When Rape Outrage is Determined by Communal Colours

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By Grace Jajo

In many recent cases of rape, there has been a visible selective and inconsistent trend in public responses. The Dimapur case is definitely not the first instance of such public outrage, though the scale of violence and the presence of media made it global. In the past the perpetrators and their families were left with no option but to face mob justice. The extreme moral revulsion rape inspires also always have silenced concerns about the brutality meted out to perpetrators of rape. The tendency of vigilante crowds to jump the law while seeking retribution in rape crimes is somewhat universal. Here the question is whether we should continue to allow violent outrage in the name of traditional and customary forms of justice or else allow modern jurisprudence to take over and handle this urge for instant retribution.

Mob justice prevails in other states too, though perhaps more frequently where communities are still living in isolated and self contained geographical regions. One can differentiate the scale and harshness of penalties when such incidents involve an `outsider`™ as the perpetrator, especially if the offender is from a group popularly seen as adversarial to the local communities for reasons of perceived political or economic aggression. Here we need to introspect one step further and ask ourselves, how we would have responded if the victim was from the sojourn group and the perpetrator an insider from our own community. Would we conveniently have ignored the crime and walked away, or be as outraged and cry justice when an `outsider`™ is the perpetrator? This will answer whether we were truly safeguarding the rights of a woman or merely trotting the communal lines. Otherwise it becomes a mockery to play out such violence in the name of justice. Women related crime is often used as a pretext to display the violence of our patriarchs while we continue to remain subdued within our communities. Further respecting our rights will have to take into cognizance other concerns too especially various hues of domestic violence meted out to us.

There seems to be an inherent tendency to interpret our indigenous justice system as barbaric violence, as we have seen among some observers. This has to be a result of grave ignorance. On the contrary, perhaps people think that court justice can be manipulative and often evades justice dispensation especially if the victim comes from a humble background without the resources to afford smart lawyers. Another popular disenchantment is on account of the delay in delivering justice where the accused can even be let off on bail, and given the option of further appeals even when he is found guilty. This is seen by many as defiling the concept of justice. Often again the reliance on medical evidence becomes difficult especially if there has been a time lapse between the victim`™s revelation of the crime she was subject to and the commission of the crime. Certainly, recent amendments relating to sexual assault in Section 375, 376, 354 and 509 IPC have been more progressive. But in the real world such routine and institutionalised delays and legal complications continue to distance many from the modern legal system, and even instil suspicion and disregard for the Indian legal system amongst them.

Rape is a heinous crime which involves both violence and disrespect towards the victims. In communities where the honour of a woman still centres around her virginity, it is regarded as an intentional action to dishonour the community. Hence, the crime implies an attempt to emasculate the strength and pride of the patriarchs of the community. This should explain why the reaction of the collective group often tends to be an attempt at violent restoration of their power in their domain territory. This is meant to send a clear message to anyone who dares think of challenging their authority, of their awesome group power. But we need to recognize marital rape and male rape as well where such explanations might not sustain.

This particular chapter, coming in the wake of the Dimapur lynching, will definitely decide the future of rape cases in our vicinity. It will probably determine whether we choose to continue with such barbaric behaviour or accept contemporary universal legal justice procedures. Maybe it is time that we learned to yield to the modern criminal justice system. Perhaps we need to build the pressure for timely delivery of justice. Else the huge backlog of criminal cases in court might not be able to restore public confidence in courts and might lead to strengthening a culture of mob justice, public lynching and dependence on kangaroo courts.

The woman`™s body and the discourse around it continue to be consequent upon the discourse on the dysfunctions of the patriarchy. This discourse is unmindful that the victim`™s physical and psychological health remains a family`™s onus. Perhaps we also need to delve on the importance of women`™s position in our communities beyond the rape discourse. Some would feel that such responses are paternalistic meant to perpetuate the continued subordination of women`™s status as vulnerable victims which might overlook the recognition of consent in relationships.

While recognizing such heinous crimes against women, our patriarch should also be mindful of all the other rights women are still denied. Interestingly mainstream India continues to regard women`™s position in Northeast as `egalitarian`™ and thus it becomes problematic for us to draw the line of victimhood. Such ignorant reductionism and fallacy pose grave hurdles leading to indifference and invisibility of women`™s subdued status in the communities. It is possible that such conventional conclusions were arrived at by assessing the status of women against parallel yardsticks use for Hindu dominated mainstream India. As for instance, the absence of dowry deaths, Sati, child marriage etc might have been interpreted as `egalitarian`™. Fresh organic discourse with more critical appreciations and assessments of indigenous communities which go beyond the mere glorification of women`™s role in traditional societies can reveal the discriminations, denials, subjugations and inequalities within. Drawing up a picture of these societies by merely looking through the prisms of apex bodies including even educated bodies like student unions starkly reflects the domain and denial in the region.

