Why the notion of rape as culture needs to be discarded
|December 22, 2012||Posted by Shehla Rashid under Uncategorized, Women|
It’s said that while intelligence has its limits, stupidity has none. “Girls get raped because they are not married off early”, “rapes are consensual”, “rapes happen because men and women interact freely”, “rapes are a conspiracy to malign the government”, and finally, “rapes happen because of chowmein”! Welcome to India. Absurdity is at an all-time high with politicians making laughable comments about a very serious issue called “rape”. While they deserve credit for keeping the media amused, victims suffer in silence. Recently, a village Sarpanch in Haryana was reported as having pressurized the family of a 13-year old rape survivor to withdraw the case against her rapist. To add insult to injury, the girl and her siblings were expelled from school so that other children are not “influenced” negatively.
Maps4Aid is an online initiative that maps the occurrences of “violence against women” (#VAW) related crimes across India. Not surprisingly, rape constitutes the majority of crimes committed against women and the highest incidence of rape is right here, in and around the so-called “National Capital Region” of the country. One loses track of rape cases from Haryana: 20 odd rape cases in the month of October alone, many of them gangrapes. India’s shocking tolerance to rape in and around the national capital is a telling indicator of the story in areas where cameras don’t reach.
What is worrisome is the ideological support- explicit or tacit- to such acts of barbarism from constitutionally elected representatives. One might not expect any better of the Khap heads who even support killing of lovers within the same gotra outright. But having members of a constitutionally elected legislature endorse their views on child marriage is a crime that India seems to have a lot of tolerance for. Sadly, in India, no one ever resigns- be it over corruption charges, failure of administration or sexist remarks. If Mr. Chautala can do nothing better than support the Khaps in suggesting child marriage as the solution to rape, he should resign and take rest for some time. Being in opposition, he ought to have raised and channelised this issue against the government and the lax administration. But why should he upset the Khap vote? And, really, why should he, when even a serving female Minister in the Haryana government took an apologetic stand on this issue? The Child and Welfare Minister of Haryana, Ms. Geeta Bhukkal reportedly smells a conspiracy in the way the statistics for rape are presented!
Geeta Bhukkal further said on a CNN IBN show that rape is not a political but social problem. I do not disagree with her completely. However, the phrase “social problem” is often used to tacitly justify, or at least suggest, that rape is a culture that’s acceptable in Haryana. That may be true but Haryana is a part of the Indian Union and the law of the land clearly does not and should not tolerate rape. It’s the constitutional duty of the government to see to it that the rights of individuals are upheld, that innocent citizens are not raped. When the civilian administration fails to do so and the political machinery endorses them, it does become a political problem as well. It is also a law and order problem and a human rights problem besides a social and political problem and it must be dealt with at all those levels. The State cannot abdicate its responsibility by saying that it is a “social” or a “cultural” problem. Even if it’s a culture, it must be changed. And if the government fails to do so, it should resign on moral grounds. If it smells a “conspiracy to malign”, it must look inward for answers.
Our “leaders” have listed almost everything under the sun to explain the occurrence of rape but they haven’t touched upon some very important reasons- rapes happen because there exist deeply misogynistic people in our society who fail to see rape as a crime and think of it as just another form of sex, maybe, or a form of punishment for women. They think that it’s okay to rape, to violate someone else’s body, mind and soul. They ostracize the survivor of rape instead of blaming the perpetrator of this shameful and heinous crime. They assassinate her character, point fingers at her, comment upon her dress, her marital status, her morals, her profession and so on.
It is because of the presence of such people in police, judiciary, politics and, of course, in the Khap panchayats that rape is probably the most underreported crime in this country. It is because of such biases in the police force that fair investigation is hindered. It’s because of the callous nature of investigating officers that women are scared to report this crime. It is because of the presence of such people in mainstream media that new biases are created against survivors of rape (See also: Technicalities of rape, 3 Apr, 2010 issue of Open Magazine).
But why is it so important to explain why a woman was raped? Why is the entire focus on the woman? The single positive thing about “chowmein-causes-rape” controversy is that, for the first time, focus has at least partially shifted away from the rape survivor to the criminal. Yes, it’s not good enough. But probably an understanding has started to sink in, even if subconsciously, that it is not the fault of the victim or of her dress or profession. Hopefully, we’ve started looking for answers elsewhere.
My focus in this piece has been on the political class because they have the means to deal with it. They have vast resources at their disposal to do what is their job- safeguard our rights. The State should, for starters, stop their ideological and verbal support to rapists and punish and reprimand those who make unconstitutional and illegitimate comments about rape & rape survivors, especially when a case is under investigation. All else will follow.