Monday, April 13, 2015

India's Daughter

Is the name of a documentary ABC's Four Corners program purchased the rights to. And I watched it. 

The crime was harrowing, the peripheral victims (family & friends) traumatized and devastated and the one perpetrator of the gang rape interviewed... confused.

They are described as unrepentant, the one interviewed certainly maintained that he only drove the bus where the crime took place.

Of course the only information I have is what was in the documentary and I have no information beyond that on either Indian culture or Delhi culture nor India's economic and legal systems. Furthermore, the other convicted members of the gang weren't interviewed and the question of psychopathology was unasked.

As presented though, the perpetrators appear as a product of their culture. It takes the crime beyond it's own immediate gruesomeness. 

The one interviewed assailant, convicted and sentenced to death, feels unfairly treated. Overshadowing this feeling are his espoused views of victim blaming, that women are more responsible for rape than men are. These views articulated obscure a kind of unspoken complaint - that the crime of rape and gang rape are commonplace and these rapists were singled out, apprehended, trialed and convicted when most go unpunished.

What testifies to this complaint is how easily the men were caught, and they were caught because they didn't take the kind of precautions one would take if you expected the crime to end your life. They dumped the two victims naked by the side of the road from the bus where the crime took place, leaving both victims alive. (the interviewed driver speculates that his death sentence will mean that future perpetrators will kill their victims rather than risk them testifying) They drove the bus home and while the did clean it, they parked it outside their residence. Then they stayed home. No paranoid 'I've seen this in the movies' burning of the vehicle and all it's evidence, fleeing town and never coming back again.

Assuming you are likely to be Australian, and if not living in a western democracy US, Canada, Europe. If I told you a common 'crime' committed by most Australian cyclists is running a red light to make a left-hand turn. (right hand for a right-hand drive country), it is fairly commonplace among impatient cyclists. Now imagine you go out and do this on your bike one day. You consider yourself a casual cyclist, you pull up to a red light, there's no traffic around and rather than wait it out, unsure of whether the intersection requires something as massive as a car to be stalled there for the cycle to change, you just ride through the red hooking straight through to the bike lane.

There is in Australia, nothing illegal about dismounting your bike, picking it up and moving to the side walk, then making the turn inside of the traffic light as a pedestrian and mounting your bike. Running the red left hand turn is a lazy shorthand for going through these motions, but is a traffic violation.

That's how you rationalize away the transgression in terms of it's consequences. But 6 days later the police knock on your door and throw the book at you. You are prosecuted and fined, your picture is published from the CCTV footage in the local papers and your name published. Talkback radio entertains rant after rant about you and your irresponsible riding.

Now, there is no question that what you did was wrong. I and you can rationalize it, but strictly speaking it is indefensible. It was undertaken with an expectation though that you wouldn't face the consequences, and this in expectation was based on the observation that virtually nobody faces the consequences of running this light in this way.

When I put myself in this scenario, and try to use it as a basis of empathy, I project and like to think of myself that I can accept that I deserve to be punished. I still feel entitled to a sense of anger and injustice that within my social environment, immediate and broad (culture) other people are committing this transgression and not being punished. I have (arbitrarily or not) been singled out for punishment.

This Indian gang was singled out, self-evident because the media coverage singled them out and the production of the documentary singles them out alone. 2000 officers were put at the disposal of the supervising police officer (I can't recall his rank) and I'm left with impressions, imaginary or not that they were sped through the trial process.

They weren't singled out arbitrarily (I hope) although the interviewed convict felt other people had committed worse crimes and nothing had resulted. 

The convicted men in India absolutely should experience the adverse consequences of their actions. They did what they did, and the get what they get. 'Justice' is a hard concept to wrap my head around, I personally don't believe in capital punishment and I also don't believe in scapegoating.

The perpetrators will be hanged until dead. The scary part of that is the possibility that the cultural factors will be buried with them. I doubt these men felt that rape itself was on the same scale as jaywalking or running lights, but they clearly feel it is analogous insofar as that it is an accepted part of the culture. I couldn't guess how the reconciliation is done exactly, but the defense mounted by the lawyers would not in Australia constitute a legal defense.

By comparison, using a fictitious example simply because I also watched it recently - The Redfern Now Telemovie dealt with rape. The accused rapist's legal defense was in light of the forensic evidence that intercourse had taken place - was that the two parties had engaged in consensual sex and then the alleged victim had attempted to extort money from the alleged rapist.

By comparison the lawyers interviewed in the Indian (real) case presented a defense that did not address issues of consent, or that any of the gang were under duress from another member. Nothing that to my (limited) understanding of Australian law would constitute a legal defense against the charges. From my perspective, in the Indian legal systems the defense consisted basically of pleading guilty to their actions and trying to justify their actions.

I see no real value in me personally dredging up the arguments made, except that they unashamedly confess to a patriarchal - victim blaming culture. Such that the men in their own minds felt themselves vigilantes, meting out justice for in their view 'the natural consequences' of a young woman going out escorted, but not by a fiance, husband and male family member at 8pm at night.

When I lock my bike up in the city and notice somebody else has left their bike lights on their bike. I have the intrusive thought 'somebody will steal those, I should steal them to teach them a lesson.' One quickly followed by 'but I'm not a thief' and though their is some truth to 'opportunity makes the thief' that is not where responsibility lies. 

These men will die, and I would not be outraged if they experienced some chagrin over the fact that they were unlucky to be caught in a society where their crimes, though illegal, are viewed as a risk rather than a strict prohibition. Of any belief they hold that they were vigilantes or somehow conducting moral instruction to a woman, I would believe myself that they are simply wrong, and before their lives end they may or may not realise this.

At the very least, I doubt they will reoffend, with the possible exception of the juvenile whom received the maximum punishment available for a juvenile and remains unnamed. The question as to whether he will come to the understanding that what he did was wrong will remain a question. 

I have severe doubts as to whether and by what incriment Delhi will become safer for women. The question applies also to India at large. One question unasked by the documentary are questions of class, caste and inequity. The lack of information makes it perplexing, the central victim of the crime appeared to be from a poor background but had achieved some degree of social mobility. 

Education is often expounded as the universal panacea to stopping inhumane acts. Watching the large protests of India's educated was quite moving, and were I the government I would have been moved to act and bring the long arm of the law down on these men. I also watch scholars and academics commit slips of the tongue when they refer to India as a 'developing- developed' country and any time I here talk of India as the world's largest democracy I always feel the insecurity behind it. A self-conscious anxiety that the world thinks of India as a poor, backward and superstitious nation. I don't sense national pride but national shame. Perhaps this has manifested an actual policy driven rush of development that seeks to meet the highest of world standards rather than improve the across-the-board standard of living for Indians. 

If one Indian child is recieving the education solution that men and women are fundamentally equal, that victims are not to blame for the crimes that victimise them and so forth, while other Indian children are being taught patriarchal garbage, then I can see how this fatal divide over what constitutes 'common sense' and 'decency' is opening up. 

That though is all speculation, Australia itself has demonstrated it is no exception to men thinking they can use and abuse women, take their lives. I certainly feel a difference in the standard of our defense lawyers is established, but the fact is that our egalitarian education system steers clear of moral instruction and it shows. People in Australia have all kinds of values, women in Melbourne have been suffering for that diversity, and it goes nation wide. 

I remain puzzled, but I think it is worth being that way for now. So that the answers may come in time.

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