1. Trilokpuri in East Delhi in 1984. 2:30 PM in the afternoon of 1 November. At least four women were gang-raped in that one instance in the midst of the anti-Sikh riots, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Survivors told the police of how Sikhs were forced by the mob into tyres, as their mouths were forced open and filled with kerosene before the mob set them alight. When a team from the civil rights group – the People’s Union for Civil Liberties reached some of the places the mob had visited in Trilokpuri on 3 November, they saw rats eating at the remains of rotting, dead bodies. On the back of these riots and the massive sympathy wave for Rajiv Gandhi after the assassination of his mother, the Congress won the next election. The people of India glossed over the remark he had made that made him politically culpable for the 1984 riots. “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.” And then, in 2004, a man the mob believed to be amongst the key accused – Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was voted in from the constituency of Outer Delhi and remained an MP during the UPA’s five-year term from 2004 to 2009. Earlier this year, in the Karkardooma district court acquitted Kumar of all charges in the 1984 riots, whilst convicting five others in the case.
2. February 28, 2002, Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat. Kauser Bano was raped by a mob in the post-Godhra riots. Her husband Firoz later told the court she was pregnant and could not run. Her foetus was pulled out of her as she was raped, cut to pieces and killed.
In the Eral block of Gujarat’s Panchmahal district, Madina hid from the mob. But she saw them kill seven members of her family, including her daughter Shabana, whose breasts were cut off before she was raped and killed. In August 2012, a special court held the sitting MLA of Ahmedabad’s Naroda Patiya, Mayaben Kodnani guilty of orchestrating the mob and sentenced her to 28 years in prison. But many from the area have asked – could this MLA have acted on her own? And if the culpability stopped at her, how was Mayaben Kodnani made Minister for Women and Child Development in Narendra Modi’s government in Gujarat in 2007?
3. 11 July, 2004. The Laipharok Maring village in Imphal East, Manipur. 32 year old Thangjam Manorama is raped, allegedly by members of the Indian Army’s Assam Rifles. Her body was found with bullets in her vagina. The trial in this case has still not begun.
And then there is 16 December, 2012. The brutal gang rape of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi on a moving bus. While the nation clamours for the death penalty for the four rapists, now pronounced guilty by the trial court; what they are blind to, is the list above.
Sajjan Kumar was voted back to power whilst witnesses continue to argue he spearheaded the brutal violence in 1984. The dots haven’t joined back to him and so it can also be argued, he had nothing to do with the violence then. No dots were ever traced back to Rajiv Gandhi either, for failing to contain the anti-Sikh riots. The same can be said for the purported masterminds of the 2002 riots in Gujarat – from police officials to chief minister Narendra Modi. And also of the Assam Rifles, protected under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
But the question those who clamour for death for Nirbhaya’s rapists must answer, is this. If they are so outraged by the brutality with which she was attacked, do the others in the list not qualify on the same count? In cases of politically sponsored riots – and now Muzaffarnagar in U.P. must be added to the list, culpability for individual acts of violence and rape are almost impossible to make. No one can argue that Rajiv Gandhi or Narendra Modi were responsible for these individual crimes. But for them to be carried out with impunity and such brutality on their watch, surely must account for some culpability? If not in the court of law, then at least in the collective conscience of people who find these crimes outrageous?
The most conventional logic proffered up in these conversations is this. Sajjan Kumar, Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi may possibly have had something to do with the overall situation spiralling out of control then. But since there was no blame attached in 1984, so none should accrue in 2002. Since they cancel each other out, and also since the dots don’t join back to the political masters in each case, nothing can be done except to forgive and forget. They should be voted back to power and even contest an election as a potential Prime Minister. Those who draw up the ‘’2002 culpability is excused by 1984” cycle, will also have to answer this. Should current day rapists be let off the hook because those responsible for previous cases haven’t still been caught?
And then there is the case of Manorama. Well, her case is “complicated.” It led to one of India’s most forceful protests ever; in which women feminists from Manipur turned up outside the Assam Rifles building in Imphal, naked, with the slogan –‘ Indian Army Rape Us, We Are All Manorama’s Mothers.’ But it got buried in the debates over whether or not the Indian Army should be immune from prosecution in conflict areas. Glossing over the fact that immunity from prosecution for killing people in the crossfire is decidedly different from raping a woman and riddling her vagina with bullets; even if she belonged to a banned political outfit.
In the clamour for maximum punishment for rapists, political establishments that are either guilty of stoking violence, standing by or plain and simple apathy, are left out of the debate altogether. Our collective outrage and consciousness doesn’t extend that far. Perhaps it’s for fear that in the process, we, the voters will also be complicit by extension. And perhaps the collective amnesia may also come from knowing at the back of our minds, that it isn’t just our courts, but we – the outraged people of India, who equally fail to join the dots.
Whilst the focus on maximum punishment for Nirbhaya’s rapists has its place, the clamour for death may lead to a bloody trail no one in this country will be prepared for. Especially when the accountability doesn’t stop at people in slums but enters the space of our homes. NGOs dealing with rape victims will testify that the most heinous rape crimes occur within victims’ homes and the perpetrators – babies with torn vaginas – are often fathers and friends.
In this atmosphere of apathy and blind sightedness, the political masters continue to play a game of cloak and daggers. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has talked of how women who go out late at night in Delhi are being adventurous. The Chairperson of the National Commission for Women has told this reporter how women need to “take their Indian culture with them when they leave their homes.”
So the bigger, more uncomfortable question for us to answer is this – when will we open our eyes to the rest of the picture? To the orchestration and condoning of violence in our homes and in the people we repeatedly vote into power. To the misogyny in everything we say and do. And to the abominable list, of which only four have made it to this piece.