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Waiting to Become Eichmann?

The five men were charged with having raped the woman during a bullfighting festival in Pamplona.

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Millions of Spanish women are flashing viva—hurrah—signs in the streets of Madrid these days. They have just finished an intense six-year struggle for justice for sexual assault survivors, a movement triggered by the rape of an 18-year-old woman in 2016. Massive rallies in Madrid and other Spanish cities and growing mass support forced the Parliament to address deep-rooted misogyny in the existing law and pass a sexual consent law in response to the movement. The new law clearly says it cannot assume consent exists by default, nor does silence amount to consent.

The five men were charged with having raped the woman during a bullfighting festival in Pamplona. The perpetrators were given nine years in prison after they claimed in their defence that the survivor had consented. The verdict angered thousands of women, who flooded plazas in dozens of cities in protest and called for sexual assault laws to be rewritten. What stirred them was how ‘men-only’ WhatsApp groups and social conservatives welcomed the verdict. “They took so much away from us that they took away our fear,” said one of the placards describing the women’s intent behind their struggle. Their growing resistance tilted the balance in favour of women’s right to justice. Now, the five rapists will remain behind bars for fifteen years.

The women’s movement organised itself innovatively. In 2018, the first feminist strike on International Women’s Day also received support from trade unions. More than five million workers participated in the first action of its kind. The focus of this unique strike was to highlight sexual discrimination, domestic violence and the gender wage gap.

The so-called wolf pack case was a wake-up call that forced Spanish society to reflect on the growing violence against women, from intimate-relation violence to lack of parity in wages.

Ironically, when the Spanish Parliament was debating revising the sexual consent law to deter sexual predators, the executive in a country that loves to call itself the ‘mother of all democracies’ was walking in the opposite direction. India was giving final shape to remission for eleven convicts. They have committed crimes that civilised society will always be ashamed of—brutal gang rapes and merciless killings of thirteen people, including a three-year-old girl, all from the minority Muslim community. The only survivor of this attack was Bilkis Bano.

The criminals who attacked Bano and her family evaded arrests for years and threatened and intimidated the survivor and her relatives after they failed to buy her silence. Yet, in the Prime Minister’s home state, Gujarat, the government and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power perhaps wanted to send a message of impunity to their supporters and detractors alike.

But from Spain to India, there is an interesting commonality between these two sets of crimes. The survivor, in both instances, never gave up. Bano, supported by her husband Yakoob, refused to end her fight for justice despite threats to her life. Just like the 18-year-old woman from Spain never once abandoned her struggle for justice and dignity. They persisted against heavy odds, patriarchal notions, and sectarian mindsets.

Yet the contrasts between the two cases are equally clear and sharp.

While the five men in Spain have been awarded higher sentences than before thanks to the agitation led by women and joined by others, the eleven rapists from Gujarat have walked free. In Spain, it would appear that rape is seen as a crime by the wider society, but in India, rapists are getting a hero’s welcome. What does it say about our society? It seems the convicts in India cared little that their remission violated legal principles and that their freedom casts a shadow from Gujarat to the central government.

Indeed, conscientious voices have called to revoke their remission. The country’s highest court has been approached with pleas to undo the second injustice to Bano and her family. Punishment was meted out to these eleven men after Bilkis struggled for more than six years. No doubt, revoking their remission will be another long struggle. The faculty and staff members of IIM Bangalore put it most poignantly in their letter to the Chief Justice of India that the remission “emboldens” perpetrators of heinous crimes and “extinguishes” the hopes of millions of Indians in the judicial system. They pose a moral query about what kind of nation we are if Bano is left to defend herself while her violators are felicitated.

The united struggle by women and others sympathetic to their cause in Spain forced the government to bow to their demands. But there seems to be no sense of mass outrage or disgust to this remission in India. India, the biggest democracy in the world in terms of population, has seen outrage about crimes against women before. Around a decade ago, thousands protested in the capital and across the country demanding justice for ‘Nirbhaya’, the victim of a brutal gang-rape in Delhi. Why has the cause of justice suddenly fallen silent? Is anger increasingly compartmentalised in India, erupting when crimes turn People Like Us into victims? Would we who are silent against the injustice to Bano and her family welcome gang rape and murder convicts to our homes? Would we like to be photographed with them or congratulate them?

Hannah Arendt tells us crimes against humanity are not committed by psychopaths and sadists but by regular people who perform their tasks with bureaucratic diligence. Evil becomes banal when it acquires an unthinking and systematic character, when ordinary people participate in it, distance themselves from it and find countless ways to justify it. When there is no moral aversion to the worst crimes against humanity, evil does not look like evil but becomes faceless. If we can discover any ordinariness in the garlanding of rapists, we are not far from becoming this faceless evil.

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