Firasha Shaikh

Disturbing developments in Indian campuses with regards to gender violence cannot go unspoken, as Firasha Shaikh explores in this story on the IIT BHU rape case

The harrowing reality of India is that sexual assault incidents have become so routine that they no longer take anyone by surprise. The IIT-BHU sexual assault case that took place three months ago would have been yet another statistic were it not for the fact that the three individuals arrested have been documented as being connected with top brass in the ruling party, sparking outrage. However, they are reportedly no longer affiliated with the party. The epidemic of sexual violence is grim enough as it is. Still, this additional pattern of sexual assault-accused persons being linked with the ruling party politicians makes it all the more deplorable.
From Kathua to Unnao, the disturbing trend of sexual assault-accused being part of the ruling party or its allied outfits or organisations continues.
Many argue that the BJP’s “beti bachao” slogan is misleading. It’s essential to recognise that oppressors and abusers often employ such tactics. They project themselves as champions of the cause they undermine. For instance, individuals who might mistreat or betray their spouses can be the most vocal about their love for them as a form of overcompensation. Similarly, while the BJP emphasises women’s rights, their actions and underlying beliefs contradict this supposed stance.
This issue is not unique to the BJP; historically, Indian political parties have a prolonged history of shielding sexual abusers and criminals. When perpetrators of sexual assault are associated closely with top political figures, including Chief Ministers, the Prime Minister, and Union Ministers, especially when these officials don’t bother to issue even a perfunctory condemnation or disavowal, it signals normalisation. Such scenarios suggest that if one supports the ruling party, they might feel immune to any crime. Essentially, political affiliations have become criminals’ haven; their ticket to political power and impunity.
As far as this particular case, (IIT-BHU) the impunity with which the accused behaved should be a wake-up call.
The accused confessed to three other molestation incidents on campus. They admitted to regularly visiting the university premises between 11 pm and 1 am, actively seeking “opportunities” to harass women. They also disclosed hiding after the incident due to student protests, indicating that were it not for protests, there was a very high likelihood of them going scot-free or at least managing to avoid arrest for a long period.
If we believe in the adage that actions speak louder than words, then this trend of criminals in general and sexual violence criminals in particular, being linked to some of the most powerful people in the entire country, indeed the very people who are representing the nation; this is only an indication of what values are being represented. What kind of political culture is being sustained?

Clearly, one in which women’s lives and freedoms, their safety and security are negligible collateral, not even a footnote-worthy cause. As long as minority communities are “shown their place”; it seems very real pressing social-political issues such as women’s safety are fair game. What kind of precedent is being set for the young men of this country? That as long as they procure connections with political brass, they can commit acts
of violence with impunity?

As has been established multiple times by social psychology, what lies at the root of sexual violence is the abuse of power and not, as many might imagine, an inability to control sexuality.
The association of the accused with the BJP, coupled with immediate emotional reactions like calls for the death penalty or, in this case, Congress Party workers’ demand for the demolition of the accused’s homes, sidesteps the core issue. Such kinds of responses divert attention from the fundamental problem: a deep-seated civilizational crisis which is the complete dehumanization of women.
Such crimes are done not so much for the gratification of desires as it is about humiliating the victim and obtaining a sickening sense of brute power on the part of the rapist/abuser.
This is the kind of evil that can only be truly, effectively abolished with moral transformation.
Remedying the problem of sexual violence
Attempting to address this crisis with stringent punishments for rape, such as death penalty, life imprisonment, or even incarceration, is inadequate.
The effectiveness of a criminal justice system rests heavily on the moral integrity of the society it serves. Given India’s prevalent inequalities, like caste discrimination or anti-Muslim sentiments, individuals with wealth or power or the “right” political connections often evade accountability.
The success of Sharia law’s hadd punishments stemmed from the broader ethos of Islamic society and its philosophy of the sacrality of human life and the inviolability of women’s dignities in particular; they are inseparable. When addressing grave crimes such as rape and murder, solely discussing punitive measures becomes a fruitless endeavour. Continually distributing rape kits, establishing helplines, organizing protests, making arrests, conducting trials, and building more prisons; at the end of the day, there’s only so much that carceralism can do.
The paramount question remains: How much more trauma must survivors endure? For how much longer will women’s lives, dignities and freedoms be made a mockery of?
The conversation should not be “what can be done about rapists” but rather “what can we do to make a world in which sexual violence is no longer an epidemic?”.
The focus should pivot towards transformative justice, moral transformation, and enhancing the security of women and girls, especially within educational settings.
Regardless of one’s stance—whether advocating for punitive measures or transformative justice—a foundational shift in metaphysical beliefs is essential. Such a shift should encompass values rooted in acknowledging God as the ultimate source of justice, belief in the Hereafter, divine accountability, and recognizing the sanctity of  human life, particularly women as equal beings in God’s creation.

If we genuinely aspire to eradicate the epidemic of sexual violence against women, we must transcend emotionally charged reactions. Instead, we must commit to the arduous task of fundamental moral and spiritual transformation; ofturning to a worldview and ethos that can reverse the prevailing dehumanisation and loss of virtue from public life. This pertains to sexual violence in general, but what can be said about the political complicity that emboldens perpetrators?

The first step towards doing so would be establishing consequences for those politicians officials linked with the accused. It is up to the supporters of said politicians to consider if this is the kind of society they would want their daughters and, indeed, their sons to grow up The tragedy is that unless this is made into a political issue, an electoral issue, it will not be addressed with seriousness by those in power. The people of this country, especially those who do not see any problem with the ruling party, should ask themselves if such politicians are the kinds of people they want to lead and represent them.

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