Friday 28 December 2012

"An Indian Love Story"

He saw her in the evening, wrapped in dusk –
On the way home from work, at the bus stop
Poised like a gazelle in flight. Her eyes
Dark pools of promise, he thought, watching.

So he followed her, remembering
The way the hero of last week’s Bollywood film had followed the girl of his dreams.
He followed her home, that evening
He followed her the next
And the day after that.

He called her on the phone, and hung up when she answered. He waited
For her to fall for him – like they did in the films –
But she did not even look his way. So he waited for her, near the bus stop
And stepped out in her path
Suddenly. “Marry me,” he said. “I love you,” he said.

She looked at him with eyes full of fear. She turned to run – so he grabbed her by the arm –
She screamed, in fear, and tried to pull away.
He had a knife in his pocket, because his friends all had one too. He took it out, and stabbed and stabbed.
If he couldn’t have her, nobody could.
And she died
There in the street, frightened, bleeding.

He made the bottom strip in the TV news. He was famous.
People heard his name.

And people said
“That’s the way they are
Those people, you can’t expect any better of them.”
The newspapers called it an unrequited love story
And gave it ten lines on page six, next to an ad
For washing machines.

A politician said, “This is what happens
When we give girls too much freedom, and let them dress how they like. Women should be in the kitchen.”
Women’s groups condemned him
And got on TV, too.

And her mother sat in the dark and cried
Remembering the hopes that would never be.
But nobody thought of her at all.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Raghead 28/12/2012: The Rage Of The Reaper

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Wednesday 26 December 2012

A Controversial Take On The Delhi Rape "Protests"

Some years ago, there was a little incident in the town where I live. A few young men were drinking one night, and then went cruising in the taxi belonging to one of them. They picked up a young woman (who imagined she was getting a ride home) and drove out to the forest outside town, where they raped her for hours, beat her half to death, and then dumped her on the roadside like a piece of garbage.

The city went ballistic. The incident made the national news, too, and the country could talk of nothing else. The rapists were hunted down, arrested, and, after a dramatic trial, locked up for the rest of their natural productive lives as examples to others of their kind. The victim got the sympathy and help she deserved to recover from her terrible ordeal, and even the criminals’ mothers came forward to apologise to her for what their sons had done.

No, wait. What actually happened was that the rapists got all the sympathy of “society”. They were called poor misguided youth who had made a “mistake”; their mothers marched, along with women’s’ body representatives, demanding that they be let off the hook. The victim was called a whore who deserved everything she got. As for national news, you have to be kidding – they didn’t even mention it in passing.

New Delhi, December, 2012. A 23-year-old female physiotherapy student boards a bus late one night, accompanied by her “male friend”. The bus isn’t on a regular route – it’s actually being taken on a joyride by the driver and five of his friends. They proceed to beat the woman and her “male friend” with an iron rod, rape her for almost an hour, and then throw them out of the moving vehicle before driving away. At the time of writing, the woman is alive, minus part of her intestines; she’s still in critical condition, but off a respirator and it’s becoming more likely that she’ll survive.

This time the nation – or, rather, a part of the nation – did go ballistic. The media, for one thing, made the rape its top news. “Protests” – more in a moment about them – started in many cities, asking for the rapists to be executed. Most especially these “protests” were in Delhi, where the “protestors” attempted to storm the Presidential Palace and demonstrated near India Gate, the heart of the government district. Most of the “protestors” in Delhi were young – college students from the middle class.

A question: is the different response to these two rapes a sign of India’s changing social attitudes? Not exactly. Because, while these protests were going on, a woman was stripped naked, tied to a tree in the state of Tripura and beaten, but nobody said a word. In Manipur, a Naga insurgent belonging to a banned Baptist terrorist group (the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, Isak Muivah faction) beat up an actress on stage, right in front of an audience full of military and paramilitary personnel, and nobody outside the state gave a damn. Elsewhere in this country, a woman continued to be raped about every fifteen minutes, and nothing happened to catch anyone’s attention.

But in Delhi, the “protests” continued.

If you’re thinking that I think there’s more to these “protests” (note the quotes) than meets the naked eye, you’d be right.

For the moment, I’m not going to go into the phenomenon of India and the treatment of women here; I’ll just say that it’s not exactly a surprise. A country where men are indoctrinated from birth to think of women as an inferior species can scarcely expect anything more. It’s hardly as though cruelty towards women is a new phenomenon – it’s been going on at least since the late Vedic period, circa 1000 BCE. From the brothels of Bombay to the forest hamlets of Central India, rape by the powerful male (be he the brothel madam’s pimp or the Indian paramilitary trooper) is happening right now, even as you read this. But nobody even wants to know about that.

There are reasons why the Delhi rape drew so much attention. The first is the simple fact that it took place in Delhi. To Indian officialdom, the media and the Great Indian Muddle Class, only what happens in Delhi, Bombay, and to a lesser extent in Bangalore matters – they are the centre of their version of India. What happens elsewhere makes no difference to them. But other rapes happen routinely in these same cities, daily – and nobody says a word.

That’s where the second reason comes in.

I have repeatedly characterised the Great Indian Muddle Class as incredibly self-absorbed and selfish, to the extent that to it, nothing matters but its own immediate interests. The Muddle Class sees itself as superior to the masses from which it has emerged, and it aspires to separate itself from them as far as possible. Unlike the middle class in other parts of the world, it doesn’t see itself as preyed on by the upper class; the upper class is its ideal, the realm to which it aspires. That’s why the corruption, decadence and dissipation of the upper class don’t fill Muddle Class people with revulsion. That revulsion is only reserved for politicians, whom the Muddle Class excoriates but whom it votes for anyway.

