From banning buses with curtains or tinted glass in their windows from the streets of Delhi to making death the penalty for rape — all sorts of measures are being mouthed by an evidently outraged official India after the hideous violence in a city bus on Sunday. While the suggested preventives, correctives and deterrents range from the bathetic to the blazing, there is a strange inability — or refusal — to think. Thinking about the persistence of incidents of rape would have made certain harsh truths clear long ago. But these truths would have implicated the whole of society in Sunday’s incident and in all incidents of violence against women, at home or in public, and that is something that those peopling the dominant structures in society cannot acknowledge.
It is not the laws that are at fault — India has no dearth of them — but those that wield them. Not as individuals, but as sharers in a certain set of values upon which society relies for control. The police, doctors, lawyers and the others who are supposed to respond when a rape is reported are all products of a society in which members continue to kill newborn girls and female foetuses. Violence towards women is a deep-seated psychological tendency here, so common as to seem ‘normal’. Rape is just one, if extreme, form of the everyday violence women face as men beat up their wives and women and girls routinely face verbal threats and physical harassment the moment they step out of their homes. The solution is always envisaged in terms of protection, which is another name for control. The idea is to control women’s movements, their apparel, the kind of jobs they can ‘safely’ do. In other words, one kind of violence is supposed to be resolved by another. Women are thus represented as vulnerable — not only are they the expected object of rape but they are also open to blame for having ‘invited’ excess male virility by transgressing some boundary or other. Violence against women is ‘naturalized’ on multiple levels; hence, the police can afford to turn bleeding women away from their doorstep and, if pushed, produce such a shoddy case that offenders go free. The only way to address this horror is a change of attitude. While implementing the law is crucial — not one offender should be allowed to get away — consciously changing behaviour and attitudes in the home would be as important. Children imbibe values by example. However difficult this seems, it is the only way.