Recently, National Women’s Commission chief Mamta Sharma shared her opinion about the word “sexy” in Jaipur seminar and how it should be taken as a compliment by women and not objectionable. Though this opinion wasn’t taken well by the most conservatives in the seminar, it still seemed refreshing to find a high government official with pro-modern views about women’s sexuality.
Like most, I agree, calling the word “sexy” completely unobjectionable in all scenarios is not possible, especially in India. Sexiness means sensual attractiveness of women. The problem is that most Indian men (especially the conservative ones from the lower-income group) can’t seem to handle “sexy”, as a word or an idea. And what’s the result? Rising number of rapes in metropolitan cities.
The year 2012 began with 3 major rape cases in Kolkata, Noida and Gurgaon. All three followed the same sorry track, first the victim’s character assassination by the police – subtle or blunt – what she did, or did not do, what she wore, what’s her love life like, why was she out that late etc etc. This was followed by security guidelines which inevitably view the presence of women out and about at night, as opposed to their lack of safety and the callous police response, as the real problem. According to most, the woman in question should have just stuck to some basic rules of ‘safety’ and nothing bad would have happened.
Take, for instance, in Noida rape case, superintendent of police Anant Dev who told reporters that the victim “willingly went” with the accused “because she wanted an alcohol party from the boys,” helpfully adding, “She even mentioned she wanted vodka. She was involved in a physical relationship with more than one of the accused.” Not only that, the cops in Noida released the name of the victim in their press release, no less, claiming later that it was “a clerical mistake.”
“Keeping in view the social object of preventing social victimization or ostracism of the victim of a sexual offence for which Section 228-A (of the Indian Penal Code) has been enacted, it would be appropriate that in the judgments, be it of this Court, or lower courts, the name of the victim should not be indicated.”
As Ranjana Kumari, the director of the organisation Centre for Social Research, told the media, the Indian police are the “only force in the world” that directly blames the victim. Their first instinct is not to investigate the attack but to put the victim’s charcter on trial.
For instance in 2009 when a foreign student in Mumbai was allegedly gang-raped by five boys, the only question surrounding the alleged rapists was that they didn’t look like rapists. Middle class boys from good families don’t rape women, just like good girls don’t end up getting raped. The girl’s evidence in this case was not seen as good enough, because she had consumed alcohol.
In Gurgaon gang-rape case, a young woman travelling from suburban Gurgaon to Delhi via taxi with her brother after work, dragged out of the car by seven men, abducted, gang-raped – is disturbing enough. But what lies under is worse. This episode is one in a long line now, highlighting urgencies that are making India writhe with pain…
Earlier, in Kolkata rape incident, she met them in a nightclub. Worse, a nightclub where she remained until 2 am talking to strangers. The victim told the news channels that “she was asked uncomfortable questions and jeered at for going to a night club,” adding, “Is it a sin to go to a night club? The policemen made me feel like a criminal. I was already traumatized and they made me all the more sick.”
“When I had mustered enough courage to go to the police station to lodge the FIR, I was harassed. Even yesterday, when I went to speak to the officers with my aunt, they misbehaved with me. Two policemen also made lewd comments,” the victim told the media. “While I was at the police station, the officers remarked that it was Valentine’s Day and asked me if I would go out for a drink with them. I was shocked!” she added.
There are indeed separated, divorced, single and even married men – with or without children – who frequent nightclubs. And they may too have a beer or more with girls half their age. And accept a lift from them in the wee hours of the night. But would that make them hookers? No sirree! Does that give those girls the right to assault, rob, or kill him? Absolutely not. And that’s because – duh! – boys will be boys. And boys have the right to have fun and be safe in our great nation – unlike the girl child whose life is in peril from the very moment of conception.
What you read in the media is how the girl was out late, dressed inappropriately, was intoxicated — painting a picture of how she brought this upon herself. And the perpetrators – the rapists – are described how they come from good families, don’t look like rapists and don’t have a criminal past. Translation – “Good Boys Don’t Rape and Only Bad Girls Get Raped.”
Are the police and media insensitive? Or, is it the general psyche of most Indian men? Read this one of the many comment left by a reader on TOI Kolkata rape report — “[S[he is just another h00ker or pervert. why else will a 37-yr-old mother of 2 decide to sip beer alone in deserted road @1pm night and than decide to befriend guys half her age (20 yrs) n go with them in a car? (sic)”
Don’t take me wrong, all Indian men are not rapists. But how is this ideology not cheering rape? Intellectuals, govt officials often criticize media for painting a pessimistic picture of the condition of women in India. In America, a rape case is reported every 90 seconds. This is, apparently, enough for Indian authorities. What they forget is India being a conservative culture considers rape a taboo, and by some estimates, as many as, 90% rape cases go unreported.
We may not be Taliban who believe that “the face and body of a woman is a source of corruption” and force our women to be covered from head to toe; but the misogyny is NOT many degrees less, cleverly veiled under the layers of “Mera Bharat Mahan” Indian Culture.
