Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fallacies of rape

In this unfortunate season of rapes and crimes against women, I thought I’ll point out some fallacies surrounding the debate.

The first and the one that afflicts most people is that the severity of punishment is a deterrent. If that were so, there would be no murders because the punishment prescribed is death. Gladwell has shown that it is the guarantee and immediacy of punishment, and the guarantee of ostracism by friends and family that act as a deterrent, not the severity of punishment. Also, severity of crimes committed by criminals almost always increases, the longer they are allowed to go scot-free. I can bet my pathetic salary on the theory that every major criminal would have committed other, probably minor crimes previously and gained ‘confidence’ from the lack of punishment. So what needs to be fixed is policing and judicial hearings and not sentencing.

Another fallacy is that the commoditization of women by the media has caused women to be treated as objects which in turn lowers their respect in society and leads to crime. When has anyone of those ‘commodity women’ been victims of crime? Why are they respected and feared in society?  Why is it that crimes against women in power is rare? It is because crimes against women, particularly sex crimes are typically about power, very rarely about sex or anything else – the more powerful a woman gets, the less the chance of her being targeted. See how most of the victims of rape are children, the physically weak, or the ones who have no voice in society, or women who are in situations of weakness. And it is almost never the women who are ‘commodities’.

There is also a line of thought that it is the loss of our traditional values that has led to increased crime against women. This farcical notion is spread by the right-wing lunatics, and (particularly) by older folks who are otherwise sane. Again, nothing is further from the truth – a good number of the perpetrators of these crimes did so because the women defied their notions of purity and ‘satitva’. Think Khap panchayats, or honour killings, or this rape incident, or even the lawyer who was killed by the guard of her apartment complex – perps who committed these crimes thought they were white knights bringing honour to society by becoming outlaws themselves.  Think also, pub attacks, acid attacks and forced marriage revocations. Or that the reason the accused gave for gang raping the 23-year old in Delhi: they wanted to teach her a lesson for going out in the night with a man, and for talking back at them. And do note that these perpetrators come from communities where ‘traditional values’ are the strongest.

People also tend to identify differences between eve teasing, beating up girls in a pub (or couples in a park), and between rape. However, what should not be mistaken is that all these crimes spring from the same sick mentality and should be treated as such. (I am not suggesting the death penalty for eve teasing, but I AM suggesting that it should be taken seriously and disrespectful tendencies nipped in the bud.) All these also spring from the same power tussle. And what cannot be forgotten is the lack of respect that we as a people have for individual freedom: a woman is not an individual with rights but a collective – to be owned by her family, her community and by the state. A woman is a family’s honour, a community’s honour or a country’s honour, to be protected and salvaged (more likely, savaged) by men controlling her with violence and threats of violence.

And you would have heard cries, particularly in the English media not to politicize this issue. But this _is_ a political issue. An unsaid rule of a democracy is that citizen voluntarily give up their right to use force to the government with the guarantee that the government will protect the citizen against others who inflict unjust violence, and will use force legally, in correct measure and only as a last resort. What we are seeing under the UPA (particularly UPA-2) is the opposite: protection of guilty, indiscriminate and disproportional use of force against innocent civilians, and complete forgiveness for those who break the law, particularly when they are related to or minions of the first UPA family. In short, the UPA, given its Italian influence, is leading the mafiazation of the country. If this isn’t politics, what is it? 

Finally, I want to tackle the notion that somehow women understand this issue better than men. Something like the theory that you need to be a Dalit to understand the pangs of the dalits. Of course, there are women who do, and I will not deny that. But look at the response of the some important women in the country, and you’ll realize that not all women are equally outraged by these incidents. For instance, in this case, the Sphinx maintained her enigma until forced by public pressure, a Delhi woman officer commended police action and the Delhi CM shed politically correct tears, but allowed the cops to beat up women protesters. In an earlier case the Notional (oops, National) Commission of Women wore makeup, outed the victim with no regard to her privacy, and issued toothless statements against crime. Even the leader of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj, showed her ‘traditional values’ by proclaiming the victim to be living dead! And of course, all of them have their difficulties, particularly the NCW which has no legal teeth. But why didn’t the chairperson join the protest and ask for legal teeth? Why didn’t Sushma Swaraj, or Sonia Gandhi come out and say that they would relinquish half their 36 Z+ security guards to protect the public? Why were the CM, the PM and the Sphinx silent when innocent citizens were brutalized by the police?

Well, to harp on the point, it is political again. It is because we the middle class don’t matter politically. It is because despite all the abuses, we the middle class don’t vote in large numbers. And it is because we are not a vote bank for justice, peace and prosperity.

Perhaps it is time this changed.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Privatizing public responsibility

One problem with specialists in a field, particularly a theoretical one is that they get entrapped in dogma. Now, the naive are also victims of dogma (ex: Apple buyers), but they do not command the language or terminology of a field to convince others of their beliefs. Specialist dogma, on the other hand is more threatening, because specialists can summon both language and superficially correct evidence to support their dogma which may convince non-specialists to follow their lead.

The dogma of the UPA government starts with the assumption that the public sector cannot be fixed (or won’t be fixed) and that the private sector is the ONLY efficient source of delivery of all services. The inevitable conclusion from this is to outsource all government functions to private parties.

They did it with 2G, by outsourcing decision making to an individual and with coal, outsourcing it to a committee of individuals with private vested interests. Unfortunately, successful outsourcing means outsourcing non-essential functions and not your core competency, and the UPA is out to remake the government into a defunct body of fat cats riding in red light cars. (Clay Christensen has a different opinion on core and non-core functions here, but I’ll stick with dogma!)

This trend started with the RTE act. With an interesting twist of language, the government hoisted the responsibility of protecting the Right to education on the private schools. The consequences of this and the subsequent approval by the Supreme Court of the act mean that governments now have no incentive to improve public schools. Anyone who asks for quality education will be directed to beg at the nearby private school. Never mind that outside the big cities, private schools are in much worse shape than their government counterparts. Never mind that this opens up new avenues of corruption for government servants. Never mind that this will lead to a huge influx of people into the major cities simply looking for a better education for their children.

Further evidence comes in the form of FDI in retail. Whatever be the merits or demerits of the policy, a much-publicised reason for opening up retail for FDI is that the Walmarts of the world will create cold chains in India and reduce agricultural wastage. Now, I was thinking, Walmarts will be allowed in 53 cities in India, so how many cold chains will they need to create? 10, 20, 50? In contrast, the Food Corporation has 69,474.96 godowns (Page 42) with an income of 74,711 crores (roughly 15 billion USD). Not to mention, the 5300 cold chains already in operation in the private and public sectors. Now, I don’t know how much it costs to build a cold chain, but surely it would cost less than 15 billion USD to upgrade FCI godowns to cold chains? Again, observe the underlying dogma. (On an aside, I got these stats within 3 minutes - why can’t the media find stats like these and ask the right questions instead of simply thrusting mikes in suited faces?)

The latest in this is the cash transfer program. As recognized by dozens of committees and mentioned in hundreds of reports, the problem in government is the delivery mechanism, not what is being delivered. So, how can a system that can’t deliver grains deliver cash? Why wouldn’t the leakages that persist in delivering goods not remain in delivering cash? How will the system prevent the drunken husband from beating his wife and drowning all the cash in drink?

Unfortunately, for those who run the country, such questions are not worth answering.