The government and its office-bearers don’t care to talk about these heinous acts that have reached a scary high under the present regime.
The countrywide demonstration of university students and people from oppressed communities against the newly imposed Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the fear and uncertainty this law is putting them through has pushed me into deep thinking. It is no wonder that the fear seems nothing new, since I’m seeing the country in thorough unrest over the last few years.
In 2012, the brutal rape and murder of Nirbhaya shook the country and raised so many questions. Later it was the lynching of people from specific communities for eating food they have been consuming through centuries. After that, it was the turn of ghastly rapes and murders of women — particularly women from poverty-stricken backgrounds.
Women were abducted, gang-raped and burnt. The number of these crimes increased very fast and today lynching and rapes and beating of people in the name of religion has become “normal”. Within a span of five to six years, India has grown to be a country that's not safe for women, dalits and minorities.
The government and its office-bearers don’t care to talk about these heinous acts that have reached a scary high under the present regime. The ministers concerned don’t speak about the economic slump, either, nor the slipping GDP growth rate, which is said to be the lowest in six years, according to latest official data. The minister for finance, Nirmala Sitharaman, rubbishes the heavy hike in onion prices and says that she doesn’t eat onion, making the people wonder about what kind of people they have elected to serve them.
While all this is going on, my heart still weeps for those young ladies who were raped and killed in succession a few weeks ago, in November. Though I was very unsettled by the continuous rise in incidents of gendered and sexual violence in our society, this time I was seriously hurt witnessing how biased the media can be even in reporting rape. I could see the quote from Orwell’s Animal Farm — “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” — coming true, as I watched the discrimination when it came to the reporting of the rape of poor women.
While the media covered the case of Disha very comprehensively, repeatedly circulating the audio clip in which the victim was heard speaking to her sister, the two other women from two remote villages of Telangana state went practically unreported. The heinous rape-murder of Teku Lakshmi, a poor married woman belonging to the Scheduled Castes community who sold utensils for a living, and that of teenager Manasa from Warangal who was found dead on the road near her house after going out to meet a friend on her birthday, were hardly reported by the mainstream media.
And whatever coverage these two deaths received also did not come easily, to be frank. In the case of Lakshmi, whose name was changed to Samatha after repeated questioning of her family by police personnel, the probe was initiated after at least three days. Caste groups had to severely agitate across Khanapur Mandal of Nirmal district, her hometown. Like Disha, the body of Samatha had been mutilated and her face disfigured by her assailants. The dalit and Other Backward Classes youth of her and Manasa’s villages circulated the news on social media and saw to it that the incidents received the attention of the mainstream media.
Rapes are not new in India and sexual assaults of women are frequent. But one can understand that it's women from the oppressed sections of society who suffer it more, with some serious study. What hurts the most is the hostile behaviour of the government and the systems of administration whose duty it is to safeguard human rights with respect to women’s safety. The manner in which the honourable Prime Minister kept quiet for years together without seeing that the murderers of Nirbhaya are punished with the death sentence raises serious questions on his dedication towards safeguarding women’s rights. Nirbhaya was killed during the tenure of the Congress-led UPA government. Narendra Modi referred to her as “India’s daughter”. On her death, he came down heavily on the Manmohan Singh government on the issue of women's safety in the country. During his election campaign, he urged people to remember Nirbhaya while they cast their vote. He pleaded them not to forget the “rape capital” tag of Delhi. Assuring women's safety, he came to power. But what did he do himself to ensure a safe nation for them?
As I pondered over it, I realised that this country doesn’t take women’s participation in its public life truly seriously. Women are considered outliers and secondary citizens, and are made to thoroughly prove their submission to the patriarchal world around them. When a majority in the media does not feel responsible for raising awareness of women’s rights, and covers crime on the basis of the victim’s caste and finances, using it to raise TRP above all else, what is meant by justice to women? When we the people fail to shun customs and practices that denigrate women, justifying them in the name of religion, what does the idea of respecting them mean to us?
Aruna Gogulamanda is a bilingual poet, essayist and motivational speaker based in Hyderabad. She is educated from HCU and gender and caste are her primary areas of research.