Saturday, 26 April 2014

On Rape : Part IV

Now we come to the issue of the role that society and popular culture play in propagating and promoting rape.

In India, movies and television are the most prominent sources of mass entertainment, and influence minds from the age of 3 to 103. Stereotypes idolized in popular films are the biggest culprits when it comes to theorizing the idea that women are raped when they provoke or sexually excite the villain. A show of cleavage or bare legs, a wet saree, a woman bathing and the likes are justified as incitement to rape. In the '70s and the '80s, rape scenes were ubiquitous in films. In fact, rape scenes themselves were a sub-type of entertainment, titillating the young and the old alike. What can be sicker than that?! Another stereotype that has always been present in Indian films in all languages down the ages is that women like men to "tease" them. Touching a woman or kissing a woman against her wishes is alright since that is what women actually want in their "heart-of-hearts". That physically assaulting the woman is the best way to make her fall in love. And the molester or the assaulter, for I cannot bring myself to use the word "teaser" for one perpetrating molestation in the name of "teasing", would be the hero, the good guy, with a heart of gold, who would save his mother, his sister and any strange woman from all kinds of troubles, who would fight the bad guys and in the end, save the day or the world, or whatever he was created to save. Thus, molestation is given societal sanction through films, even in this day and age.

Again, by propagating myths like "the woman asked for it", as discussed in the previous post, society washes its hands off over its role in rape. Such statements take the responsibility off society as a whole, and the perpetrator in particular, and put it squarely on the victim's head. The fact that the victim is also a part of society is deliberately scored out, thus making the victim a social outcast in every way.

We also need to take a look at the perpetrators, as sometimes they become perpetrators because they themselves are victims. Victims of lop-sided and non-inclusive development. Victims of hunger, poverty, illiteracy and lack of education. Victims of sexual abuse and violence. Victims living a life like a scene from a chamber of hell. Victims of repressed anger and violence, that get expressed in the form of pinning down a hapless woman with sheer brute force and violating her. And again, it is society which is responsible for this scenario, by ensuring that all power is the fief of a small "elitocracy", while the rest are denied the fulfillment of even basic human needs. A person forced to live an animal's life cannot think or behave like a civilized human being. A young boy, who grows up watching his father abusing his mother daily, and even his sisters occasionally, corporeally and sexually, in the one-room shack that is shared by the whole family of maybe six, or eight, or ten, or who knows how many, cannot be expected to grow up having an awful lot of respect for a woman or her rights. 

But, why, one would ask, would women also support the myth of "she asked for it"? The reasons are many. Rape is a very brutal crime to wrap one's head around. It is scary, irrational, illogical, unpredictable. It is stigmatic for survivors. It makes every woman feel insecure because rape can happen anywhere; on the streets, at the work place, on public transport, at a public place, at a friend's place, in a party, and the worst of them all, in one's own home.  So, blaming the victim is a way of rationalizing the crime. It must be something the victim did, and since I don't do whatever she did, I'm safe.  Woman who crave for the freedom of living an independent life, find fault in the women who do so and fall victims to rape. This channel of thought helps them come to terms with and to justify their dependent existence. Women who are going crazy thinking about how to protect themselves, their daughters, their sisters and their friends from becoming victims, articulate that being safe is better than being sorry. Hence, why tempt fate by wearing revealing clothes, going out alone, staying out late and making friends with men and boys. These precautions are all that they have control over, and they hope and pray that this much is much enough for protection.

