The calling for a reduction in the age of the adult in Indian law only so that the juvenile convicted in the recent rape case in Delhi can be given the harshest possible punishment only shows how unthinking and knee-jerk we are as a society.
At all other times, we insist (with a zeal that would make a British or US rightwing cretin proud) that people are innocent, unknowing and completely ignorant of sexuality till they are 18 when suddenly they become sexual subjects.
Suddenly now we want that age reduced so we can offer some instant ‘justice’ to an innocent, unknowing adolescent who also happened to be the most brutal rapist of all the men involved in the ghastly incident in Delhi late last year.
When some of us ask for a review of categories of childhood and sexuality, we are called paedophiles, not listened to at all, demonized from moral high ground. Yet this turns out not to be a moral high ground at all but just unthinking adoption of the most paranoid cultures (US-Britain) around the issue of child sexual abuse which can just as unthinkingly be undone when we want vigilante justice, when we are baying for blood.
What the deeds of this adolescent show us is that ‘child sexual abuse’ can cut both ways. Here was a person legally within the category of the child who inflicted the worst sexual violence on an adult woman.
What this case also shows us is that agency of children also cuts both ways and must be seen as such. What some of us have been arguing for is the importance of listening to and respecting the voice of the legal non-adult as victim in ascertaining whether or not abuse is involved.
What we must also listen to is the voice of a non-adult subject as victimizer inflicting abuse on another child or on an adult.
Punishment is important but this has to be humane and in keeping with the psychic development and status of the subject and so is the need for therapy and counselling. What is not needed is the yanking of such a subject into the category of adulthood only so we can inflict the harshest punishment on him.
The violent calls for death penalty and castration are not the answer and are as counterproductive and hideous as are the ‘diagnoses’ offered by so-called experts like pop-sociologist Ashis Nandy and pop-psychologist Sudhir Kakar whose views actually chime frighteningly with those of various brazenly rightwing figures like the RSS leader Bhagwat and Baba Asaram respectively.
Nandy foolishly (along with Bhagwat) believes that there is an India (read westernized and urbanized space) and a Bharat (rural idyll) and rape does not happen in the latter. Never mind that the almost daily reports of rape (of mainly Dalit women) from the rural interiors of Haryana must surely reach him in Delhi.
Kakar (along with Asaram) believes that Indian men cannot see women as autonomous subjects and so perhaps if the rapists saw the victim as a sister or if she called herself one, all would be well. Never mind that ‘sisterf**ker’ is the most common North Indian abuse ever.
Further, Kakar can’t make up his mind whether this desire to see any independent woman as anything but available is an Indian trait or a result of ‘extreme’ Westernisation. Apparently, individuality for women is only a Western idea and we are incapable of it. Wonder why women are raped in the West on a regular basis then.
These crackpot ‘thinkers’ are touted as the most brilliant minds in the country while sudden demands for changing the laws on childhood and adulthood are seen as righteous demands to instantly redress gender injustice.
We really should stop this insane blitzkrieg of opinions passing off as theories or forms of justice and while due process takes its course in the case, re-acquaint ourselves with the basic ideas of feminism that have been in circulation for some decades now but seem to have disappeared and almost make us believe that the feminist wheel has to be invented again.
Feminism has taught us first and foremost to listen to women while men seem to dominate the protests, the media, the commentary on this case and on the question of gender in general. It would be great if, for the moment, men just learnt to shut up and listen.
Feminism has taught us that men are the biggest part of the problem and that they must re-think their conditioning, their conceptions, their privilege and their disproportionate power and authority. We have to re-learn our privilege as our loss, as Gayatri Spivak says, in another context.
We have to learn that raping women is not the way to deal with the difficulties of learning to see them as equals. That is what that adolescent boy rapist needs to learn. That would be true adulthood for him. Not a yanking into it by pulling down the age of consent so we can smash his head.
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Ashley Tellis a is a freelance editor, journalist and academic-at-large based in New Delhi