Little Red Riding Hood

Justice Katju responds to Noopur Tiwari's reply to his blog on the reaction of women protestors to the Delhi rape.

WrittenBy:Justice Markandey Katju
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Dear Alice,

I read the letter you wrote to me and wanted to respond.

Once upon a time there was a little girl called Little Red Riding Hood who was going through a forest carrying food for her sick grandmother when a big bad wolf tried to catch and rape her. Somehow, she escaped and ran away. However, this incident became so embedded in her memory that she got the idea that no other evil exists in this world except rape.

One cold winter night, a shivering small boy in tatters came to her house (which was a very comfortable place since Little Red Riding Hood’s father was well-off and her family was always well-fed and well-dressed). The child asked for some bread as he had not eaten for two days.

“Get lost”, she told the child. “The only evil in the world is rape. Hunger is Maya, an illusion, as Vedanta philosophy teaches”. And saying so, she threw the poor little boy out into the cold.

She then got into her car to drive down to Jantar Mantar with a candle, where she would meet other young like-minded people who would give fiery speeches denouncing the greatest crime on earth – which was rape. At a red light crossing when her car had stopped for a while, a poor, small girl appeared outside her car and begged for some money. “Get lost”, said Little Red Riding Hood, “I am concerned with a matter of life and death for the human race, and here you are concerned with such a paltry thing as money”. And saying so, she drove on.

Next day, Little Red Riding Hood went to her school, where the teacher was teaching about poverty in India. He said that according to a World Bank Report, the percentage of child malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa was 24% while in India it was twice that figure. That means, about one out of every two Indian children is malnourished. The latest UNICEF data shows 58% of Indian children are stunted, which is far worse than in sub-Saharan Africa. The NC Saxena Committee report states that from the point of view of calorific-intake and incomes, over 50% Indians live below the poverty line. The Arjun Sengupta report (from the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector) states on the basis of data collected between 1993 and 2004, that 77% Indians live on less than Rs 20 per day. A study by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative found that 650 million Indians (53.7% of total population) live in poverty. 421 million people in 8 North-Indian and Eastern states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) live in poverty. This number is higher than the 410 million poor living in the poorest African countries. A United Nations Report estimated that 2.1 million Indian children die before reaching the age of five, i.e. 4 every minute.

When the teacher was going on reeling out these facts and figures, Little Red Riding Hood got infuriated and burst out, “These are just diversionary tactics. The only evil in Indian society is rape. You are trying to divert attention from the one and only real issue, which is rape”, and saying so she walked out of the class in a huff.

On the way back home she met a young man and asked him, “Are you intending to rape me?”

“Young lady”, he replied, “I am an unemployed man though I have an MSc degree from a good university. I am only seeking a job, even a peon’s job, to keep my body and soul together. I only want to earn my bread”.

“Nonsense”, said Little Red Riding Hood. “You young men only want to rape little girls, like that big bad wolf who tried to rape me in the forest”.

Proceeding further she met a poor farmer who had come from a rural area to the city looking for a job, any job, which he could find. He asked Little Red Riding Hood for a job, even the job of a domestic servant.

“Unemployment is all nonsense”, said Little Red Riding Hood, “You farmers have not been raped. What then is your problem?”

“Young lady”, said the farmer, ”I have come from Vidarbha where farmers are committing suicide at the rate of 47 every day for the last 15 years. 250,000 farmers have committed society in the last 15 years. And you think it is no problem?”

“You are a cantankerous person”, said Little Red Riding Hood. “You have no idea about the real and only problem before the country, which is rape”, and having said so she brushed him aside and walked on.

She then saw a poor woman carrying a small child in her arms, who appealed to Little Red Riding Hood for help. “Have you been raped”, asked Little Red Riding Hood?

“No”, replied the poor woman, “but my child is sick and needs medical treatment”.

“Then why do you not take her to a doctor?” asked Little Red Riding Hood.

“Young lady”, replied the poor woman, “Have you any idea of the fees of a doctor? Have you any idea how expensive medicines have become? Like most other Indian people I cannot afford them”.

“Rubbish”, said Little Red Riding Hood. “Healthcare is nonsense. The only problem in the world is rape”.

The next day Little Red Riding Hood again went to school. This time the teacher said to the class, “Yesterday I told you about poverty in India. Today I will speak on the condition of women in India. The issue of rape, which Little Red Riding Hood mentioned yesterday, is no doubt a serious issue, and all right minded persons must condemn rape. But to my mind this issue cannot be properly understood in isolation, it has to be understood in the context, and part of, the general issue of the condition of women in our society. I am of the opinion that crimes against women, including rape, can only be eradicated if there is a great change in our social system.