There is a substantial section of society that still believes that there is nothing wrong with rape. Men are superior to women. Women were created to please, nurture and reproduce men. Yes, even reproduce men, for no one wants a daughter in the family. So men are free to treat women as they like. Even violate them. So no one questions marital rape, not even law. It is a woman's duty to please her husband sexually and if she does not oblige, she can be brutally reminded of who is the master. She deserves to be punished for denying sex. So, this becomes another from of "punishment rape". Since many women also subscribe to these beliefs, because of what they have witnessed as children and have been brought up to believe, they are willing accomplices in such crimes. They feel powerless to stop such crimes. At the same time, the belief that men and women are equals as humans, creates cognitive dissonance in their minds. So, they change their cognition to the school of thought that believes women are inferior to men, and it is their lot to suffer in silence. That is why a battle-weary mother, tired and bruised physically and psychologically from the non-stop onslaught of physical and sexual violence from her husband, does not mind or feel any guilt, if her daughter takes her place, as the proverbial lamb to the slaughter, once in a while, so that she herself gets the time and space needed to mend her body and spirit enough, to face the next onslaught.

So, there you are, men and women of our society. There is enough food for thought. Enough to chew on. Go chew. And don't run away from your responsibility. You are an integral part of the "system" which allows the existence and perpetration of this crime called rape.


On Rape : Part III

In connection with the crime, or rather as society puts it, "incident" of rape, there is always an underlying, unsaid assumption that the victim asked for it.

Now what can one say about such an illogical and absurd assertion?

That a woman sets out of her house just waiting for a man to come by so she could ask him, "Hey rape me. I'm a woman!". As if she were flagging down a cab or an autorickshaw. Or ordering samosa-chai or burger-fries at a restaurant....As if a 2 yr-old toddler would say to her neighbour, "It's ok to rape me. I'm 2, can barely walk or talk properly, but I know all about rape. So come over. Do it. I'll not tell anybody, you see, because I can barely talk."

This attitude of "She Asked For It" which society, more often than nought, adopts towards victims of rape, is one of the biggest hurdles in not only ensuring justice for the victim, but in educating society against the horrors of rape as a crime. Whatever be the circumstances of the case, there is an unsaid statement hanging thick in the air, like the proverbial elephant in the room, which says, "She must have done SOMETHING to provoke the men".

Many social responsible personalities keep making many socially irresponsible statements. Some attribute rape to the women population's way of dressing. Some to women being out late at night. Some to the use of mobile phones. Some to foreign food. And others to various other equally absurd causes. 

A woman's sense of dressing and choosing to live a liberated, modern lifestyle, are the most oft talked about reasons behind increasing cases of rape. A liberated  modern lifestyle, which is relatively new for the Indian social psyche. Wearing western clothes or short, revealing clothes.  Living alone, away from home. Working late nights on an equal footing with the male work force, other than in domestic and menial jobs. Going out for late night parties, cinema, and perhaps smoking and drinking. Being open about romantic or sexual relationships with men. Spending time on social media. 

A large percentage of the populace are strong believers in the "myth of the modern woman who was just asking for it". This myth is energetically discussed whenever an unfortunate rape takes place, and sadly, a great proportion of the believers are women themselves. Now, don't men also have the same kind of lifestyle? Yes. Even men from the lower strata of society, as compared to women who are mostly from the middle or upper classes. Why don't they get molested or raped? Surely, a woman would also get sexually aroused at the sight of a male muscled body on display? Or is it that women do not have the right to get sexually aroused in the first place? If a woman drinking in a pub is "easy", the same should apply to a man too. But why doesn't society do so? 

Again, it is because a woman is not supposed to lust after a man, or because woman are not supposed to "chase" men. Right. Like the deer doesn't chase the lion. Or the buffalo doesn't chase the alligator. Why? Because obviously the Strong chase and hunt down the Weak. So then isn't it obviously the case that rape is like a hunt? Or a display of power? The predator overpowering the prey? That is why men walking topless on the streets or workmen labouring in little clothing don't get raped by women passing by. But a fully clothed domestic help is raped by her employer. Or a fully clothed techie is raped by the driver of the cab she took. And what to say of little girls below 10 years of age who do not even have a body which can sexually arouse any man other than one with a perverted demented mind.

