Faced with a reportedly disturbing documentary on the subject of the December 16 gangrape, the government seems to have resorted to a familiar stratagem — outrage and suppress. The BBC documentary, India’s Daughter, which is said to feature a chilling interview with one of the convicted rapists from his cell in Tihar jail, raised hackles in Parliament, with Home Minister Rajnath Singh professing to be “personally hurt” and Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu alleging a Western “conspiracy to defame India”.
A restraining order on the telecast of the film has been secured and the government has promised to probe whether there was a breach in protocol in the granting of access for the interview. Whatever the procedural lapse, if any, or indeed whatever the sensibilities of the documentary-maker, the government’s response speaks of a terribly misdirected ire and an extraordinarily thin skin.
Two years ago, a brutal gangrape on a Delhi bus became a watershed moment. It renewed public consciousness about crimes against women and triggered the search for more sensitive institutional responses to them. The problem of sexual violence entered mainstream political discourse, gaining a new prominence in party manifestos and election campaigns, and even in the Union budget. But the outrage has also mutated into the illiberal clamour for instant and retributive justice, to which, for instance, the government caved in, issuing an ordinance that was turned into the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 — a hastily passed and loosely worded law. A similar instinct is at work in the restraining order, the same impulse to pass a decree rather than open a debate.
In the matter of sexual violence against women, there are far more outrageous realities that should agitate the government. The fact that conviction rates for rape have fallen from 44.28 per cent in 1973 to 24.21 per cent in 2012, or that NCRB data showed a 27 per cent rise in crimes against women in 2013 — even accounting for increased reporting of crimes, it presents an alarming picture. In spite of fast-track courts, judicial processes remain unresponsive to the increasing sexual violence against women. And while the convicted rapist flaunts a particularly savage form of misogyny, it is not his preserve alone — too many public figures have shown a proclivity to blame the victim. These realities are what actually damage India’s image in the eyes of the world.