Not the last rape; so what’s new?
|December 22, 2012||Posted by Shehla Rashid under Women|
This is not the first incident of rape. Certainly not the last.
The act of rape is perhaps as old as human “civilization”. Within one week of the Delhi gangrape incident, another woman has reportedly been raped by three of her neighbours (emboldened, perhaps, by it) at knife point in East Delhi. A three year old was raped in a play-school, again, in Delhi. Incidents of rape have been reported from various parts of the country following close on the heels of this gory incident:
A mother of four was sedated and raped in northeast Delhi ; A 24-year-old woman was gang-raped and her gold ornaments looted by three men after they forcibly took her to a forest in Keonjhar district of Odisha ; A Tribal girl was raped in Andhra Pradesh ; A 19-year-old girl was allegedly gangraped by five persons at a secluded house in Bhubaneshwar and so on …
What is unprecedented in the bus gangrape incident is the outrage it has provoked and, among other things, the area where this happened- by saying so, I do not mean to belittle the incidents that happen in other parts of the country which do not usually make national headlines. Women are raped and burnt alive but it does not provoke us enough to march to India Gate. Never before have I seen a women’s issue mobilize so many people, irrespective of gender. Several hundred of us marched from the India Gate to the Rashtrapati Bhawan on a cold winter night in Delhi and sat down on the road. Some people left before we marched to the Home Minister’s house. Many other groups kept on protesting at India Gate. There were protests even yesterday and there will be massive protests in about four hours from now. What has all the outrage gotten us? Probably, or so I would like to believe, speedy arrests. Not long ago, an activist friend called me from Kanpur (a town in Uttar Pradesh) to inform me about the rape of a minor (eight yr old girl) in Chakeri district and how the rapist successfully evaded arrest. It seems as if the police cannot act if not under pressure. While even consensual sex is considered a serious offence in many countries, our amazing tolerance to rape of minors leaves me baffled.
So, what was new about this incident? At the beginning of this year, I was deeply alarmed by an abduction and gangrape incident in a locality where I had lived. This prompted me to campaign for women’s rights in Delhi. I came under a lot of criticism for restricting the fight to “Delhi” alone. However, the monster is too big to be tackled by a single blow. I started with Delhi for two main reasons:
- I lived here- which means the threat had started to feel all too real.
- This is the National capital- what happens here is only telling of what must be happening in the rest of country
These two reasons explain my outrage at last year’s Sahara Mall incident and may also be used to explain the massive national outrage over the Delhi incident. But these are not enough because protests in solidarity were reported from across the country- from the northern city of Jammu to the southern city of Hyderabad.
The violent nature of this crime can explain the outrage, in part. I could not read through the case details without clenching my teeth. It’s something I find hard to confess but the thought did cross my mind several times– “why couldn’t they just rape her? why so much violence?”– do you see what’s happening here? Rape, limited only to violent intercourse may be, looks acceptable in comparison to the violence inflicted on her! She may never be able to eat again- this thought does not leave my mind. Her missing intestine will be a constant reminder of what she had to go through. May God give her strength and I’m sure He will, but I cannot imagine a normal life after having undergone 5 surgeries and 5 intermittent “comas” in about a week for a 23-year old woman. In fact, the doctors attending to her are reported to have said that they had never seen a victim of sexual assault subjected to such brutality.
Elaborating on the “proximity” factor that I mentioned earlier, the incident happened between 8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on the outer ring road which is not particularly deserted before midnight. Also, the outer ring road is flanked by many “high-security” residential areas. If a girl is not safe on Outer Ring Road, New Delhi well before midnight then she may not be safe anywhere in this region.
This may not be the first time these culprits raped someone. If someone is violent for the very first time in their life, they can’t be THIS violent. I’m pretty sure they must have raped scores of women with impunity before and I have reasons to believe this: the perpetrators were arrested from distant parts of the country in about a week following massive public pressure. Earlier this year, I had asked Delhi Chief Minister, Ms. Sheila Dikshit about the rising incidence of rape in Delhi and she attributed it to “immigrants”. However, in this case, police made arrests all over the country while the accused in many cases roam scot-free even when they are from the same locality or the same village. This prompts me to say, with all due respect, ma’am, the immigrant theory is bullshit. What we lack is a motivated and alert police, regularity of conviction, strict implementation and far less tolerance for this heinous crime. The bus had tinted glass windows and curtains and passed through several police checkpoints while the victims were being brutalized but was not stopped even once! So much for police “nakas” and the bold messages written on Delhi police barricades: “True we slow you down, but we do not let criminals slip by“. Terrible irony!
Another thing that is probably new about this incident is the terror it has struck in the hearts and minds of women living in Delhi. For years, I have dissed “unsafe Delhi” presumptions but no more. Every time I step out on the street, I think of myself as a potential victim and every other guy on the street as a potential rapist- with no offense meant to men. I am constantly looking around for possible signs of trouble and planning my next move accordingly. At least two more women have told me that they feel the same. At least two men called me up to say that they are ashamed by the way girls are looking at them now! Another person in an email from the UK said, “I get ashamed when people here ask me why Indian men love to rape so much”!
A new era?
Is this is a tipping point? It better be. We can’t afford to tolerate any more violence against women as an emerging superpower and all that. And if it is indeed a tipping point, then we must shed our tolerance to custodial rape, rape as a method of curbing insurgency, rape as a culture and so on. I have explained in another post why the notion of rape as a culture needs to be discarded.