Here is another perspective. What if a woman is scantily clad? What if she manages to sexually arouse every man she passes by? Her role is only in choosing her clothing which as the citizen of a free country, she is free to do. The decision of raping her is purely that of the perpetrator. His thought processes, his value system, his awareness of the woman's right to her own body, his basic conditioning towards the rights of women and his control over his bodily processes. All these are attributable to the perpetrator, not the victim. Even a sex worker has the right to chose her clients. So the victim can never be a willing accessory to the crime. It is the decision of the perpetrator, and his alone, which causes the crime to take place. 

A parallel I would like to draw here is that of road rage. Two groups get into an argument about a trivial matter. The fight produces various chemical responses in the body, making the mind go into a "murderous rage". Whereas in some situations people just back down after the initial adrenaline rush, and when better sense prevails; some people end up fighting and killing each other. As they say "a heat of the moment" murder. But again, the choice to "cool down" or not, is the individual's. Else every fight on the streets would end up in a blood bath. Several psychological studies have been conducted which conclude that the same stimulus produces different responses in different individuals. And that the difference in responses does not depend on the stimulus but on the psychological attributes of the individual, which are influenced by both nature and nurture.

Rape is usually not a heat of the moment crime. It is always a planned and well-calculated crime. Like stalking the victim. Like watching the schedule of the victim and her family to determine at which time and places she is likely to be alone and could be caught unawares. Like enticing a little girl with a chocolate or toy. Like visiting a known victim on some pretext with the intention of raping her. Or like in the Nirbhaya case, taking a slow drive in an off-duty bus with the purpose of picking up an unsuspecting victim. Like hiding in the shadows of an abandoned landmark predator-like waiting for an unsuspecting victim to pass-by so that they can pounce on her like in the Mumbai photo-journalist case. Like lurking in the pre-dawn fields to draw a woman from the village, going to the fields in the absence of toilets, deep into the grasslands. Like a tiger pulling its kill deep into the forest to enjoy a leisurely meal.

So, as far as the dressing sense or lifestyle choices of a modern woman are concerned, the myth has been busted. In a modern civilized society, if all men are testosterone-driven creatures totally at the mercy of their hormones, which rule over their intellect and generations of civilized Jung-ian collective unconscious, may be doomsday is not very far off, for men lusting after blood, wealth, power and women would run rampage and rule the world in a survival of the "hormone"-iest.

                                        (Cont'd..)  On Rape : IV

Saturday, 19 April 2014

On Rape: Part II

The first time I heard the name of Bhanwari Devi, was when I was in high school. I remember reading about her in the newspapers, and seeing a news story about her on one of the video news mags of the early 1990s, when there were no 24x7 news channels in India. To say that I was horrified is like saying the sun is bright or the earth is round. Bhanwari Devi's case was no less a landmark than the Nirbhaya case. The medical and legal hurdles that she faced, were as painful as the social ostracism at the hands of her village, including her own family. That was the first time that contemporary Indian society sat up and took notice of the use of rape as a means of punishment. 

Not that this was a secret. The use of rape for punishing "errant" women is as old as the history of humankind. Often, it was sanctioned by the "Authorities" themselves, though I would not like to dwell more on this aspect, as this is not a historical or scholarly paper. In modern times too, this form of punishment has existed for centuries the world over. Rape had been identified in India as the crime that it actually was, by the criminal justice system since the pre-independence Victorian Rule. However, in independent India, such practices were outlawed constitutionally too.  Protection from rape was a implicit provision of the Right to Life and Liberty enshrined in the Indian Constitution. But in the absence of media glare and investigative reporting, stories about such incidents were swiftly and deftly buried. 

The Bhanwari Devi case was followed, in later years, by thousands of such cases of "punishment rape", recorded in case diaries, across thousands of police stations in every nook and corner of India. In the last one year itself, there have been cases of "punishment rape" reported from many parts of the country. Village bodies, consisting either exclusively of male village elders, or including an odd powerless token of a female village elder, have been very fast in dispensing "justice", i.e, passing judgments and handing out punishments like rape to erring or non-compliant women. The "error" may have been speaking out against an injustice, or refusal to follow some brutal and dehumanizing unwritten laws and decrees, of such village bodies and the village society. The "error" may actually have been upholding the written law of the land, following the Rule of Law. Wait, that's not all. The "error" may have been committed by any male relative of the victim or victims, including husband, son, father, father-in-law and in some cases, even grandson. But the punishment is not meted out directly to the men. Their women folk are sentenced to "punishment rape" and such sentences are executed quite swiftly, without any chance of an "appeal" at any forum, legal or informal; and very often, as in a couple of recent cases in West Bengal, in full public view. 

