The despair of Badaun

Inscribed in the tragedy are rapacious systems of dominance.

Written by Pratiksha Baxi | Updated: June 3, 2014 8:12 am
We note a reluctance to acknowledge custodial  rape as targeted caste atrocity, and gangrape  as caste atrocity. (Source: PTI) We note a reluctance to acknowledge custodial rape as targeted caste atrocity, and gangrape as caste atrocity. (Source: PTI)

Inscribed in the tragedy are rapacious systems of dominance.

As the pictures of the two young Dalit children, gangraped, murdered and hung from a tree in Badaun, circulate in the media, the despair and anger of the Dalits, women and children who are part of this spectacle of violence singes our everyday lives. The spectator-consumer of television and print media, however, is invited to participate in a familiar script, used each time an atrocity hits the media.

Our anger is directed at the language of the political class, which vacillates between sexist and statist responses. While one set of politicians defends rapists and rape cultures, the other set speaks of death penalty, stronger policing and awarding compensation.

We note a reluctance to acknowledge custodial rape as targeted caste atrocity, and gangrape as caste atrocity. The AIDWA fact-finding report tells us that the accused policemen have only been charged with abetting violence. There is a refusal to acknowledge that the rapacious bodies of police officers and their dominant caste bhai-bandhu targeted the bodies of Dalit children and produced a spectacle of terror for all Dalits to witness. This is how our children inherit caste — by watching mutely the lynched dead bodies of raped teenagers. To be a Dalit and working-class parent means never to recover from such a trauma. It means being told not to trust those police officials who act on behalf of the rapacious system of dominance.

Custodial rape as a specific form of rapacious state violence was named as a crime in 1983, in the aftermath of the Mathura rape agitation. Yet media debates fail to inform their anguished spectators that custodial rape rarely results in conviction, if the survivor lives to testify. The criminalisation of custodial rape has failed to challenge that culture of policing which is based on the premise that state power gives men a licence to rape with impunity and immunity. This culture is entrenched by the political class, which uses the police to shield rapists for the sake of competitive politics, gaining political power or deploying rape as a tool of terror. The use of and support to policemen, as perpetrators of sexual violence and torture, is the outcome of a series of systemic and systematised political arrangements.

First, policing is embedded in local contexts of dominance, where the dominant group stakes a claim on the monopoly over the use or abuse of law. When women, Dalits, tribals or other minorities try to challenge this monopoly over the use (or abuse) of the law, they are “taught a lesson” — be it in Khairlanji in Maharashtra or the courts of Tis Hazari in Delhi.

Second, sexual violence is a routine technique of terror. In other words, rape is an instrument to stifle, deny and prevent gender-based equality. It is used to quell dissent or social movements, deter social mobility, maintain social hierarchy, restrict access to public spaces, deny safety at home, create unsafe work environments, punish the incarcerated and destroy the sexual or reproductive futures of hated communities. It is used to produce sexual humiliation, which is necessary for the reproduction of the patriarchal social order. The cultures of policing are shot through with the exercise of sexual humiliation as a specific mode of state dominance, which routinely produces spectacles of sexual violence.

Third, policing reinforces rape cultures which characterise certain kinds of bodies as rape-able: working class, Dalit, tribal, minority, children, queer, habituated, promiscuous, and so on. Hence, we are repeatedly told that the understaffed and overworked police force cannot file the complaints of all women or children who experience rape. These are exceptional subjects — for them the law must be suspended since their lives do not matter. The law must only be upheld for the minuscule minority whose lives matter.

Fourth, testimonies of rape become pornography and rape is staged for the camera to produce pornography. The production of pornography, as we know from the lacerating accounts of sexual abuse and torture from a shelter in Pune, is materialised through staging actual rape. The consumption of pornography and its enactment for the camera rests on the toleration of the careers of rape pornographers and their markets.

The state is erected on trafficking in the informal economies of desire and violence. Not only are these lucrative markets, these constitute the nervous system of a rapacious state, a state that must conserve the desire to rape as an expression of male power.

Why then would the state waste its resources on allocating gender budgets to prevent sexual violence? Why would policemen, army officials or politicians be convicted of rape? Why would women who testify against rape be granted protection? Why would the state not raid women suspected to be sex workers? Indeed, why would the state fund studies to understand the expansion of cruelty with rape, such as the increased incidents of burning, mutilating, torture or lynching of raped women? Surely it is more profitable to maintain a threshold of sexual violence?

The commentaries on national television, while important in bringing visibility to specific atrocities, do not depart from the script of pinning blame on the sexism of specific public officials or moving to the comforting promise of reforms. This form of anguished commentary barely addresses the systemic and systematised aspects of rape as an expression of power.

For instance, there has been little consistent reporting on the changes in various professions, including journalism, to make the workplace free of sexual harassment or sexism. Nor has there been enough thinking on the kinds of public emotion generated by sensational modes of reporting, and whether these challenge the everyday formations of rape cultures. We are not invited to reflect on the politics of forgetting, which blinds us to the connections between everyday and extraordinary forms of caste or communal violence.

