The lawyer who doesn’t know a man from a dog

Picture of Jyoti Singh-Pandey, a young South Asian woman with long black hair, wearing a blue dress with columns of white dots down the front, and a necklace.I don’t know what sort of dignity these people have, because a lot of them are just thugs who got where they are by killing people and kicking people’s heads in. It’s more apt to call a dog a dignitary than some of these people, and even a dog is just acting out its dogginess. You can’t blame a dog for being a dog, but you can blame a human being for acting like something less than an animal.

The above words come from Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, talking about some of the rulers of the Muslim countries in a lecture called Hajj: Journey to the House of God which is actually the first lecture tape I bought from an Islamic bookshop back in the late 90s. They were brought to mind watching last night’s Storyville on BBC Four about the brutal gang-rape and murder of a young female medical student in Delhi in 2012; two of the men’s lawyers were interviewed and they came out with the most outrageous drivel, one of them comparing women to a rose and to a jewel who, if you leave them out in the street, a dog will have them. One of the lawyers announced that if his own daughter was involved in “pre-marital activity”, he would burn her to death in front of their family, and emphasised the fact that the victim, named Jyoti Singh-Pandey, was out with her “boyfriend” after dark. Thankfully, this blockhead failed to persuade a court that Jyoti was some kind of harlot who deserved to be gang-raped and then disembowelled while alive; his client is on Death Row. (You can see the programme on BBC’s iPlayer here until next Monday, if you’re in the UK. It may be available through other channels overseas; it’s also on YouTube here for the time being.)

The other day someone on Twitter complained that she had seen people calling incidents like the Delhi rape “part of the culture”. I responded that anyone saying this sort thing was either an ignoramus or a racist. Rape as such is not part of any culture that I know of, although attitudes that certain behaviours constitute “asking for it” are fairly widespread, including in the West, while the outrage that this act caused in India is reflected in the demonstrations by both men and women shown in this programme. There are certainly aspects of the dominant culture that do contribute to rape and other violence against women, however: the ingrained preference for boys, particularly in north-west India (the worst-affected areas are immediately north and west of Delhi), results in a huge population imbalance with up to 150 boys born per 100 girls, and in many more areas, like Delhi itself, around 110 to 120 boys per 100 girls, resulting in there being a lot of young men running around who do not have partners or any real hope of finding one. The men responsible for Jyoti’s murder also had a history of petty criminality and violence, with one of them a steroid abuser. While they claimed to have acted as some sort of self-appointed morals police, part of me wonders if resentment of her education (even if they did not know she was a medical student, it might have been apparent from her way of speaking, for instance) played a part in motivating their behaviour.

While the men all came from deprived backgrounds and lived in what was described as a “semi-slum”, Jyoti’s family were also poor and had sold ancestral land to pay for her education. Jyoti herself worked in a call centre to help fund her studies, and wanted to set up a hospital in her ancestral village (this was done in her name after her death). Her family had distributed sweets after her birth, something that is normally only done for a boy, and neighbours criticised them saying “you’re celebrating as if you had a boy!”. The family were obviously very proud of their daughter, and told stories such as how she had intervened after a boy stole from her and a policeman beat him, saying “what will he learn from this?”. They did not regret spending their money on her. It showed that poor and uneducated people can have enlightened attitudes, while lawyers, who are highly-educated and often paid hansomely (although that may not be true there) can be shockingly ignorant. That alone makes this film worth seeing, if you can.

The film has been banned in India. The ostensible reason is that it concerns an ongoing legal case, although I suspect there is some element of embarrassment that Indian lawyers are seen spouting things that are so outrageous. I found the lawyers’ words more shocking than what the driver of the bus (convicted of the rape and murder, although he claims he only drove the bus) said; he, after all, is one appeal away from the rope and needs to justify or mitigate his behaviour. Even if one agrees that a ‘respectable’ woman should not be out after dark with a man who is not family, four men tricked her into boarding a bus and then gang-raped her and injured her so badly she later died. This was their choice; a dog will behave according to its dogginess (or its treatment and training by people) but a man can choose to be a human being or act worse than a dog. If a lawyer does not understand the difference between a man and a dog — and that man is responsible for his actions, which is why we even have a law — he shouldn’t be a lawyer.

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