24.8.13

Re-examining sexual violation: Asaram Bapu and five men




A few days ago, the news was about Asaram Bapu, one of those ubiquitous spiritual gurus, raping a minor girl in Jodhpur.

Today, the attention has transferred to the gang-rape of an intern at a lifestyle magazine in a deserted mill at Mahalaxmi in Mumbai.

The standard noises are about how India is not safe for women. Why can we not deal with rape as we would a murder? There would most certainly be emotional trauma, but unless we first look upon it as a crime, rape will be a taboo subject that gives vicarious thrill. This is the unfortunate reality, as is evident from how the word itself is increasingly used as an adjective by even the most sophisticated, especially against women.

The media has started on its 'brave woman' line and yet the headlines scream that her life has been ruined.

Worse, details about the woman's privates are trotted out, ostensibly to draw attention to the nature of the assault. It is unnecessary. After the Delhi gang-rape, it has become mandatory to measure the extent of rape, which is disgusting. Any violation is criminal. Is the media suggesting that if there is not enough blood, the attack is lesser in some way?

This is a dangerous trend, for it will devalue many other kinds of sexual attack by known persons who may employ tact to get their way. Fifteen years ago I had interviewed a gang-rape victim, so I find this media blitz quite out of place. That lady, a slum dweller, was brave too. She went to the cops. Justice, as happens so often, took its time. For all those who believe that the more people protest the quicker the action will be have only to consider the status of the Delhi case. No one has been sentenced as yet. In fact, one of the rapists will be tried by the juvenile court despite all arguments against it.

It has ceased to be only about justice, but how you position yourself in the public domain with your concern. A lot of people lived off that unfortunate 'event', and it has spawned an industry of how to save 'women under attack', with ready reckoners too on 'sensitising men'.

The Mumbai police arrested one suspect, and have leads to the other four. They will be tried for the specific crime. There is no need for newspapers and television channels to get the human interest angle, and psychoanalyse these men. It does not matter if one of them was shy. And it really makes no sense to talk to his mother, who will quite naturally not be aware of what he has done.

The intern has been keeping track of the news, and although it is indeed good that she is dealing with it head-on there are chances that the very bravery she has displayed will make her dependent on those who want to protect her by intruding into her space.

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I would like to take this discussion further. The young woman and the minor both lodged police complaints. There has been no talk about the 16-year-old's bravery. Some headlines said, 'Minor accuses Asaram Bapu', implying that it is only an accusation, unlike how they report other such cases.

That is the reason I brought up the subject about how one news replaces another — it is a manifestation of how indifferent we are despite all the outrage. While there has been no dilly-dallying in the Mumbai case, Asaram Bapu is being given the benefit of doubt. A few hours ago, some online reports have mentioned that the accused may be questioned.

A report states:

According to police the incident took place on August 15 at guru’s ashram in Jodhpur. The girl’s parents, who are staunch followers of Asaram Bapu, came to know about it on August 17 when girl told them about the ordeal. They approached police on August 19. After the medical examination, police lodged an FIR on August 20. “We have sent all case related documents to Jodhpur police and now the case will be handled by them,” added the officer.

Although the girl and her mother filed an FIR, and a case was registered against him under sections 376, 342, 509, 354 of IPC, Juvenile Justice Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, after a medical examination, there are cries about conspiracy.

BJP leader Uma Bharti did not have the good sense to wait for the police to do their job. She called a press conference where she said:

"Asaram used to criticise in a bold manner Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi, and in both Rajasthan and Delhi, Congress is in power. I have a feeling that there might be some political motive behind the issue."

She later retracted her 'support'. But, what does it tell us?

Who is this Asaram Bapu and why is his meddling in political matters of any consequence? This is not the first instance of godmen being caught exploiting women, and sometimes men. I needn't have to point out that gurus of every faith run an empire based on power and they use it to their advantage because gullible devotees are always in search of cures.

Clearly, this man is too huge for even the media to take on. In recent times, we have had a few cases and the fact that they have political patronage ought to be questioned.

We also need to address the issue of these charlatans using their clout to mislead the public about their healing powers. A day later, another report gave a different version, again by the police:

Bjiu Joseph, Commissioner of Police Jodhpur, told India Today that her (the victim's) allegation amounted to molestation and not rape. However, police were examining if it could include attempt to rape too. Another police officer said her medical examination did not prove rape and the girl's hymen is also intact. "The alleged assault was apparently confined to the upper part of the body as per her statement," said another senior officer investigating the case.

On what basis was the FIR filed then, following a medical examination? The details in this case are important because the likes of Asaram Bapu must be getting away with a lot by performing vile acts in other ways. He is 74, and this must be factored in to understand how he could have violated the girl.

It is time we stopped concentrating only on the victim, and examined the criminal physically too. If there are doubts, put him through a narco test. The problem is that the big guys get away because if there could be political motives behind the accusations against them, then there are as many to save them.

There have been protests in this case, but not for the girl. It is Asaram's supporters who took to the streets. The man himself has said:

"Lord Buddha, too, had faced such kind of allegations and I am also facing the same. But the truth will come out. I am appealing my followers to keep calm, have patience and to ensure no harm is done to the family of this girl...even if they put me behind the bars, I am willing to go to jail with a smiling face. And I think I want to spend some time in Tihar jail. I consider jail as my Vaikunth (heaven)."

This is the same man who had said that had the Delhi gang-rape victim addressed her assaulters as brother and pleaded for mercy, she might have been saved.

Dishing out pacifist nonsense is part of the paraphernalia of such people. If, as he says, he knows the conspirators then he should be put in the witness box and asked for details. Pin him down. And, in the process, the truth will come out, and not because he thinks he is like the Buddha. Nobody cares about his heavenly ambitions, and he most certainly cannot choose which prison will house him. There is something called the courts, and they decide.

Until justice ceases to be a farce of such verbal passive-aggressive public stances, rape will remain just another four-letter word.

© Farzana Versey