|Photo by Ramesh Lalwani via flickr|
This juvenile will be released after having served 3 years in a correctional home. The stories about how he was the most brutal one of the lot in the commission of the crime has started doing the rounds. Outraged media, just like the crowds, have started running headlines like “Nirbhaya Rapist to be released”, both in newspapers and news channels.
Some media outlets have even openly demanded that he be hanged, often with visuals of the parents of Nirbhaya demanding the same. They have demanded lowering the legal age for being considered a juvenile if one is accused of committing heinous crimes. The refrain is the age old one: how can someone capable of committing crimes like rape and murder be considered a juvenile. Age-old debates in different societies and communities that argue against the same are summarily rubbished here, with even shriller calls for his hanging.
Most of this outrage against him, just one of the convicted accused of committing a rape in a country that sees thousands of rapes being committed in India, comes not from any quest for justice. They are mostly rooted in the need for a closure, a forced closure, by turning the body and person of a criminal into the site of cathartic release of collective anger against rape crimes.
India has seen similar outrages substituting their anger with revenge in the past as well; a serial rape accused named Akku Yadav was lynched by his victims inside Nagpur District Court in Maharashtra. Outrage can succeed even in securing justice in the odd case. The case of rape and murder of Priyadarshini Matto and the case involving the murder of Jessica Lal are examples. Such outrage can also bring forced closure, at times, at least for some. For instance, in Nirbhaya, this closure arrived with the fast track prosecution ending in death sentence to all convicts but the juvenile, as the State feared the outrage and ensured a speedy trial.
This is also where the outrage way to “justice” comes at the cost of criminal justice reforms and often gets appropriated by those who want this system, which gives impunity not only to sex offenders but many others, to continue. The calls for justice are reduced to murderous calls for revenge. Patriarchal societies have always turned women bodies into a site of its assertion. How difficult would it be for them to turn the bodies of some poor rapists, into sites of revenge and catharsis. They know doing so can bring closure to the outrage at hand, while the social and institutional systems that keep up the violations of women and children can continue unimpeded.
This is also exactly where outrage, howsoever genuine the cause, lose meanings and become weapons of revenge. This is the point where sane voices, get thrown out and the frenzied mobs take over. That is exactly where Nirbhaya protests have ended up — adding death penalty to one more crime, despite all the claims of those still known as leaders of Nirbhaya protests to be opposed to capital punishment.
Rape is a crime, a heinous one and warrants prosecution and punishment for the perpetrators. Victims should not need an outrage to get justice, not in a society that claims to be a republic. But then, the republic is the same where many of the rapes don’t get reported for many reasons. The most prominent is the stigma attached with being a rape victim in a society that treats women’s bodies as both the primary site where patriarchal codes of honour are defined, as well as carriers of purity and pollution of the caste system.
Highly insensitive handling of complainants and victims by law enforcement agencies and fear of further reprisals from the perpetrators and their accomplices adds to this and increases underreporting. The victim, here, means every victim – be it Nirbhaya or the seven year old battling for her life in AIIMS or Thangjam Manorama who was brutally tortured and killed by Assam Rifles personnel of the Assam Rifles – as established by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice (retd.) C. Upendra Singh.
The malaise of such crimes will continue until Indian justice institutions ensure that victims can seek redress and justice as their right and perpetrators get punished without needing a public “outrage”. Add to this the fact that most of the victims even from “mainstream” India do not see Indians “outraging” for them, forget those like Thangjam Manorama caught in the dozens of the faultiness that divide the Republic. In fact, even a rank stranger following events in India can vouchsafe that many of the ones outraged for Nirbhaya would be equally, if not more ferociously, outraged, if Manorama’s perpetrators were brought to book!
Back to the case at hand: the NCRB also shows that 1,25,433 cases of rape were awaiting trial in 2014, out of which 90,000 cases were pending from previous years. Can a people outrage for justice in so many cases? Should it mean no justice to the victims, if the people cannot outrage on and on?