A short while ago, the only juvenile accused in the Delhi gang rape from December last year was found guilty. At 17 years and six months, the young man was six months shy of adulthood when he raped the young woman. The Juvenile Justice Board found him guilty of both murder as well as gang rape and gave him the harshest sentence possible under law: three years in a corrective home. This means three years later, this “kid” — who reportedly not only raped the woman but also ripped out her intestines — will be out free and potentially working around women as, I don’t know, a security guard
It’s not satisfying, particularly for the parents of the woman who died from the injuries she suffered because of the brutal gang rape. But here’s the point to be noted, milord: as in the case of the recent gang rape in Mumbai, at least all the accused have been arrested thanks to the pressure created by the media upon Mumbai police, which is more than can be said in the case of the allegations against Asaram Bapu.
Asaram Bapu is a self-styled godman, who commands a significant fan following and has enjoyed the support of the right-wing BJP, whose senior members have literally danced to his tunes. (The one time I have to give Narendra Modi a shoutout is now, because he’s the one who had the sense to not support Asaram and make a public declaration of it. BJP actually released a statement that effectively supported Asaram. The usual chaps who yell in protest, like Smriti Irani, are silent for now.)
According to a 15-year-old girl, Asaram Bapu is also a child molester. The girl had come with her family to Asaram’s Jodhpur ashram because they’re devotees. Her parents were told the girl was possessed and that Asaram would exorcise her, which was why she was taken to his farmhouse. At the farmhouse, she was taken to a room for a “ritual” that required privacy, which is (apparently) godspeak for sexual molestation and rape. Then he told her to keep her mouth shut. Two days later, when the girl and her family had returned to their native Shahjahanpur, the girl told her parents what had happened with the godman. Say a cheer for the parents who immediately went to Delhi, to meet Asaram on August 19. When Asaram didn’t meet them, they filed a FIR against Asaram Bapu. Details of the FIR are here (it’s a video).
Asaram first rubbished the allegation, said that he’s considered controversial because he propagates Indian culture then suggested it’s a plot by the Congress party and so far has evaded arrest. Well, not arrest. Officially, the police just want to chat with him about the case. The police has said that they have enough evidence for an arrest, but are willing to give Asaram the chance to present his side of the story. Asaram Bapu is now said to be holed up in his Indore ashram, while the police are waiting outside, possibly anticipating a riot because the man has a very, very loyal following. Earlier today, journalists were beaten up by Asaram’s devotees, so ahimsa isn’t precisely this congregation’s buzzword. The latest word is that he’s going to hold a press conference, which sounds fully ridiculous. But who knows in this country… .*
So when you’re poor, underprivileged and accused of rape in a well-publicised case: you’re hunted down, like the Delhi and Mumbai gang rape accused were. If you’re rich enough to own about 400 ashrams and have political connections, then you can not only evade arrest for more than a week but also hold a press conference (apparently). You’ve got to feel for the police who have been chasing him for the interrogation.
In the midst of all this, Sonia Gandhi announced the Ahimsa Messengers today. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this initiative, but what are these “grass root level functionaries” going to do when we’ve got communities that are ready to resort to violence to support scum like Asaram Bapu? Say anything against Asaram and legions of followers are outraged. Put up a tweet mentioning the case, and you’ll have vicious abuse flung at you and get threatened with violence. It’s not just conservatives who are the problem. The number of educated people in Mumbai who have told me, “It’s really sad about that girl getting gang raped, but what was she thinking following two strange men into a place like that?” is appalling. Agreed, it wasn’t particularly smart of the photojournalist to do so, but naivete isn’t any reason or invitation for five men to gang rape her.
Let’s assume you find or develop an Ahimsa messenger who is able to see gender from a balanced point of view, thanks to the “awareness-building” programmes that the government is promising. How are they supposed to counter the varieties of mindsets all of which boil down to two central ideas: the woman should know better; and if you’re powerful, you’re safe? What do they tell someone who has been raped by a well-connected chap who is protected by his political/financial muscle? How do you respond to this schizoid society that is ready to face water cannons for one victim of gang rape, but is largely unmoved by another similar case (no one but journalists seem to give a damn about the Mumbai gang rape) and is vehemently supportive of a rapist when he’s rich and powerful?
And look. Asaram Bapu’s son is on tv, for a press conference, and he’s saying Asaram is unwell and therefore will meet the police when he’s feeling better.
Elsewhere in the country, a ‘sadhu’ raped and killed a child. “According to the victim’s parents, the accused had also tried to molest the girl on several occasions in the past but was spared with strict warnings.”
You think Ahimsa messengers could have prevented this?
EDITED TO ADD: Update on Asaram: he was ultimately questioned by the police, taken into police custody, and made to take a “potency test” when he claimed to be impotent and therefore incapable of sexual assault. The results of the test have proven he’s well capable of rape. There is a morbid side of me that is curious about what this “potency test” is, but I think I’ll survive without knowing the details.