Samajwadi Party’s Member of Parliament (MP) Jaya Bachchan created an uproar by demanding the lynching of rapists in the upper house of the Parliament on Monday, 2 December 2019. At a time when the gruesome gang-rape and murder of a veterinary surgeon in Hyderabad created a nationwide outrage, the speech by Bachchan added fuel to the fire of mobocracy. While there have been condemnations of her speech by many sensible voices and the generally-held wrong notion that a death sentence will curb the menace of rape and gender violence is criticised by experts and feminists, the idea of promoting mob justice by MPs in the Parliament seriously undermines the Constitution’s legacy and the legal justice system’s functionality in India.
While Bachchan’s call to lynch rapists was applauded by many, none clarified how would India, where 90% of rapes are committed by people known to the victims, can deal with those majority of cases where family members are accused and the victims aren’t allowed to complain? She didn’t clarify how would the people of Chhattisgarh, Kashmir or Manipur lynch the rape accused as the majority of them are armed men wearing government uniform and jackboots? What about Kunan Poshpora? She didn’t tell how India should deal with a former military general advocating “rape for a rape” on national television? Does Mrs Bachchan knows that out of 1,581 sitting legislators with criminal records, 51 are accused of crime against women and out of them, three MPs and 48 MLAs are accused of rape? Lynch whom and how many? Lynch them where?
Bachchan’s idea of mob lynching of rapists comes from the crude feudal machoism that also plays a crucial part in the promotion of the rape culture. Her origin can be traced to Bollywood — the Hindi film industry — where she and her husband are reputed figures. Through its intellectually-crass and patriarchal films, the Bollywood has played a crucial role to project women in low light, objectified her and turned her into a subservient entity born and raised to please the male ego. The Bollywood, even through its blockbusters, normalised harassing women and sexual violence against them. Sexual aggression is typecasted as a macho thing and promoted without an iota of guilt.
The Bollywood always favours a mob justice, an extra-judicial and instant justice for crimes through a heroic figure. The Bollywood shows that justice through the legal route, where an accused is considered innocent until the crime is proven and is allowed a chance to have a fair and objective trial (though in books) with the help of a lawyer, is a lengthy one that India can’t afford and, therefore, it recommends suitable instance justice through a superhero.
Who is going to be the superhero to lead the mob in case Mrs Bachchan’s theory of mob lynching is implemented? Who will lead the mob and deliver justice to the victim by lynching the accused? Who will that person be who will be able to instantly solve a criminal case by getting hold of the real accused and then lynch them without giving them a chance to prove their innocence? How will the mob assemble and who will be ensuring that the wrong people, the innocents, aren’t made scapegoats and lynched to save the real culprits? Mrs Bachchan has no answers for these questions.
Calling out for a mobocracy in a constitutional republic, where a judiciary is still functioning, is actually an exhibition of sheer reactionary beliefs, the feudal thought process that our MPs carry with them in the Parliament while representing India’s 1.3 billion people and the states. Calling out the hooligans in the streets to take law in their hand and run a kangaroo justice system for swift justice is actually a way to jeopardise the justice system and allow the lawbreakers to become the law enforcers. At a time when organised lynch mobs, affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parental body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), are rampaging on the streets and lynching poor Muslims, Dalits, tribals, etc, calling for the legalisation of this menace is the nadir one can stoop to in the Parliament.
The majority of India believes in the swift mob justice for any villainous crime because they are under the spell of the feudal-patriarchal system. The society people live in, the environment around them, the discourses that happen always have an impact on and influence their thought process. This is why, as the majority of the people are under the feudal-patriarchal influence, and as no political party tries to smash that influence to remould the people for a real transformation of the society, it’s evident that they will support mobocracy and barbaric punishments to the accused of heinous crimes like rape, without waiting for a trial.
Thus, one would see the diverse religious and caste groups speak in the same lines whenever the issue of rape and other nasty crimes are raised. For Hindu supremacists, mob justice will be the best course of action, while Islamists will call out for public execution of the accused. Yet, none of them clarifies the nitty-gritty of the prosecution process. How can one determine whether an accused is actually a culprit or is framed up to save someone else? How can one defend their model of justice if it doesn’t allow the accused to present their case, to defend themselves from the accusations using evidence and witness? How fair can be the verdict if the quintessential Bollywood model of “police, judge and executioner”, played by a single person or a group, is implemented?
India has an established judiciary and there is indeed a lot of loopholes and lagging in its functioning. The conviction rates in rape and other cases of crime against women is pathetically low. According to a report in The Times of India, 338,000 crime cases against women, with 11.5% of them being rape cases, ie, 38,870 cases, were registered in 2016. Only one-fourth of them ended up in conviction. The real issue in conviction is the weakness of the prosecution, which most of the times compromises and ends the cases. Women, who suffer extreme trauma due to rape, have to go through stringent legal procedures that actually aggravate the trauma and humiliate them. The colonial-era practices employed in the prosecution of rape cases that dehumanise women, actually force many women to not approach the criminal justice system.
Apart from this, marital rape is not considered as a crime in India due to the feudal-patriarchal belief system that rules the nation and all its institutions. Why marital rape isn’t considered a crime? It’s simply not done so because women’s free will, her choices, and her consensus doesn’t matter in a patriarchal set up for men who “own” them in a marriage. The entire bandwagon of the ruling BJP and its parental body RSS denies that marital rape is actually rape.
Speaking at the Constituent Assembly on 4 November 1948, Dr BR Ambedkar said, “Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.” After 71 years, we, the people of India, still didn’t realise the importance of Constitutional morality as the undemocratic essence of the feudal-patriarchal Indian soil, which promotes the worst form of apartheid — caste system — and dehumanises people for their identity, wasn’t overthrown.
The legislators, who were supposed to make the democratic essence permeate in the public conscience to develop a vibrant democratic culture, actually became enemies of the Constitution. The judiciary, instead of upholding Constitutional morality, gave faith an upper hand. In this scenario, as injustice prevails and as the Constitutional mechanisms fail to work for the people’s rights, the advocates of mobocracy and feudal parochial thoughts, like Bachchan, will flourish. The ultimate solution to this impasse is to bring a democratic change and to transform the people’s consciousness with active intervention by the progressive, anti-fascist and democratic forces. Unless this feudal-patriarchal outlook, the misogynist thoughts and the fetish for violence are undone through progressive political interventions, neither rapes and violence against women will cease nor will those who advocate mob justice be defeated.