Speaking at an election rally in Agra last week, Union minister Uma Bharti claimed that as Madhya Pradesh chief minister in 2003-2004, she ordered the torture of alleged rapists in custody. Bharti said such criminals were “demons” and therefore didn’t have any human rights. She boasted that she had ordered that rapists be “hung upside down and skinned”, “salt and chilli applied to their wounds”, their writhing in pain made visible to the women they had harmed.
MP police officials have denied Bharti’s claims since, suggesting this is no more than fiery poll talk. However, fact or fiction, Bharti’s statements mirror the problem in the fight against crimes against women. Rape is based on the violation of a human being’s body, with no concern for their dignity, their integrity. It is this crushing of the most fundamental human rights that makes rape so repellent.
For Bharti to place punishment from a state at the same level of a violent, abusive act that recognises no process or permission, is gravely erroneous, for it emphasises brute power, not due process or humane ethics. For some, Bharti’s views may be commendable, offering vigilante action against a system which is infamously slow, often insensitive and corrupt. But “instant justice” is simply more injustice, for it strengthens those possessing power, helping them harm others in their power. This cannot be the tendency that drives the state.
Following the December 16, 2012 gangrape, there has been a shift in the public discussion about sexual crimes against women. There has also been growing frustration at the system dragging its feet over such cases. But instead of seriously addressing these growing concerns, those in power have chosen the easiest way to assuage public sentiment — by bowing to popular, often illiberal, clamour. It is in this gloomy half-light that the age of juvenile criminals in heinous cases to be tried as adults was brought down to 16 years.
If politicians like Bharti are serious about addressing rape, they should address themselves to strengthening the system, instituting more fast track courts, training police better and establishing basic precautions, such as better street lighting and safer public transport. Instead, the Nirbhaya Fund lies untouched, not a paisa spent on repairing a collapsing system. As cold comfort, only fiery words, which trivialise crime and normalise violations.