Misfortunes never come singly, they come in groups. As do rapes, or news there of. It started as a trickle and became a surge. First there was one, and then another and then some more. Cases were reported from across the country, brutality and depravity being the common theme.
As always, more than sympathy and concern for the victim, there was a feeling of horror and disgust about the gruesome incident, a collective shame and the need to distance oneself from it. Thus began the denials, the justifications, the communal angle, the conspiracy theories and the blame games.
And then the usual analysis, discussing the incident threadbare in newsrooms, drawing rooms and on social media. This time since a child was involved we were spared the details about what she was wearing and what she was doing and whether she was asking for it. This time we sunk deeper though. The debate was whether she got more than her fair share of sympathy because she belonged to a minority community. Whether a Hindu raped by a Muslim would have evoked the same response. Whether the rape and its reporting was just a drama, a ploy to malign the ruling party.
This was followed by the customary, well meaning voices going berserk, demanding justice, an eye for an eye. An exemplary punishment to deter the psychopaths. The usual clamour for death. Not understanding that certainty of punishment is more important than its severity. Most sexual offenders know their way out of the swamp, so the severity of the punishment loses relevance. A person will jump into the muck only if he knows that he can swim out of it or has someone who will help him do so. The fact that it took three months for this case to hit national headlines shows similar forces at work here.
Although the first reaction to such acts of depravity is the urge to hang the perverts or castrate them, rape can’t be eliminated by punishing the rapists in a barbaric manner. The problem isn’t these few bad men and their unrestrained sexual urges. Had it been just them it could have been treated as an aberration, easily eliminating this statistical anomaly. The fact of the matter is that sexual abuse in various forms runs far and deep in our society. The High Court pointed to another adverse effect of the death penalty when it recently questioned the centre’s hastily passed ordinance recommending it for the rape of a minor. A decision which it said, besides doing little good may cost the victim her life. If the punishment for rape and murder is the same, there is little to stop the offender from killing off the victim. Also, by resorting to capital punishment we conveniently ignore the root cause, the ubiquitous misogynistic culture from which sexual crimes sprout.
If one cares to notice, our medieval, patriarchal mindset is on display in the aftermath of a rape. Resistance to register the case, blaming and shaming the victim, condoning the crime, protecting the accused, proposing ulterior motives are all parts of this spectrum. The worst and most damaging is the comments ( or silence!) of those who make our laws and are entrusted to protect them. The underlying theme of these mindless rants is the complete absence of male accountability. The common belief is that the burden of social order and morality lies with women. How can a society decide and enforce moral values if there is a foundational disagreement over what those values are? To eradicate rape we have to eliminate the notion of women being a sexual object, an idea which is etched in our psyche and strengthened by our upbringing, education, and media influences. The truth is, we can reach a solution only when our society becomes a gender egalitarian one.
Another bothersome fallout is that after failing to protect the victim we go through great lengths to protect her identity. By giving her a far fetched mythical name we take away the human angle from the story. We also perpetuate the theory that she should be ashamed of what has happened to her and hide behind a veil of anonymity. A survivor should be commended for her courage. The perpetrator of the crime should hide in shame, as should the people around her, for failing to protect her from bodily harm. In this particular case the only detail worth hiding was her religion for what does religion have to do with it. A child is a child irrespective of which God didn’t answer her prayers on that fateful day.
In our profession we encourage cancer survivors to come forward, share their experience thus helping others in a similar predicament. While doing good unto others, this exercise is known to help healing. Since rape is a social disease it should be treated in a similar manner. Only a multi prong approach will help eradicate this evil. So while our government works on changing laws we need to change the way we look at rape, rape survivors and rapists.
(published in my column in the Tribune on 28/4/2018)