While women`™s collective response have resulted in historical landmark victories in cases like Th. Manorama, our confinement within our compartmental political discourse has betrayed our integrity in our inability to unite for women issues on a more universal platform. Sometimes such selective silences are explained as a cautious political position to underplay the political tones when cases involve rival communities. But such selective silences are questionable if we emerge sporadically to bark for our political conveniences only.

We cannot rule out that our patriarchs might respond to our cries of victimhood as political opportunism. In the past we might have been able to contend that such incidents as insignificant. But the recent Dimapur case brings home the reality of global connectivity. The speed and the scale of modern communication capabilities were definitely beyond the comprehension of our patriarchs and they were simply unprepared to handle the crisis. This case will surely be a lesson for us to delve in casual conversations, as we await the political will to discuss it in our civil societies`™ platforms.

Many of us remain silent in shame and remorse sharing the moral responsibility of such inhuman conduct. Some of us wonder if we are still civilized enough to allow voice of dissent instead of trying to homogenized and silence all the right thinking people, even after unedited footage had gone viral across the globe. We need to wake up to modern realities and expand our world views. Hard facts that we cannot escape in our simple imaginative construct of justice.

The Nagaland government had acted promptly in suspending officials as well as arresting some of the mob in the aftermath. Such actions could be a emulated by the Manipur Police in dealing with mob violence in future.

Amidst this crisis, in Churachanpur, minors were rape by our own people (read as insiders) for years until the young victims collectively cried out for justice. This happened at North East Children Home, Churachanpur, Manipur, and the alleged perpetrator was none other than the administrator, Timothy L Changsan. So far we have not come across a single official statement to oppose the crime even after a lapse of a month. Instead we have observed and celebrated women`™s day across the state in between, prophesying vain ideals.

How would have reacted if the perpetrator was an outsider or from a non-tribal community? Can we pool public reaction only for such cases and not when it is committed by our own brethrens? How superficial can we be if we were to calibrate the gravity of the crime according to communal colours? Such revelations of young brave hearts deserve to be supported by every parents and every right thinking conscious citizens who cares about the physical and mental health of our children. We need to denounce such crimes in our vicinity even if it involves the high and mighty influential people. Our silence can be interpreted as helpless acceptance and encourage perpetuation of such crimes in our midst.

Following the filing of FIR against the administrator, seven minors have fled the home. Yet the particular home remains open and no civil society groups or state officials have investigated the case to ensure the safety of the seven runaway children or the remaining 21 children in the home. We cannot rule out intimidations to the children now or in future so in such context it is imperative to ensure safety and the right to free expression of these children.

Manipur Commission for Protection of Child Rights has not acted till date nor has the District Child Protection Unit. In an ideal situation the DCPU in consultation with the CWC should have designed and proposed the care plan for each child. District Legal Services Authority could have extended free legal aid and proactively intervened in such vulnerable cases involving minor girls. Even the concern MLA has not commented till date. It is a sad situation which involves orphans who might have expected all these stake holders to come to their rescue if they opened up and what a disappointment it must have been for them! Will we dare call such lethargy, a legal flaw? How do we bang at these dormant institutions to conduct a spot inquiry and ensure speedy investigation?

We do have the Manipur State Victim Compensation Fund too but no interim financial support has been extended yet. With such lethargy how would we encourage similar victims to be bold enough to come out and seek justice in future? It is a complete disappointment and perhaps this is where public outrage sometimes emerges as an alternative to the dormant systems.

This case of sexual assault comes under the aggravated category of the POCSO Act since the accused is the Institutional Administrator. Public empathy is so superficial sometimes. Our pretentious silence is alarming. If such cases cannot arouse our response how do we continue to claim to be Rights activists? Whose right are we going to safeguard? In this case, in addition to the apathy of the government and child protection bodies, the civil society has been keeping a safe distance till date.

In 2013, Grace Home, run by Pastor Jacob John in Jaipur, was raided jointly by the Rajasthan Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Jaipur Police and NGO FXB India Suraksha and 53 children from Manipur were rescued and compensated. This was such an encouraging and exemplary case of pro-activism and prompt collaboration for protection of children. We await such actions in this case too.

Here is a case where we have reposed faith in the legal system. It is for the state and the court to restore people`™s confidence in the timely delivery of justice, without being swayed by the power nexus the perpetrator might be part of. The government should be cautious, lest its failure encourages mob justice in future again!

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