On the other hand, the Muddle Class hates and fears the underclasses. It feels threatened by them – by their increasingly uppity demand for a place in the sun and by their competitiveness. To the Muddle Class, the underclass isn’t PLUs (People Like Us) – they are PLTs (People Like Them). It’s the underclass who threaten the Muddle Class’ upwards march. It’s the underclass which reminds the Muddle Class of the morass from whence it sprung, and where it’s terrified of returning.

So when six members of the underclass rape a woman of the Muddle Class, it’s not a crime against an individual woman. It’s a strike against the Muddle Class. Think of it as a serf raising his hand against a nobleman, and you won’t be far from the idea.

It’s significant that the last time the Muddle Class reacted in such a way was after the Bombay terrorist attacks of November 2008, when it was the Muddle and upper classes which were the focus of the assault. The ordinary people were killed, sure, but the media focussed almost exclusively on the rich set’s hangouts targeted by the terrorists, and it was the Muddle Class which held candlelight vigils to condemn the attacks, signed pledges to “give their lives for South Mumbai” and threatened not to pay their taxes if their security couldn’t be assured. There have been terror attacks before and since, but the victims were of the masses, so the Muddle Class wasn’t particularly stirred.

It’s an absolute certainty that if the victim of the rape had been of the labourer set, there would have been as little reaction from the Muddle Class as there is when (as happens routinely) rich kids driving SUVs get drunk and crush homeless people to death. The Muddle Class doesn’t care about anyone but itself.

Accordingly, whatever the “protests” appear to be, they are not actually against the rapes – they are protests against the Muddle Class being made to feel vulnerable. No more, no less.

And, that being so, therefore, the “protests” will last until the Muddle Class feels reassured of its own position. Currently, the government is talking of making the anti-rape laws stricter, to enhance punishment. The “protestors” are demanding nothing less than the death penalty for the six rapists, even though no such law exists on the books now. They claim to be willing to settle for nothing less, even though they are well aware that laws can’t be made retrospective.

Now, as I’ve said before, the death penalty always works against poor people selectively, because they can’t afford good lawyers. Also, the judges are from the Muddle Class and routinely look down on poor people. So, suppose the laws are changed to make death a penalty for rape. Will the Muddle Class be willing to put its own members’ lives on the line? Will it be content to send to the gallows the rich man’s son who rapes his neighbour’s teenage daughter? Of course not.

The demand for the death penalty for rape is meant to be used against the lower classes, and the lower classes exclusively – just as the death penalty for murder is used exclusively against the lower classes in this country. I can’t even think of the last time I heard of a rich person being sentenced to death for murder, no matter how gruesome the crime. It’s always the poor guy who hangs. Just as the six rapists in this instance have been convicted and sentenced to death in advance, even though they have not yet been put on trial and so in the eyes of the law are innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt.     

And that is exactly the point, because the “protests” being primarily against the threat from the unwashed masses, the demand is for the law to be used to keep said masses in their place. The Muddle Class is frightened, and like a cornered beast, it’s lashing out.

I'm far from the only person to have noticed that the "protests" are restricted to the Muddle Class. As one newspaper editorial said:

Why are the weaker sections of the society not participating in these protests? Especially, why have those, who live in the slums where the main accused of this gang rape lives, (not) come forward? Indian society is divided and everyone is fighting their own battle. 

It’s not even as though the death penalty could be an actual deterrent. From the point of view of the rapist, it just gives him a powerful incentive to kill his victim instead of just violating her. If he’s going to hang anyway, at least killing her gives him a chance of getting away with it. Making the death penalty a punishment for rape merely dooms the victim.

That’s just logical. But cornered beasts don’t think logically. But, of course, this isn't a protest - it's a glorified lynch mob.

Speaking about lynching, the “protestors” don’t exactly have clean hands either. They’ve managed to kill a Delhi Police constable – a member of the underclass, as it happens – who collapsed and died of a heart attack after suffering injuries including three broken ribs. The Muddle Class and its media are unrepentant, of course – they claim that if such a thing happened, the police was at fault for putting a man with a bad heart into riot control duties. Because, you know, beating some poor cop till he dies is all fine if you’re fighting for a law to keep the other poor in their place.

The conflict is going to get worse. As the so-called economic boom continues to fall apart, and the infrastructure and environment continue to disintegrate, the Muddle Class’ grip on its niche will come under ever increasing threat. Since the Muddle Class relies on the underclass to be its hewer of wood and drawer of water, it can’t isolate itself from them like the ultra rich with their gated communities – it has to interact with the lower class, depending on it while hating it. More violence is inevitable, with lower class criminals (many of whom are poverty migrants to the cities, and forced to live in teeming slums with no facilities at all) preying on the Muddle Class, and the latter lashing back.

We will live in increasingly interesting times.

Meanwhile, I’d like to say something about the victim of the rape that started the whole thing off. All the “protestors”, the Muddle Class media and the politicians are concerned about her, and they want justice. Good. So do I. Try the accused rapists, and if they’re found guilty, lock them up by all means and throw away the key.

But I want to know something – why is it that they don’t mention the fact that we still don’t know the young woman’s name? The answer is that if her identity is disclosed, she’ll be publicly stigmatised as a rape victim and will probably not find anyone willing to marry her, ever.

But all those people so concerned about women’s rights don’t even want to talk about that.