Delhi gang-rape: Some answers – 2

As I write this, the victim in the Delhi gang-rape case is no more. Despite the best efforts of the state to provide medical help.

The protests will continue and demands for capital punishment for rape will intensify. These demands are little more than an instinctive reaction. The first thing that came to my mind when I read about this case was: I would like to kill the perpetrators. Combine that thought with the inability to really do anything of the sort and the Indian habit of seeking a state solution for every problem, and the result is a demand for state action: Stricter laws, more policing, capital punishment.

Consider this report from Tehelka. It is titled: The rapes will go on. Along with some commentary, it describes the views held by senior police officers in and around Delhi. Most of the police officers believe that of the cases that are reported, most are not really rapes at all. That in itself, may not be surprising. Somewhere in the report there is a parenthetical reference to studies indicating that for every reported case of rape, more than 50 go unreported. Most genuine cases are perhaps never reported and the once that are fall through, given the attitude of the police officers. What is noteworthy (though not surprising) about the report is that the police primarily blame the dressing and behavior of the victims for the rise in rapes.

It is all too easy to demand things of the state. In this case, it might even seem right to demand that the state provide a safer environment. Crime is after all, a state subject. But the question that the protesters seem to be missing is: Can the state really do anything about it? Can it ensure that the police have the same outlook on our modern lifestyles that we do? Can it punish the perpetrators in cases that are never reported? Can it remove the stigma attached to rape?

But the state can indeed attempt to do the things the protesters want it to do. The state can create new laws (which will never be implemented, just as existing ones aren’t), it can allocate more funds to recruit more police (who will drink Chai at the corner shops and collect bribes from hapless non-rapists), it can declare capital punishment for rapes (further reducing the already dismal conviction rate). And clueless politicians who have no idea how to deal with the protests will indeed be too happy to to oblige.

Is this what we want?

Look below the surface and it is clear that the rising number of rapes (and other crimes against women) are social and cultural issues. The state is entirely powerless to do anything about these underlying issues.

Autonomous political institutions

In a post about Swaminathan Aiyer’s recent article in The Times of India about “freeing the police”, Aristotle the geek makes a very good point:

All coercive capabilities of the state must always be under civilian political control.

Aiyer’s article reminds me of Fareed Zakaria’s book “The Future of Freedom – Illiberal Democracy at Home & Abroad” where Zakaria advocates the creation of autonomous regulatory entities not subject to political control. Both Zakaria and Aiyer seem to want to temper the consequences of a run-away democracy. There is a slight difference in context though. Aiyer writes about the police which is a legitimate state activity whereas Zakaria writes about areas where the government should have no role at all.

Regardless of the difference in context, both Zakaria and Aiyer are wrong. Both advocate the creation of an unaccountable bureaucracy. Both seem to forget that there is indeed an independent government entity not directly subject to political control – the judiciary. The judiciary can be independent because it deals with issues that are not political. In a properly limited and functional democracy, the judiciary should be sufficient to address any misuse of power by the agents of the state. The solution to a runaway democracy cannot be an unaccountable bureaucracy. Both need to be abolished. And that leads me to the point I want to make. Abolishing the ability of a democratic government to run out of control can only work in a culture that respects individual rights.

Political change is necessarily preceded by cultural change.

Aiyer’s article shows that despite all his claims to be a liberal, he does not really understand liberty at all. Anyone who thinks liberty can be achieved by political means fundamentally misunderstands it.

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