Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.
–DC Holocaust Museum
There are few things that horrify us nowadays, inured as we are to the pain and suffering of others. Exposed to movies like SAW where people are shown having their arms pulled out of their sockets and to television images of men with half their brains blown off, a whole generation of violence zombies have been created for whom cruelty to human beings leaves as much effect as that of watching the blood of aliens being splattered in video games.
Of course there are times when people are able to rise above their apathy and ennui as in the case of the Priyadarshini Mattoo case and force the hand of justice despite the attempts of the high-and-the-mighty to twist it for their advantage. Those are indeed, empowering moments—-when we as a people realize that we are not as powerless as we like to believe and that the sons of politicians and policemen are not as above the law as they like to think.
Of course these moments come few. And far in between.
But even in such moments of hope, there are dark, uncomfortable realizations. The realization that whether in life or in death, we are not created equal. Sad though it may be, the press coverage that led to justice in the Mattoo case and a re-opening of Jessica Lal case is because of the profile of the victim and the accused—beautiful, educated, women butchered by the villainous son of police/politician. With a failed star caught in the crossfire. The media frenzy was as much about justice as it was about drama and good copy. Sadly so.
This glaring inequity becomes evident when once reads about this. An incident that happened less than 800 kms from Mumbai.
There was always a gaping silence in this village, even before September 29 when an upper caste mob, according to eyewitnesses, paraded a mother and her 17-year-old daughter naked, raped and killed them. Two other members of the family, brothers aged 19 and 21 too were murdered. Their bodies were dumped in a canal.
Thirty eight men have been arrested and they are being held under police custody. The gruesome incident occurred 780 kms from Mumbai, too far out it appears to muster national outrage. The news of this brutality did not enter the mainstream news in any significant fashion.
Why did it not? The facts (the details of the rape just too sickening) are shocking enough to provoke even the most jaded of us. The perpetrator here is not a spoilt politician’s son who knows that the law works for him. No it is an entire village.
Surekha, and 17-year-old Priyanka, a 12th standard topper, were paraded naked through the village. According to eye-witnesses, one of them was even strapped to a bullock cart.
They were then taken to a crude open-air theatre stage where, according to villagers, people yelled to the sarpanch to let them sexually assault the women. Meanwhile, Priyanka’s brothers, 21-year-old Sudhir and 19-year-old Roshan, were murdered. After Priyanka and her mother were raped, they too were murdered.
It does not take a smirking politician’s son to be smug about the fact that he will never be punished. An entire village’s male population is pretty sure about that too—-more so because these are poor people who are being raped —people for whom neither the police (because the perps are politically connected BJP activists) nor the press (because they are not newsworthy people) really care for.
Because if you look, the story is almost the same as that of Mattoo and Lal—police trying to cover up[kindly read the article to know more about this] , evidence vanishing , fraudulent post mortems. Some people have been arrested but it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that there will be no evidence to hold them: the police is taking care of that.
There is also another regrettable concomitant of an incident like this. The need to politicize. The need to portray this as part of a larger caste-war in India. Regardless of the fact that similar atrocities have been perpetrated by animals of various political hues on various castes of people, unified only by their poverty. [Caste and poverty are strongly correlated in rural India which is why incidents like this are always politicized as part of a larger Dalit genocide being perpetrated by Brahminical Hindus. However what makes a large section of people vulnerable to barbarities of the worst kind is their economic marginalization rather than just their caste identity]
All this finger-pointing and blame-apportioning ends up obfuscating the main point.
Which is: Politically well-connected men in collusion with the administrative machinery get away with the most barbaric acts of rape/murder taking advantage of civil society’s apathy towards atrocities committed on poor people in villages.
We can only hope that this changes. We can hope that the rape and murder of class-topper Priyanka, her mother and her two brothers will touch as many people as Priyadarshini Mattoo and Jessica Lal did. That the next round of frenetic SMS-ing and email forwarding, spots on CNN-IBN and NDTV , signature campaigns and other instruments of media mobilization be used to make sure that the entire village, which yelled asking for permission to rape the women, does not get away.
And that justice be finally served.
But will it?