punished adequately if found guilty. They must be. All I am questioning here is how one’s economic status reduces or propagates the intensity of one’s crime? With current scheme of things it appears to me that we, as society, are more hypocritical than not. The country and its media, it seems, is still stuck with its prejudices of caste, class, gender, sexuality and what not! I wonder if we can ever realize a solution to our problems unless we look at the root.
I am not advocating for solutions through education just because I work in education space. Rather, I work here because I see a high need for educational advocacy. For an education which is holistic, contemplative, critical and liberating. And not just for a certain class or caste but truly for ALL. Till that happen, we may keep marching in Delhi or Mumbai or wherever next, nothing much gonna really happen, except apart from newsroom debates and colourful newsprints.