1960, Djamila Boupacha. I was just 13 when I heard of this 18 year old Algerian girl, who was a member of the Front National pour la Liberation de l’Algérie (FLNA), an Independence movement against French colonial rule in Algeria. She was accused of planting a bomb, and held in custody for over a month in a torture centre, where she was abused physically and assaulted sexually. This included ramming a bottle into her sex and kicking it in.
When an older boy explained to my friend Keshraj and me the full horror and the agony of this sadistic act, I felt sick. That is also the day I lost my innocence. Up till then I only knew that this was the door through which we humans came into the world; and into life! How barbaric could these Westerners be to stoop to such a horrendous and inhuman act on a future mother?
Fast forward 53 years, Nirbhai Anonymous. I tuned into the NDTV channel on the morning of 17 Dec 2012. A posse of reporters were covering the gruesome case of a medical student who had been gang-raped the previous night by six drunken men in a moving bus. In the process, they had not only beaten her male companion and her with an iron bar, but also stuck it up her rectum all the way so that her entire intestinal tract was damaged beyond repair. In spite of all the talk of chests full of the milk of human kindness, we Orientals can match the cruelty of Western man with relative ease!
If it is possible to do so, then this is the second time that I lost my innocence. Because, up to the time that I learnt the gruesome details of the attack, I had naively assumed that they she had been kicked violently in her abdomen. Are human beings so sick?
Following this horrible incident, there has been an unprecedented outcry from the Indian public — in particular middle class, educated young people — for reform of laws relating to rape cases, and stronger rights for women in general.
All this is fine and admirable, but where to begin when much of what happens is the result of thousands of years of the terror of a system — religious, political, economic, social and cultural — that is 10 times more violent than the Taliban? Yes, I am afraid Hinduism with the abomination of its caste system is that bad; my friend Keshraj would say worse.
Rape is the violent subjugation by the powerful of the weak; it has very little to do with sexual satisfaction. Note the number of cases where women are raped and badly beaten up physically at the same time. In the Delhi case in December, Nirbhai did not die of rape by the six brutes, but rather of the injuries they inflicted on her, including shoving an iron rod up her rectum.
In India, the domination of the powerful castes over the lower castes has eventually percolated into the domination of the socially powerful over the weak. So, although caste is still significant, the crime of rape crosses all boundaries.
Among the powerful are landowners, politicians, policemen, bureaucrats, film stars, the nouveau riche… and the list goes on increasing. But, it is mostly those who possess social (including caste supremacy), economic or political power.
Among the weak, we find women, young and old, children and also young boys. Don’t be fooled by the ostentatious worship of Durga or Saraswati which gives the impression that women are venerated in Hindu society. In fact, this is all humbug and nothing could be further from the truth. From ancient mythology to the modern day, women have been subjugated for millennia to serve their menfolk. Hence, it is not surprising that many rapes are committed within the family circle.
We are told there is rape every 20 seconds, which can only be the tip of a huge iceberg. Among the reform, more women should be encouraged to come forward whilst making rape a fast track affair. And rape with murder should automatically carry a death sentence…
The caste system is the most significant impediment to equality among the different segments of Hindu society. At any given time, 400m Dalits/Adivasis are eking a living on the periphery of Indian society, because they are debarred from so many activities due to their caste.
Therefore, if we want equality for women, we must first of all start by making all (hu)Men equal. That can only be done by abolishing once for all the abomination called Caste.
I am sorry, but I have no time for the apologists who will tell us what in theory caste is ostensibly supposed to represent. That it is an avant-garde system of the division of labour.
I am not interested in theories. I am concerned with the practical application of this abhorrent system which brands a child as to what caste and, consequently, what life chances it will have even as it is being born, if not before. I am concerned with the thousands of Devadasis who are only there for the free sexual exploitation (of low caste girls) by the high castes and others.
I am also concerned with the frequency with which the low caste girl and woman is raped and, in an utmost act of humiliation, paraded naked around her village. I am no less concerned with the Dalit father who is badly beaten up because he dares to file a FIR when his under-aged daughter is raped, and marked for life! And the list goes on.
Only the abolition pure and simple of the caste system followed by the codification of this ad hoc religion will result in any equality for all (hu)Men! The reformative work started by Swami Dayanand must be completed. Until this is done, its loose nature will continue to impel people to put their own selfish interpretation to suit their own selfish agenda.
Of course, I am all too painfully aware that this will meet with a lot of opposition (some violent) and it will take many decades, even centuries, to change. But, when we think of it, change is often violent.
It took the violence emanating from the Reformation to spawn the civilisational change that resulted in the Renaissance, which in turn led to the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution from which flow all modern Liberal thought — and progress — in the West. It is most unfortunate that Hinduism is still stuck at the stage of the Inquisition!
A prominent Indian writer has rightly said it. India need not fear outside enemies for its destruction; nemesis is built into the very core as a direct result of the caste system. Unless the question of caste is addressed sooner than later, destruction will come from within, from the disenfranchised castes and tribals.
Call them Naxalites, Maosits or Terrorists — the fact of the matter is that they are able to strike with deadly efficiency, as the events of 30 May 2013 in Chhattisgarh State have proved. And, there are organised groups already present in half of the 28 States that make up the Union!!
The choice is only too clear: Reformation or Annihilation!
* Published in print edition on 19 July 2013