Perhaps the Indian polity is not humane enough to challenge the politics of forgetting, on which celebrations of democracy rest. It requires a great deal of commitment to transform social suffering into dignified ways of life. Alas, the contempt towards visions of transformative constitutionalism is writ large in our polity.

The writer is associate professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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  1. S
    Satyameva Jayate
    Jun 6, 2014 at 9:20 am
    " Ma Behen Ko Atyachar Roko, Modi Roko, .. Jhuk nahi donga ,.. Mitnahi donga" - Modi was crying se as campaigner. Time has come for Modi to walk the talk or be bedas one more hypocrite politician playing to the gallery. So I would like to ask him " Narendra Bhai , Now there is no body to stop you. What will you do to stop this crime ? or will you hide behind the alibi that law & order is a state subject ?". "UNLESS YOU MAKE DETERRENT LAW WITH CRUELTY IN PUNISHMENT ( & TELEVISED ) to RAPISTS YOU CANNOT STOP THIS CRIME ". The victims & their families don't care for the compensation & medical treatment & probably not interested in the life imprisonment given to rapist as all this will not give back the girl what she lost & she has to live withe trauma for life. Do not forget that many girls commit suicide after rape. IMAGINE A CHILD VICTIM OF GANG RAPE. SO PREVENTING THIS CRIME IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN RELIEF TO VICTIM & PUNISHMENT TO RAPISTS. Also India has highly ill-equipped & inadequate police-force.Unfortunately judiciary and media are against making deterrent laws. Why there should not be cruelty in punishment to rapists ? HOW ABOUT AN ELECTRIC SHOCK GIVEN DAILY TO RAPISTS' GENITALS & TELEVISED ? Such laws were there in the days of kings. Merely because English laws do not permit such a law on the pretext human rights violation !! (- Justice Verma committee report-) why we should not make such laws as an exception for the sake of deterrence
  2. A
    Ashamed Jnr
    Jun 4, 2014 at 9:13 pm
    Everyone in media is talking about stopping RAPE, but no one talking about destroying the inhuman caste system just because it benefits you.
  3. A
    Ashamed Jnr
    Jun 4, 2014 at 9:12 pm
    The only option left with Dalits if to convert to Islam and make India a muslim majority country so that this racist system of caste given by racist religion called Hinduism can be banned in India. Dalits should all in m convert to Islam in protest.
  4. T
    Jun 3, 2014 at 4:22 am
    Root cause is failure of Courts in India to ensure appropriate Justice delivery, had the Indian Judiciary performed will criminals go scot free.
  5. D
    Jun 3, 2014 at 2:37 pm
    .Such killings are common in cow belt(BIMARU)states.With social scientists' help one can understand why is it so while people in WB and large part of Bihar and orissa have moved away from such social violence.Politicians and protest are no answer.We need a scientific construct to end this violence.Any takers?
  6. K
    Jun 3, 2014 at 9:51 am
    In India justice is not delivered swiftly. The perptrators of Nirbhaya's rape and murder are still in jail. Their sentences are not carried out another example, take Kasab's case. He was caught on camera there were witnesses who said he was the killer yet it took 4 years and expenditure of crores of rupees before he was hanged. Why should it take such a long time when the case is clear cut? Yaqoob Memon who was involved in 1993 Mumbai bombings is still in jail and his sentence is yet again sta. Why this delay. That is why rapists and murdereres are fearless.
  7. S
    Jun 4, 2014 at 4:33 am
    Look at the utter brazen shamelessness of ex minister salmaan khurshid.. Defending the elite intellectual moron rapist Tejpal.. What message is being sent to society..
  8. P
    Jun 3, 2014 at 4:19 am
    When a tragedy occurs, half baked minds start pontificating. Pratiksha Baxi's article is a prime example of this dictum. Let us accept that the Budaun incidence is as bad as can be and nothing can be said to criticize it enough. Further, Akhilesh Yadav's reaction to the journalist who questioned about this incidence was also absolutely insensitive. That said, Pratiksha Baxi does not do justice to her status as an academic in this article. First, why try to explain everything using caste system? Did anyone ask the caste of Nirbhaya? Would that tragedy or this one have become any less grave if the castes of the victims were any different or known? Did these crimes occur because of the castes of these victims. After giving one wrong explanation Professor Baxi harps on another. To explain incidences of rape as ways to terrorize women is far fetched. If such were the case, a woman could be terrorized just by using a knife or a gun. Why rape? Terror occurs as a result of rape but rape is not done to terrorize (except probably in the case of wars between nations). The simplest explanation for rape is lust. Let us work on that explanation first. If that fails we can come up with better theories. And, Professor Baxi wrote a long article with many questions but no solutions (reminds me of the leftist Arvind Kejriwal). Let us empower --through proactive legislation-- our police and judges to prosecute the cases involving a rape, or a violent crime against a person who has moved from one state to another, or a violent crime against a person who is visiting India from a foreign country at twice the speed and double the recommended sentences. Then let us see if we can make a dent in the rate of these crimes which have recently shaken the moral fabric of our nation. And let us not bring cl, caste, religion, media, politics, gender, and such into this discourse because that will only be counter productive.
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