“While a murderer destroys the physical frame of the victim, a rapist degrades and defiles the soul of a helpless female,” says Justice Arijit Pasayat, a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India. Fear, darkness, depression, guilt-complex, suicidal-action – Rape is the beginning of a nightmare. It has been correctly stated that only the one who has gone through it can know how it feels. Not only does rape erode a woman internally by trespassing her private space, but it also leads to an everlasting social stigma and an unwanted title of “the victim.” Every time she steps out, eyes follow her, some with pity, some with scorn and some are just indifferent.
What should make us pause is that this dynamic rarely plays out with other kinds of violent assault. The media rarely put the victim on trial if a man is beaten, maimed or killed. But with rape, it’s always the woman who first has to prove that she is indeed a victim – and one worthy of sympathy and support. And each such case that makes the headlines sends a clear message to all future rape victims: the only guarantee of anonymity is silence.
Not only the police blame the women for being defiled by the rapists who can’t help their “libido”, but they also justify their helplessness by enforcing impractical solutions which in one way or another just curtail women’s rights and freedoms. Right after gurgaon’s rape case in March 2012 local police gave strict guidelines to women and their employers. Here’s a gist.
- Women should not work after 8 PM – because rapes happen only at night. If they do, they need to tell the labor department in advance.
- If they work in a bar, they should not get “too friendly” with the drinkers – because talking to somebody means “come rape me”. Like in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood all over again, Don’t talk to strangers else a big bad wolf’s going to get you.
- Employers should install CCTV cameras at pick up points so women are not forcibly lifted – Does that mean if she went willingly with someone who promised her a ride home, she deserved to be raped?
- Pubs have to maintain records of everyone who comes in, keep photocopies of identity cards and submit them to the authorities every two weeks. They must create an IP address and provide internet access to the cops so they have a 360-degree Big Brother view of every nook and corner of the premises.
And what is police going to do? NOTHING. All these rules increase more paperwork and more possibilities to collect bribes when they’re flouted. Now police personnel can get a free peep show of couples necking in the dark corners of pubs via CCTV right in the police station. Nice job livening up those boring evenings at the thana.
What is interesting to note is that the same rape could have been easily avoided if the PCR Van personnel weren’t dumb enough to not act on the panic call they received from the victim’s brother. How must it feel, to have a policeman call your phone — at that moment when you know you are doomed and are yet hoping for a miracle — and do nothing to save you? Instead of increasing security on the dark streets of Gurgaon, the cops will get to spot check 500 odd pubs in Gurgaon to see if they are keeping up with their paperwork.
Five years ago, twenty two-year-old Jyotikumari Chaudhary, a Wipro (Pune) BPO employee was raped and killed by her cab driver and associate in November 2007. They used the ploy of picking up another employee and took the girl to a nearby village and then raped and murdered her. The accused were arrested the same year and booked for crime. Our judicial system took 5 years in convicting them of the heinous crime.
KOLKATA – City of Kolkata was just recovering from the 37-year-old woman’s rape in a moving vehicle, when a rag picker was found with a metal-rod in her rectum, who died the next day. She was raped and dumped on the street. She succumbed to her injuries the next day. Police is investigating.
MALDA – In Malda, police refused to arrest a constable, charged with rape, despite the fact that a complaint had been lodged against him by the victim. The constable allegedly raped a 26-year-old woman several times in the last two years. The woman lodged a written complaint and even met the Malda SP, Jayanta Pal, seeking justice, but to no effect.
GURGAON – Within 48 hours of the Gurgaon gang rape incident which shook the nation, another rape took place, when a 24-year old woman was allegedly abducted and raped when she was waiting for the bus with her one-year-old child at Bhajgera. Later she was dumped in the capital at Vikaspuri. The accused are absconding.
JABALPUR – A policeman was caught on video raping a woman in a slum area in Jabalpur district of Madhya Pradesh. When he forced himself on a woman, she cried and people gathered. The inspector was literally caught on camera with his pants down. Police first refused to accept her complaint, as expected. But soon a person came with the video clip and the police had to register a FIR against the inspector.
Delhi accounts for 25% of rape cases in India, which is the highest among Indian cities followed by Mumbai and Kolkata. According to a United Nations survey in 2010, 85% of the women in the capital feel unsafe and fear being sexually harassed. They also fear visiting public places like bus stops, streets, market places where there are maximum chances of eve teasing and assaults.
Statistics may look bad, but the actual picture is way uglier, considering how rape is a social taboo, and 90% of rape cases are not even reported — because attackers are either wealthy and well-protected, or dangerous street thugs. Or, worse related to the victim.
India has changed, the women have changed, both out of choice and necessity. But what the continuing epidemic of rapes reveals is that some men have not. As a society, these questions stare into our faces…
- Who are these men and why have they become so enraged by women’s sexuality and freedom?
- Why does an average Indian police personal seem to carry the same ideology which makes these men rapists?
- Will the Indian woman keep suffering at the hands of this flaming fraternity between the protector and the perpetrator?
These incidents shines a harsh light upon the jagged, uneven quality of our growth. It exposes an ongoing crisis of masculinity. And it suggests an interlocking of ties between administrative forces and criminal elements, alongside a larger collapse of governance. Unless we understand these urgencies, we will not be able to make India safer for its women – and its men.