The spate of horrific rapes in Haryana in particular (Sept 2012) has drawn the national attention to this abominable phenomenon. Various diagnosis and prescriptions have also come forward about the causes and as to how to prevent these rapes is also being suggested by different people. Interestingly the world view of those advising on the issue is shaped their world view as such. While the progressive liberal tendencies and ideologies will link the phenomenon of rape to the prevalent uneven gender equations and so what follows as a preventive measure is the need to empower women and strengthen liberal norms in the society. The conservative opinions also have a wide shades of understandings.
Not too long ago a police top cop in Hyderabad linked rape to the clothes of girls, and he was applauded by the Rashtra Seviak Samiti, the women’s organization subordinate to the RSS. There is caste equation also in the phenomenon seen in caste atrocities where dalit women bear the large brunt of the phenomenon, the worst of which was witnessed in Khairlanji. In communal violence, the ‘women of other community’ are subjected to this humiliation. In a way the bodies of women become the site of contestation amongst these social groups, where women are regarded as the property of men.
In the spate of recent shameful incidents, the notorious Khaps gave the dictat that the age of marriage of girl should be lowered to 15 as now the girls reach puberty early, before 11 years of age so this change should be exercised. Omprakash Chautala, before retracting his statement later, said “In the past, especially in Mughal era, people used to marry their girls to save them from such atrocities. Currently a situation of similar kind is arising in Haryana.” This formulation has lot of holes in it. Does marriage prevent rapes? Married women are also subjected to this atrocity is too well known. Is it that the early marriage for girls has become because of the atrocities of Mughals on ‘Hindu’ women? The latter formulation is also a part of social common sense prevalent in the sections of society. Many an instances like Padminis’ Jauhar (Putting oneself in the fire) to prevent being humiliated by the rival king and the army is supposed to be one such example.
There is no doubt that many women might have committed such suicides to save themselves from anticipated situation. In the classic serial Tamas, a similar scene where women jump into the well to prevent their humiliation also starkly comes to one’s mind. But is it that the Mughal rule or the rule of Muslim kings in different parts of the country stands out for such horrendous ignominies, while rulers of other religions were protecting women? One recalls when Shivaji’s armies went to plunder Kalayan, apart from other loot they also brought the ‘daughter in law’ of Kalyan’s ruler as a gift for Shivaji. It is another matter that Shivaji sent her back with full honours. The plunder of wealth and the humiliation, rape of women by different armies was and is the part of the highhanded behaviour of the armies. Armies in the past, irrespective of being Hindus, Muslims or Christian did it and are doing it even now. One should shudder to think of the atrocities, which took place in Bosnia and Rwanda. Closer home this is what took place and is taking place in Kashmir or North East. The case of Manorama, who was abducted, raped and killed by the Indian army, will be etched in the memory of the nation as a dark spot on national conscience. After this event many a women protested in a most shaming way, stripping and carrying a banner “Indian Army rape us”. The phenomenon which has taken place has been due to the armed might of Kings-Generals- armies. This is a phenomenon cutting across religions. Here in India to attribute it to Muslims Kings and army alone is a part of ‘Communal historiography’ presented in a selective way. Incidentally, communal historiography is a way of presenting history through the prism of Kings’ religion, which was introduced in India by British to pursue their ‘divide and rule’ policy. One should also remember that the armies of Mughal kings were mixed, with Hindus and Muslims both being part of it. Do remember that the Commander of Chief of Akbar was Raja Mansingh and Aurangzeb had Mirza Raja Jaisingh as his associate.
As such the child marriage, early marriage and marrying the girls before they attain puberty had become a part of ‘religion’ so to say. During nineteenth century when the reformers were calling for the raise in the age of marriage of girls, the conservative sections argued that the Hindu girls must cohabit with their husbands before their first menses. During a debate on raising the age of consent for girls it was argued that raising the age of consent to 12 would increase such a possibility of a girl having her menses before cohabitation so such a move by the state will tantamount to the ruler interfering in Hindu religion. The trends for early marriage and few voices calling for the raise in the age of marriage has been debated since quite few centuries and those wanting to increase the age of marriage could succeed only gradually and more so after Independence. Even amongst Muslims the conservative sections have been demanding the lowering of the age of marriage for girls. Both conservative sections think alike, as the real issue is not religion, but control over lives of women, strengthening patriarchy. This patriarchy has been presented as the part of religious practice, and in that way the imposition of patriarchal norms becomes easier.
Early marriage ensures a total slavery of the girls, apart from other miseries which follow due to early child bearing apart from the responsibility of household chores. The early marriage and pregnancy is also a biological risk to the mother and the child. So the struggle as such is between the attempt to rid the society of patriarchal control on one side and re-imposing the feudal norms in current times on the other. It is no wonder that Khaps, which are the most assertive in Haryana and other regions of North India, is also the area where the atrocities against Dalits are on the peak and the sex ratio is the lowest in the country. The agenda of these Khaps, the exclusive male bodies, is very visible in this area in the form of caste and gender subjugation. The Khaps, which are illegal, have been asserting and giving dictats on intra gotra marriages and the cases which are equivalent of honour killing are also visible on and off. Overall the likes of Chautala, may retract their statement due to the pressures of political considerations, but their articulations do express the reality of places like Haryana. The need for social reform, women’s education-employment-
While multiple theories and opinions on why rape as a phenomenon prevails, the major cause of this phenomenon, the patriarchy and the uneven gender relations need to be highlighted to be able to go to the root of the issue. Doing away with Khap and promoting the grass root democracy through Panchayat system will be the way towards a more just, gender just, sans the chains of the likes of Khap or their equivalents in some form or the other.