No doubt Articles 14, 15, and 16 of our Constitution, and several laws in India e.g. section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (outraging the modesty of a woman), Section 376 (rape), Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2002, etc provide for equality to women and protect them from violence, harassment and oppression, but what do we see in practice? In practice there is often denial of equality, and oppression of women by men folk, which is due to the disgusting survival of remnants of feudalism and medievalism in Indian society.

In feudal societies, women were largely confined to household work e.g. washing, cooking, cleaning, giving birth to children and looking after them, etc. Household work is a work of drudgery, giving little scope for the development of the mind. Women in feudal societies were regarded as inferiors, and often beaten by their husbands. They were deprived of education and cultural development. Petty household work crushed, strangled, stultified, and degraded her, chained her to the kitchen and nursery, and she wasted her labour and talents on petty, intellectually unproductive, nerve racking and stultifying work of crushing drudgery. The oppression of women in a feudal society is depicted in the stories of the great Bengali writer Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya e.g. Shrikant, Brahman ki Beti, Shesh Prashna, Charitraheen, etc.

Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.) tests in modern psychology have shown that the intelligence of an average woman is the same as that of an average man. In fact whenever women got opportunities, they proved they could do as well as men, e.g. Madam Curie, who was the first person in the world to win two Nobel Prizes, the first in Physics, and the second in Chemistry (even winning one Nobel Prize is regarded as a great achievement). Elizabeth I of England and Catherine the Great of Russia were regarded as great rulers. The Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sappho, etc were great writers. Hence it was not because they are intellectually inferior that women could not do as well as men, but because they were not given education and opportunities.

While in law women have been given equality to men, in many countries, including India, in practice this equality is often on paper alone. Equality in law does not necessarily mean equality in fact. Thus in Tolstoy’s famous novel Anna Karenina and in Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madam Bovary, we see how women were driven to suicide because they did not accept an unhappy marriage.

In India, we still have a largely male-dominated society, and women are often looked down upon. The birth of a female child is often regarded as a disaster, and the faces of the relatives are glum at such an event (see Sharat Chandra’s novel Parineeta), whereas on birth of a male child everyone is happy and sweets are distributed. Female feticide is a widespread practice in some parts of India (despite the Pre-Natal and Pre-Conception Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994).

The practice of dowry demand is widespread, even in our so called educated classes, which is a disgusting practice of treating our young women as sheep and cattle, and that too by paying money to the purchaser.

Today Indian law courts are flooded with cases of crimes against women, e.g. dowry death, often caused by pouring kerosene on a young wife and burning her, or by hanging her. Wife beating and cruelty to women is still rampant in our society.

We have no doubt made some progress since 1947, and now many women are educated and have entered many professions like medicine, law, teaching, journalism, etc but we still have a long way to go. Women are still often oppressed in our society, which is not only due to survival of remnants of feudal mentality in many of our men folk, but also due to the large scale commercialisation of our society in which everything has been reduced to exchange value.

In India, we are living in a transitional period of our history, between feudal agricultural society and modern industrial society. Hence remnants of feudalism and feudal mentality e.g. casteism, communalism, and superstitions, are still persisting in our midst. It is for this reason that we have “honour killings” of young persons who wish to get married, by their caste or community members or caste panchayats merely because the couple is of different castes or communities. This shows how backward we still are. Unless we get rid of this backwardness and develop a scientific outlook and temper among our masses, crimes against women will not stop. And this in turn requires great social changes.

I told you yesterday that 48% Indian children are malnourished. This would imply that about 70% of our women are malnourished, because a woman would rather remain hungry herself than see her child hungry. Our Indian sisters and mothers deserve our admiration since they are making tremendous sacrifices and bravely feeding their families on whatever little they and their husbands are earning.”

When the teacher stopped speaking Little Red Riding Hood again got up in anger and shouted “You have again resorted to diversionary tactics, and have mischievously diluted the issue of rape by mixing it up with all kind of nonsense”, and having said so she again walked out of the class to rush to Jantar Mantar.

On the way she saw a strange sight. A group of poor, lean and hungry-looking, shabbily-dressed women were marching in a procession shouting “Bread, bread, bread!” (Like the fisherwomen who marched from Paris to Versailles in 1789 during the French Revolution). Little Red Riding Hood accosted them and said, “You should be ashamed of yourselves. You should be shouting instead “Rape. rape, rape”.

This infuriated the processionists, who set upon Little Red Riding Hood with lathis and fisticuffs, and now poor Little Red Riding Hood is in bed at home recovering from her injuries.

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