Kathua, Unnao, And The Question Of Justice

by Mayuresh Didolkar - Apr 14, 2018 07:38 PM +05:30 IST
Kathua, Unnao, And The Question Of JusticeA placard during a demonstration in Delhi (Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
  • The discourse around the Kathua and Unnao rape cases has assumed a form that has dangerous implications.

Ezekiel 25:17 tells us – “the path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyrannies of the evil man. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and goodwill, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of the lost children.”

As those of us on social media were subjected to the hyperbolic and hyper-volume discourse over the ghastly rape and killing of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and the custodial death of the father of another victim in Uttar Pradesh, I was reminded of the quotation above. Truly, in times like these, the righteous man realises the amount of injustice and the apologia for injustice that surrounds him.

So, how does one shepherd oneself through this valley of darkness?

A good way to begin is by remembering Marcus Aurelius’s quote: “the object of life is not to be on the side of majority but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane”. Expanding this further, the only way to navigate through the valley of darkness is by not seeking company of those you wish to agree with, but by seeking principles on which your stand remains vindicated. If that means you come down on the wrong side of your cause or ideology, so be it.

That is the price one must pay for righteousness.

By adhering to the above principle, let me start by unequivocally condemning the ghastly incident as well as those giving excuses regarding why the perpetrators acted in such a manner. This is one of those crimes for which there could be no mitigating circumstances, no past history, or ideological bias. Being outraged by this act on an eight-year-old and demanding justice for her requires no ideological slant. It just requires you to be a decent human being.

That said, for the last two days, there has been an attempt to politicise this incident and it is important to analyse those politicising it, as well as their stand on this issue.

There is an inherent problem with such an issue being politicised, namely, it drives the moderates away from the debate and allows the partisans to take over.

If the response on social media was anything to go by, every ordinary person was outraged by this incident. But how many of those people would remain on board when they realise that their support is being used for political gains?

There is a vocal and angry group that demands to do away with the “innocent until proven guilty” maxim of criminal justice system whenever a particularly brutal incident, such as the one that occurred in Kathua, takes place. While that might seem like a logical outcome of passions stoked by the crime itself, it has very serious implications and most of them have to do with the poor and the disenfranchised among us.

To start with, the demand to reverse the innocent-guilty equation in case of rape has this unrealistic expectation that somehow my anger at a particular crime should be reason enough for the state to take someone else’s legal rights. Many times, activists holding such views know very little in terms of on ground realities of the case and their demand to shut down the recourse for the accused has more to do with their desire to seek closure than any valid criminal justice principle.

More importantly, as the Gurgaon school murder showed us, whenever under pressure to come up with a resolution for a case, the police have a tendency of using the poor to use as a scapegoat. It is a globally established fact that poverty has a direct correlation with the probability of being incarcerated. Many times, those who can’t afford to defend themselves make convenient targets for law enforcement as well as for elected politicians when the latter is faced with public outcry for closing a case. For many such poor people, the “innocent until proven guilty” is the only weapon to defend themselves and their families from certain ruin. Taking that away from them would both create an incentive for the police to do lazy investigative work and then make up for it by targeting the poor. In the interview yesterday, this was the point that the lawyer from Jammu bar council raised and it must be given its due consideration.

This conversation cannot be completed without the hysteric and markedly Hindu-phobic reaction of many in the mainstream media. And while I would reiterate that a crime like this can have no mitigating circumstances argument attached to it, I am afraid the media’s attack on Hindus is not covered under it. That if you are criticising media’s colouring this as a Hindu hate crime (when they have refused to do the same in the past when perpetrators come from other religion) you must be automatically in support of the rapist is a lie and a clever sleight of hand concocted by a media more interested in shutting down dissent than getting justice for the victim.

The two arguments that seem to be coming from the media on why Hindus have to own this ghastly crime are 1) the crime was committed by Hindus in order to drive people of other communities away, and 2) Hindu organisations and leaders have supported the rapists.

