It does not seem like the news is complete these days without at least one rape being reported! Whether it is a newspaper that you open or a TV channel that you switch on, this kind of news chills your spine!!
My first memory of reading a news article about rape was in a magazine called “ SUNDAY” in the eighties. The story was about a woman called Maya Tyagi who was brutally raped by policemen inside a police station. I could not understand much about it except for the fact that some brutality had been committed on a woman by people who were supposed to be law enforcers!! Subsequently, or may be around the same time I read about another such incident, this time against a lady called Mathura. By the time I was in the Xth standard I had formed a fairly good idea about what these crimes involved and that the process of seeking justice against them was about as awful as the crime itself!!!
While three decades later there have been a lot of progressive legislation around rape ( like protecting the identity of the victim and having the onus on the perpetrator to prove his innocence) the crime itself does not seem to have stopped! Looking at the number of cases that we read about every day I wonder if the cases have actually increased over time. But I am inclined to think that probably not! What has improved is obviously the reporting of such cases. I would like to think of that as the one positive change in terms of attitude towards the crime. Victims and their families today see it as a crime that has been committed against them and not “dishonor”- the word “izzat loot liya” ( dishonored) does not thankfully figure in Bollywood flicks today!! Neither does the word “Karpu azhipu” ( erasing the chastity) form part of the Tamil film scenario! The word “Balatkar” , which is the actual word signifying rape is being used.
But despite these few steps forward with regard to the social attitudes around the crime some of the other attitudes continue to remain. I was dismayed to hear ministers in two of our states issue statements like “Sometimes rape is justified” or “ Rape is unplanned and happens suddenly”!!
I realize now that as long as there are attitudes like these, rape laws will never be applied stringently and there will be zero conviction. And with that kind of reality can we expect any reduction in the incidence of the crime?
My mind cannot remove images of the bodies of two young girls strung up on a tree in a village in Uttar Pradesh after they were raped!! I think that is probably one of the most brutal things that could be done to anyone!! It is reminiscent of the incidents that used to happen in the Southern part of the US during the days of segregation.
One of the important factors that we need to understand with regard to a crime like rape is that though it is viewed as a sexual offence, it is in reality an assertion of power of one individual over another. Sexual violation of a woman is a demonstration of power, not just against the woman herself but for everything that she symbolizes. For example, after a war a victorious army would rape all the women of the defeated along with looting their houses and destroying the buildings around their cities / villages. To the victor the women were nothing but objects over which they wanted to show their ownership. The same interpretation can be used to explain such crimes that happen during communal riots. The UP crime was also something similar. It was a way for a group of people to assert their power over another group. It was a warning, a threat to a community that they had better be careful!!
While this assertion of power is easier to understand when it comes to rapes that occur around areas that have a history of such clashes, people often do not understand rapes that happen in an isolated manner. Let us take for example the Nirbhaya case in Delhi. Here was a girl who was travelling with her friend after watching a movie and was raped by a group of men inside a moving bus. Do you honestly think they were sexually deprived and therefore attacked her ? I would say that this was also about assertion of power!! The background of all these men suggests that they came from poor households and were working as laborers. To them a girl from a middle class household was a symbol of a social class that was more privileged that they were. So how do you take out your anger against that class? By sexually attacking the women from that class. The sexual violation of a woman often gives men who have serious confidence problems about their own abilities a sense of power. A man who rapes a woman by way laying in a deserted area is doing nothing but demonstrating to himself and to his victim that he is powerful. It is also the reason why a person familiar to a woman rapes her. It is because his ego is hurt when she says “No” and turns down his sexual advances!! It is pathetic but this is the basic psyche around men who rape!
Given the fact that rape is all about demonstration of power, can we really buy the arguments made by some crazy people that it can sometimes be justified? Believe me, no man rapes a woman because he is sexually aroused by her dress or her behavior. The way a woman dresses or behaves makes a man form some impressions about her. And these impressions again depend on his own background. To a man from a conservative rural background, a girl in jeans and a T shirt is “sexually promiscuous” and he wants to “put her in her place” by showing her that she, as a woman should keep her sexuality under restraint.
Rape can never justified! Even a sex worker has the right to say “No”!! Just because she is selling sex does not mean that she can be violated. She trades in sex on her terms and if those terms are not acceptable to a man, he has no business to forcibly make her have sex with him!! It is the equivalent of vandalizing a shop rather than paying for a product across the counter. It is no excuse to say that it is alright because the woman was of “questionable character”.
I firmly believe that unless we address the attitude around rape we will never be able to stop the crime. As long as people believe that women invite it upon themselves rape will continue to be seen as an expression of machismo by men with high libidos.
A rapist is a pathetic individual!!! His sense of power does not come from his anything constructive. He rapes because his self image may be so low that any form of refusal to cater to his demands may not go down well with him. Or he may have such an inflated ego that he cannot take no for an answer. He may belong to a caste or a community that is unable to come to terms with progress and development that may be happening and so he uses the most primitive weapons of all to keep the feudal power structure going. Or his sense of what a woman is, may be so narrow that he cannot see beyond her sexual parts. Is it any surprise that he gets a lot of “nos” when he approaches a woman?
I wish we would understand that rape cannot be prevented by women wearing a hijab , burqa , using toilets or coming home before sundown. Rape will be there as long as there are men with the rapist mental profile around and as long as there are social attitudes that justify their actions!!