What about the law of the land and the Rule of Law? Well, what about them? In many villages, lying in obscurity in some remote part of the country, the law of the land is like the lay of the land, and may have little, if any, connection with the Rule of Law. Even in towns, cities and metros, aisi chhoti-moti baatein (insignificant matters) can be "managed". 

So, this was about how rape is used like an instrument of punishment. Like a hangman's noose. Like an executioner's bullet. Like the cell of the local jail. Rape is judgment, punishment and justice, all rolled into one.....and all at once.
                                                                          (Cont'd)   On Rape : III

On Rape : Part I

Hey friends,
Back after a long hiatus!! Duty called and such calls cannot be ignored. So here I am and with a very sensitive subject to talk about.

Today a friend shared an article about Rape, and how the perpetrators are not usually a match with the  "monster myth" created by society. The creator of the article goes on to say that we, as a society, are collectively responsible for rapes.

Being a woman, and having lived all my life under the shadow of this calamity of "rape", which can befall me or any of my dear ones anytime anyplace, no other issue is dearer to my heart. The first time I tried to express my views on the issue in an essay, under the topic of women's empowerment, in a public exam, I was handed out a 39% and shown the door. It is another matter that in the same public exam, in another year, when I wrote an essay on a very "neutral and safe" topic, the same examining body conferred me with a 75%, i.e., a distinction, in essay. That taught me to keep my mouth shut, my pen idle, my voice silent, and my thoughts inside my head. It is only recently that, after a series of incidents of sexual assault, which were the theme of many newspaper headlines, and of public discourses on electronic and social media, that we have heard a number of voices talk a little more openly about this issue. This has also encouraged a common person like me to speak out.

The Nirbhaya case was a first in terms of the extent and ferocity of protests not just in Delhi but across far flung corners of India like TN and Kerala. I was living in New Delhi at that time, and that too, just 2 km from India Gate, which was ground zero for the protests. The traffic diversions created a lot of difficulties for all residents of that area, but for once I didn't mind the inconvenience. The conduct rules of my employment prevented me from actually joining the protests but my support to the movement was heartfelt. Incidentally, I had visited Safdarjung Hospital on the morning of December 17, 2012, for a medical issue. There was a huge posse of policemen as well as a cavalcade of news vans outside the hospital gates. Being curious, I had asked my doctor about what had happened. He had told me that it was a very sad case of rape and that he was one of the doctors attending the victim. Only at that time, I had not known the gravity and unbelievable bestiality involved in the crime. 

Of course crime cannot be graded. Each incident of crime affects the victim in a different way. A socially insignificant crime like mental harassment of an employee by an employer or superior, may leave the victim depressed and mentally paralyzed for life. The victim's future and his or her family's life may get destroyed, and society would not bat an eyelid, leave alone classifying the case of harassment as a "crime". But if such a rating was possible, I would rate rape as the gravest. Murder is a crime that deprives the victim of his or her life, the victim's family of physical, economic and psychological security, and the society of a productive member or may be a potentially productive member, who could have created a new paradigm or protocol in society, and the world at large. But rape is a crime which violates the mind, the body, the spirit and sense of security of an entire gender, i.e. half of humankind. Murder is in most cases for some kind of gain; monetary, territorial (including jealousy induced murders), psychological; sometimes as collateral damage; or in some freak cases, it may be a heat-of-the-moment crime. The perpetrator does not target the victim solely on the basis of gender, for the most.

However, rape is used as a weapon to terrorize and subjugate an entire gender.  

                                                                       (Cont'd)     on Rape : II