Both these arguments are coated with generous self-serving lies and do not pass a critical examination of logic.

First, even assuming that everything mentioned in charge sheet including the motive, will stand the scrutiny of an independent authority including the court (a generous assumption), all it proves is that there is a fringe group of rapists who are using the shield of religion to commit a ghastly crime. If you didn’t charge the Muslim community with the rapes and murders of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley, if you ever tweeted “terror has no religion” and now if you are using the tag of Hindutva while discussing a rape and murder, then you sir, or madam, are a hypocrite with a dog in the fight. Calling you out on that does not constitute support of the rapist. You conflating it with rape apologia constitutes an attempt to stifle free speech.

The second argument that support for the rapists is the real reason for outrage is one of the strange ones and is both false and troubling. Contrary to what some partisans might claim, the ugly spectre of people and political leaders supporting rapists and casting aspersions on the victims is not, sadly, new. Mamata Banerjee tried to dismiss Park Street rape case as ‘political vendetta cum call girl deal gone wrong’; during the 1984 riots many Sikh women were raped before being killed and yet then Prime Minister dismissed it as “ the earth shaking when a big tree falls”. More recently, a section of media lobbied to free another rape accused Tarun Tejpal because of the rising threat of ‘Hindutva fascism’. A news channel tried its hand at character assassination in case of the Bhanwari Devi rape case (where the accused was a Congress MLA). Even with ordinary people, thousands of Kashmiris take to streets to attend funerals of Islamic terrorists gunned down by security forces. An overwhelming majority of these terrorists have a history of abusing/assaulting women in the valley and yet many in the media never saw red when thousands chanted slogans in those dead rapists’ support.

Before closing this discussion, a brief look at media’s favourite word - whataboutery.Two days ago, that word featured on every media person’s Twitter timeline as they tried to evade questions about their own inconsistent response to similar incidents in past. Again, for a righteous person, it is very important to understand this term and examine the charge made my media objectively.

Sadly, for today’s discourse, the term ‘whataboutery’ was invented by clever cowards who do not wish to be held to the same standards they hold others to. So, let’s make it clear - asking a media person why she didn’t use the rapist’s religion while discussing the rape of a Hindu child in Assam in response to her anti-Hindu rant is not whataboutery. Her anger is mainly due to the masses’ expectation that she should uphold the same standard she expects others to. However, anyone giving example of the above case as a justification of the incident itself, must be condemned without a moment’s hesitation.

So then, some might ask, why should we still demand justice for an incident which in all likelihood is being used as a political weapon against us?

Because when it comes to helplessness against injustices and tyrannies of this harsh world - we are all the same. An overwhelming majority of violent crimes are committed against the middle class and poor and the propensity of being victimised by violence keeps increasing as you keep sliding down the income graph. With the wealth inequality reaching epidemic proportions, a larger and larger number of us are at risk from violent crimes. A causal look at elite outcry over jail terms of millionaires like Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan shows that the rich of this country feel they should get preferential treatment even in cases of criminal justice. As mentioned earlier, whenever under pressure to show results, police are more likely to find a scapegoat from among us.

In Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs, the law and order machinery kicks into high gear when a US Senator’s daughter is kidnapped by a serial killer named Buffalo Bill. Rookie agent Clarice Starling recalls one of the earlier victims named Kimberly. Starling reflects that no state-wide hunt was launched for poor Kimberly, nobody tried to get inside the mind of Dr Hannibal Lecter, another serial killer incarcerated at present, in order to learn more about Buffalo Bill. And that my friends remains the sad reality of the larger criminal investigation and justice system. By law we might be equal, but when it comes to receiving justice, some of us are far more equal than others.

All that we have against such oppressive system is each other. We simply can’t afford to polarise ourselves any more. Quoting Marcus Aurelius once more - what is bad for beehive simply can’t be good for the bees.

The writer is a investment services professional and novelist. His latest novel The Dark Road was published by Juggernaut Publications.

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