Women victims become culprits

ANINDITA MAJUMDAR

“…To want to go out, step out of the frame to claim her space is inconceivable and must be checked…”

In February this year the police in Noida deliberately released the identity of a 17 year-old rape victim in clear violation of the law.

This disclosure was followed by a statement regarding the supposed ‘consent’ of the girl in the act of partaking of alcohol with the alleged rapists just before she was raped.

How does one read this? That a ‘bad’ girl, identified as interested in alcohol and partying, is tarnishing the image of ‘good’ boys, who were merely having a good time?

Rape, whether we like it or not, is a part of our daily reality-in cities, villages, at the workplace and at homeRape, whether we like it or not, is a part of our daily reality-in cities, villages, at the workplace and at home

And how come every time there is an act of sexual violence against a woman these ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ come to be part of our mindscape? Of course the morality discourse is resurrected only when the crime gets reported-otherwise no one really cares.

Otherwise rape, whether we like it or not, is a part of our daily reality-in cities, villages, at the workplace and at home. What’s so new about the Gurgaon rape of a 23 year old that we have not heard before?

There is a lot that we have heard before though: late night shifts at ‘dubious’ workplaces, such as bars and restaurants; wearing improper attire; travelling alone on lonely roads. This particular reasoning that identifies the woman as the perpetrator of a crime against herself extends beyond rape, but is limited exclusively to women.

So, Soumya Vishwanathan’s death while driving back home at 3.30am was also asking for it. Every government functionary from the politician to the police believes it is so, then it must be true.

High time women accepted that they are not victims, but the reason why rape happens.

The moment a woman steps out of the home, for whatever reasons, she is inviting the wrath of a whole social system that is trying to ‘protect’ her for themselves. She is representative of so much more than just herself.

The moment a woman steps out of the home, for whatever reasons, she is inviting the wrath of a whole social system that is trying to 'protect' her for themselvesThe moment a woman steps out of the home, for whatever reasons, she is inviting the wrath of a whole social system that is trying to ‘protect’ her for themselves

After all in India the woman is mother, daughter, sister and wife-to a man. To want to go out, step out of the frame to claim her space is inconceivable and must be checked. No wonder then that in a reading of the Lok Sabha debates on the Rape Law of 1983, sociologist Pratiksha Baxi finds that rape treats the man as subject, and the woman as object. The rape is not about her, but about the violation of a male code.

This is reflected in the discussion on the law which tries to distinguish between the chaste and unchaste woman, the married and unmarried woman, and the raped women and the ‘normal’ woman. The control over reproduction creates these categories-so, a ‘protected’ woman is the married mother.

Baxi adds that in patriarchal societies where descent defines the woman’s place––rape literally defiles the descent line. It’s a crime by men against men. Every time a woman comes to report a rape, or every time the police have to answer questions on rape, they commit a double crime on the rape survivor.

The courts do it again when they hear her testimony. The state rapes its women with their questions, interrogations and insinuations about character and conduct. But what is it about cities that attract such power struggles––for that is exactly what rape is-an act of violence to reclaim lost ‘power’.

In contemporary India, the city space has been way more welcoming of women than any other. Its anonymity adds to the freedom that numbers bring. The growing need for a workforce helped us get out, and work towards reclaiming the public.

But according to a report by the NGO Jagori, it is these very urban spaces that are now potential cover for crimes against women. So many of the places we inhabit in our daily lives are fraught with danger. Low street lighting, narrow lanes, public alcohol dens all add to our misery. It is indeed a sad commentary that many of the rapes in Delhi happen very close to where the rape victim lives, by someone she knows.

A report cites how often people one may know and trust-neighbours, relatives, friends, colleagues-may exploit our trust. Lifts in cars with acquaintances have often been cited in cases of rape.

The tinted, moving car is the perfect space for this kind of violence––the speed adds to the ‘thrill’. The fast life of the city affects both women and men-like the toll booth operator who got shot last year for asking for the toll, or the recent case of a bouncer who was beaten up outside a city hotel for having denied entry to some patrons to a night club.

Does the city breed this kind of mentality-of intolerance, impatience and violence? In a panel discussion on a news channel following the incident of violence against the toll booth operator, one of the panelists spoke of the feeling of ‘entitlement’ that the city’s youth feel they have towards the right to have a ‘good’ time.

Anyone who comes in the way of their enjoyment is taking away their right, and must be accordingly treated. Thus women who are out at night working, partying, on an emergency, whatever it might be, are ‘easy pickings’. If she resists then she is impinging upon their right.

Perhaps the saddest commentary of our times is when fathers in their anxiety and worry over the safety of their daughters ‘laud’ the efforts of the police to curb the time till which a woman can work at night-8pm in Gurgaon after the recent case.

Or when they silently agree with the vitriolic that law enforcers spew about clothing and ‘decency’. It is at these times that a woman truly comes to feel like a culprit herself.

(courtesy: ANINDITA MAJUMDAR & MailOnLine, India)

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