Doctor Larry Nassar, an Osteopath by profession, an alumnus of the Michigan State University and one associated with the US National Gymnastics, was convicted on 24 January 2018. In July 2017, Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. On January 24, 2018, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in a state prison in Michigan after pleading guilty to the sexual assault of minors. He will serve the sentences one after the other. His earliest possible release will be on 23 March 2069. Right now his age is 54 so he has to live 52 years more before he can expect to see life out of the prison. Imagine him coming out of prison at the age of 106 and reuniting with family and society. It is unlikely that he will come out walking out of the prison, and in all probability he will die as an inmate of the prison. From a reputed doctor to an inmate the transition is painful but one loaded with poetic justice. For years he had swindled himself into believing that all that he was doing was normal and accepted without anyone getting a clue, or if anyone had a clue, that person chose to ignore or remain silent. Finally, the lid was taken off, and he perhaps discovered, in the words of Dickens, no swindler is worse than a self-swindler.
The exposure of his crime emerged following the Me too hashtag which went viral in October 2017 following sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and rocked the social and political circles in US. Many women came out alleging harassment at the hands of high-profile figures especially in work places. Many men had to resign or face the lawsuits from hitherto quiet victims. Larry Nassar is one more top figure to be punished following some revelations from the Me too campaign. There are certain aspects and ideas that hold themselves for reflection in our mind, in the context of our society.
Desi Larry Nassars
There is an apparent and very sharp contrast between observation and legal action in our society. The observation is testimony to the fact that harassment and assault (their definitions should be carefully checked) are common, not just in workplaces but almost everywhere. I am not asking the question why it is happening, that is a separate discussion but the fact is that it is happening. We have observed the infamous scandals from time to time, in which minors were victims. However, when it comes to tangible judicial remedial actions there is practically none. The high profile figures often walk home without any care of punishment or fear of the law. The high and the mighty often buy their way to the safe environs of their home. Or they use their connections (as Larry Nassar did initially) to save themselves. When friendships are put before truth and justice, the contrast that is noticed, no matter how vivid, is natural. When power and privilege are deployed against the helpless and the powerless, then justice is inverted to reward the unjust. When law serves the rich, the poor serve the perpetrators, quietly.
Our professions are full of Larry Nassars. Almost no field is empty of such characters. Be it medicine, law, academics there is realistically no arena where harassment is not rampant. Where power and authority are not abused. And, worse, the victims cannot ride on the wave of Me Too hashtag to reveal the perpetrators because there is no trust in law to protect the whistleblowers. The law is an accomplice of the perpetration and the perpetrators. An inept law and lawyers are not isolated and stigmatised but the victim is, for making it easy for the perpetrator to perpetrate. The silence often noticed in these scenarios is not voluntary but systematically imposed. I do not know of any person who was prosecuted to its logical conclusion in such cases. Even Gulzar Peer against whom testimonies were recorded, was also sent home "honourably" in March 2017. With an atmosphere like this in which perpetrators are honourably sent home, is there any significant impediment against potential perpetrators in future, potential manipulators of minors and abusers of power? With him out, and with all the social and religious power he wields, just imagine the psychological condition of those who testified against him.
To testify against a powerful person like Larry Nassar required a great leap of trust in the judicial process and the law enforcement agencies. It was both eye-opening and inspiring to watch dozens of girls who came to publicly testify against Larry Nassar. Their detailed graphic but bold testimonies in the presence of the perpetrator in the courtroom in a public hearing are a tribute to the US judicial system. These scenes are isolated fragments of wild dreams only, in our part of the world. Even before a person testifies, the question raised will be not about what she said but how many inches short was her sleeve. Every judge, every victim and every hidden perpetrator must spare some time and watch the testimonies to bear out the truth of the statement. Lately, when Zainab in Pakistan was raped and killed, the pathological legislators demanded public hanging of the perpetrator; however, it was more appropriate to arrange for a civilised public hearing, with testimonies, free of favour and fear, against the killer to inspire trust in the system, and to provide a therapeutic process for the victims.
The re-enactment of the Larry Nassar case here demands certain things. First, a fair probe in which powerful network is broken to reach the culprit. Second, a culture of impunity regarding sexual harassment has to be exposed. Third, inspiring confidence in the law so that people can come out to record testimonies against the culprits. A very tall order indeed, in a climate in which justice is purchased and law enforcers compromised to ingratiate with the rich and powerful. But that is how it has to be; until then a vast cloak of silence will prevail, and our desi Larry Nassars having a lustful day.