Tuesday, Dec 05, 2023 | Last Update : 07:35 AM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  20 Mar 2021  Farrukh Dhondy | For UK, Sarah Everard killing a wake-up call like Nirbhaya

Farrukh Dhondy | For UK, Sarah Everard killing a wake-up call like Nirbhaya

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Mar 20, 2021, 11:45 am IST
Updated : Mar 20, 2021, 11:45 am IST

To Britain the murder of Sarah was what the Nirbhaya rape-murder was to India


“The spoof of the bidding is in the cheating.

The source of the ruse is known as propaganda.

One man’s meat is a cannibal’s horizon.

People in glass houses should keep their clothes on…”

        From Bar Bar To The Bar My Friends by Bachchoo

Sarah Everard, 33, was walking home at night in South London. She crossed Clapham Common and walked down the South Circular, one of London’s arterial roads, to get home -- a distance of about half an hour perhaps. She never got there.

She was reported missing, a police inquiry was launched and a couple of days later her remains were found in woodland in Kent, around 50 miles away. A policeman in his 40s was arrested and charged with her murder. That one death was, with all the Covid-19 deaths raging around Britain, a shocking and dominating national event.

The trial of the alleged murderer will in all probability ascertain the motive for her abduction and murder. As yet, nothing is clear.

To Britain the murder of Sarah was what the Nirbhaya rape-murder was to India. It was the straw which cracked the camel’s back of tolerance of the crimes against women. In the last available statistic for March 2020, there were 207 women murdered in the UK in a year. Of these, 57 per cent were by partners, ex-partners or family members of the victims. The previous year’s figures were higher by 30 per cent.

Sarah’s abduction and murder brought thousands of women onto the streets and the commons of Britain to express dismay and disgust at this palpable vulnerability. Women are targeted on the streets for being women. The protests had no uniform demand. That men change their attitudes, that Parliament stiffen the punishment for crimes against women, that the law take the prosecutions for rape more seriously as only 5.7 per cent of cases brought to court resulted in convictions, were all possible.

Feminist organisations contend that this statistic in itself suggests a kind of decriminalisation of the offence of rape. It sends out the signal that rapists, using one or other tried and now tested defence, can get away with it.

One of the demonstrations by women and their men sympathisers gathered on Clapham Common on Saturday night. The demonstrators by and large wore masks and held aloft their phone torchlights.

The Metropolitan Police, London’s force, moved in. The demonstrators were openly breaking the lockdown laws passed by Parliament. Scuffles broke out and 16 people were arrested. Young women who offered resistance to the arrests were physically subdued, handcuffed and led away to police vans.

A huge outcry followed. Women’s organisations demanded the resignation of Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, the ultimate head of the force that confronted the demonstrators. Others went further, demanding the resignation of Pritti “Clueless” Patel, the home secretary, who is ultimately responsible for all UK police forces.

No resignations followed. Cressida Dick said her men were enforcing the lockdown law and the public should respect the fact. The demonstrators, everyone, were certainly conscious that they would be violating the lockdown and possibly endangering their own lives and others they came into contact with.

And therein lies the question. Should the police have stood by and made an exception, using their judgment? If the virus was to be spread by the demonstrators being where they were, the damage was surely done by the time they saw fit to wade in? A vast section of the public would certainly sympathise with the police action if it were against an illegal rave or drinks and drugs party. But a demonstration of mostly young women protesting against the unsafety of the country’s streets at night?

I wonder what the arresting officers, male or female, said to the young women they were carrying away in their vans to police stations and cells to be processed for their “crime”.

I ask the question, gentle reader, because of my own experience of being arrested at a demonstration years ago.

That demo was in support of the mainly Asian workforce of a factory called Grunwick. The workers who wanted, almost unanimously, to join a union had been denied that right and dismissed. I joined the protests as the member of a union myself and of a black and Asian radical organisation called Race Today.

I won’t rehearse the circumstances of my arrest, but I found myself handcuffed to a police constable, being driven to the police station. He began, in a pseudo-friendly way, to question me and to express his own views about troublemakers and Communists. He said he was resolutely against this sort of demonstration which would lead to anarchy. I just laughed and reminded him that his police union had recently fought for an increase in wages which the government had granted them.

The memory made me wonder what the arresting officers thought they were doing on Clapham Common. The old dog Lenin said that the State was a group of armed men acting in the interests of a class. Did these officers think they were acting in the interests of the health of the nation?

And what do the soldiers who attack, kill and imprison pro-democracy protesters on the streets of Myanmar or Hong Kong think or feel they are doing? Do any of them sympathise with their victims and even perhaps contemplate mutiny?

Tags: sarah everard, nirbhaya, uk rape and murder, demonstrations