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Nothing consensual about rape

October 15, 2012

-Photo by Eefa Khalid/Dawn.com

I live a short distance from khap land.

Khaps, a bit like jirgas, are tightly policed associations of sub-castes with strong headmen who often act beyond the pale of law.

I live in Gurgaon, the glitzy modern Indian city that has dusty villages and malls within it, shining buildings but very little piped water, BMWs and cows, a modern metro but no roads below. In short, it has every single contradiction that you can think up.

Gurgaon, touted as India’s Millennium City, is in the state of Haryana that borders Delhi. Haryana itself is home to Maruti-Suzuki, arguably one of India’s best known brands, and to a myriad number of other industries.

A short distance from the glitzy high-rise buildings of CyberCity, where a mind boggling number of MNCs operate, is the real Haryana.

It’s a state where the rule of law jostles with the law made by the khaps.

After a particularly shocking spate of rapes in recent days, one would have expected the State (where is it?), political parties and the rest of society to crack down hard on the culprits and, simultaneously, help create an environment where there is zero tolerance for such acts.

Instead, we witnessed the bizarre spectacle of a Congress party spokesman in Haryana saying that most of the rapes were actually consensual sex.

“Ninety per cent of rape cases are (a case of) consensual sex between the girl and boy ... The girl gets into an affair with a boy and she goes with him without knowing that he is of criminal mindset," Congress party leader Dharambir Goyat was quoted as telling reporters.

“It’s not the state government which is responsible for rapes. In fact in most of the cases it is consensual sex,” Goyat added.

A spokesman for Haryana’s Sarva Khap Jat Panchayat Sube Singh had come out with the suggestion that the marriage age for girls should be reduced in order to reduce the number of rapes in the state. Though, the group did not come to any conclusion on the issue at a meeting on October 13, the suggestion is very much in the public domain. This was backed by former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala.

So, what’s happening?

There’s a clear sense of denial here about the rape incidents. Blaming the victims comes easily to those who don’t want to recognise the problem for what it is.

In other parts of India, we’ve had ministers blaming girls for dressing provocatively and in Haryana a ruling Congress leader actually believes that rape might be a consensual act.

The khaps aren’t just debating a proposal to reduce the marriageable age for girls (currently 18); they also want to regulate the personal lives of young people.

There have been a number of cases in which these khaps have sanctioned the killing of a runaway couple for an inter-caste or an intra-caste marriage.

Non-government organisation Shakti Vahini pointed out in a study, “The public rhetoric and the diktats issued by them (khaps) have certainly led to ... polarisation in the community. These groups, though not directly involved in the crime have provided the catalytic support needed for the growth of violent behaviour.”

As islands of modernity grow in Haryana, the khaps seem both unwilling and unable to contend with the issues of personal choice – in marriage, relationships and dress.

Conservative in the extreme, the control of women seems central to the thought processes of such entrenched groups in society.

In a September interview to the New York Times, the Chief Minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Huda wondered why he was being targeted on the issue of honour killings.

“That happens in Canada also. Why my state only, it’s a mindset. As far as honor killing, I don’t know why you call it honour killing. What you call honour killing is done by either a girl’s parents or a boy’s parents; the society has nothing to do with it. Nobody likes it. But such cases are not on the increase, I can say that. It is condemnable,” he said in the interview.

Politicians, including state functionaries, don’t want to tinker with the fabric of conservative societies. Often, they are imbued with the same outlook and are loath to take a stance that is out of sync with what tradition has sanctioned.

It’s time to change the politicians if mindsets have to change.

There’s nothing consensual about rape.

 


Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.

 

 


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