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Jasdev Singh Rai Headshot

Rapes in India, Whose Culture is to Blame?

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It seems acceptable to blame Indian culture for most of India's social ills, including rape including the recent tragic rape and death of a young medical student. No less than the eminent lawyer Indira Jaising, now Additional Solicitor General of India ended her BBC Today interview by saying that self correcting mechanisms were missing in Indian Society! She was subtly repeating one of the Indian State's most used excuse when defending its own mindboggling failures to enforce laws against rape (1 in 600 convictions), gender violence, child labour, corruption etc. 'Not us Gov', it's them, the people, they are backwards'.

Why Indians permit their State to get away with portraying 'them' just short of barbarians is a surprise. Why Indians, led by their women, have expressed their anger at the State and its institutions in this case is no surprise. They haven't been protesting in front of cultural icons such as Mandirs or Mosques. Indians are not fooled by cliché theories, 'rape is the result of sons favoured by culture'.

They know that the rot is in the very nature of the Indian State irrespective of which political party rules. Culture did not stop the police prancing around for hours before finally covering and taking the raped woman to hospital nor influence the indignity she experienced at the hospital.

Culture does not prevent the 'enlightened' Police Chiefs from demanding better rates of prosecutions from their juniors. Nor does it stop the world savvy Indian judiciary using a lower threshold of evidence in rape cases or the activist Indian Supreme Court from ordering an enquiry on low conviction rates.

Demonstrating women say they are afraid of reporting cases because of the attitude of the police, degrading medical examination techniques and the near zero conviction rate which leaves them with stigmas. They are cynical about another commission, another 'independent' body, another series of laws and of course now fast track courts.

The Indian State, notwithstanding what political party governs, can boast of bodies and progressive laws that make the UN appear illiberal. There are laws against dowry, against extravagant marriages, child labour, corruption, caste discrimination, gender foeticide, rape and even rape in marriage. Yet India excels in almost all these social evils.

Rapes, violence and other crimes occur around the world where there is breakdown of order, lack of proper governance or accountability. Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq, Egypt, USA (Katrina) and even Afghanistan. Every rapist knows that he is doing wrong. No culture sanctions rape however misogynist it maybe. Rape occurs in high numbers even in 'enlightened western' countries, including UK.

The issue in India is bad bad governance. In fact it is the very nature of the Indian State and its governing document, the Constitution. It is framed as 'ammendment' of the Government of India Act 1935 which was the 'last hurrah' of British colonialism to rule 'over' Indians, not 'for' Indians. Indians were asking for greater participation. Participation without real oversight was all Indians got.

The Constitution gives almost unmitigated power to the executive and its branches without appropriate checks and balances or accountability as the Act did for the British. What good are laws if the bodies meant to ensure compliance have no effective accountability.

Democracy itself does not transform a colonial system to one of the people, by the people, for the people if the governing document and the institutions retain all the trappings of a colonial power. The British did not expect Indians to carry on with the 1935 Act. Neither did ordinary Indians.

Unbridled power corrupts. It encourages brutality and indifference. Rapes by security forces are part of the State armoury in major regional struggles such as Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and formerly Punjab.

One in three of Indian Parliamentarians face criminal charges, including murder and rape! Several police officers around the country face criminal charges but continue in their posts. The Director General of Police of Punjab was appointed while facing charges of abduction and intended murder!

This has nothing to do with culture of the people. It has everything to do with culture of the State. People's attitudes are influenced by what their leaders get away with. What good is an even stricter law if an alleged rapist in India can become a legislator. It is the ultimate insult.

Others with access to money and power can buy justice by bribing police, judges and politicians. If the Indian STATE is serious about rule of law and protecting the women of India, perhaps it can start with the Lok Sabha (Parliament).

The Indian President inherited extraordinary powers from colonialism to enact law for six months without legislative approval. So why not use article 123 powers once for the 'benefit' of the people rather than 'against' people with more 'detention laws'. Introduce an Ordinance immediately suspending all MPs facing criminal charges, set up fast track courts and decide whether they are fit to govern, uphold the constitution and respect the dignity of people of India!

Two years ago veteran Gandhian, Anna Hazare started a movement against State corruption with poignant words 'second war for independence'. It has been drowned in misrepresentations. The 'them' (Indian society) need to bring the State under their control to reclaim dignity. What India and its women need is a corrective against a narcissist State obsessed with power than its 'citizens'.