Our ideas of rape and sexual violence have to be wide enough to see all rape victims as individuals, who have been subjected to a vicious crime that violates their individual liberty and changes their sense of security.
Both times, there were men, many men. In both situations, the women were doing perfectly respectable things, had taken the precaution of not being alone and were appropriately dressed. Both the girls were hard working, ambitious and from middle class backgrounds. They were in decent areas of a sprawling metro city and had not brought attention onto themselves. Both the women now share a history of rape and consequently, of initiating mass movements against the crime. They have triggered protests, demands for respect, new laws for death penalty or castration for the rapists, and for the judiciary to act fast and decisively.
Both the Delhi and the Mumbai rape cases are straightforward for our judicial systems. Uncomfortable questions on the woman’s consent, her activities, profession, clothes, family, upbringing and sexual history don’t have to be raised. It is easy for the police and for our justice systems to fast track them without any disreputable judgments being passed on the women. Death penalty or castration becomes a promising possibility considering that the accused men are criminals, declared to likely descend into a lifetime of alcohol, drugs and other questionable habits. It has also been easy in some measures to protest, to demand better laws, reforms, and education. We have persisted in spite of a small degree of pushback from sections of society, and apathy and resignation from many others. Our protests have also mourned the loss of safety for women and loss of morals as a society. We have questioned our patriarchal systems, and the many reasons why men would want to violently rape these women.
An increasing number of activists, journalists and policy makers have called for new laws and better implementation of older laws. They have called for police reforms to deal with the growing cases of sexual harassment and violence. We have also recognised the importance of educating all citizens, irrespective of their age group on gender equality and to have an awareness towards sexist remarks. Greater awareness by the public has also led to condemnation and a call for removing ministers who have been charged with molestation, rape and sexual violence.
But what if the situation were different? What if the woman in this situation had been someone intoxicated and stumbling out of a bar? What if the woman had been wearing something considered ‘inappropriate’ or ‘indecent’? What if, like the Steubenville Rape case in Ohio, the girl would be intoxicated and unconscious while being gang raped? What if the woman had been raped by her father, brother, uncle, or by an eager fiancée? What if the woman had been raped by her husband? What if the victim had been a man being taught a lesson in masculinity? What if the rape victim was a homosexual? Or a transgendered man or a woman?
What if it had been a different kind of rape? Would our values, morals and non- judgmental way of looking at rape still apply? Would we still call in the same voice and pitch for justice for these victims too? Can we say that we can treat every raped individual as a victim of a heinous crime without colouring the victim or the society itself with shades of our prejudices and narratives? Can we push for justice no matter who the victim is or where and how the rape took place?
For all the clamour about better justice, gender equality and education, there is an even greater need to stop and examine our own conceit and biases. Cases like the one in Delhi and Mumbai have made it easier for us to focus all our passion and moral outrage on our laws and demand greater justice. We have made it easier on ourselves to outrage only when cases like these come up and when our marches and sit ins are not challenged, derided or dismissed because the victim did not fit the profile of the Delhi girl or the Mumbai girl. As a response to this outrage, we risk skewed laws and reforms that will miss the fact that there are rape victims who don’t fit the profile of these two women and rapists who don’t fit the profile of these criminals.
Rape and sexual violence that do not fit into a standard pattern are the ones that will challenge us and our idea of a liberated society. It is easy for us to silence the very small portion of critics who complain about westernised liberal women working in all kinds of environment and going out with boys in the night as “asking for it” when a rape of this sort happens. But the girls were doing things that the larger society deems appropriate. What is acceptable for the society ends up getting unequivocal support too. The challenge however will be in pushing for justice when a different kind of rape takes place and in getting people to acknowledge that what should matter in a rape is that the victim gets justice.
We need to stand up to a society that declares a differently dressed woman, an effeminate man, a transgender person or a woman who does not have full control of her faculties, as someone who is “asking for it”. Any sexual abuse, violence or harassment is a crime against an individual. At no point should it be seen as a judgment on our society, family or an assault on honour. If we don’t see it thus, we risk succumbing to the pressure from a society that fails to challenge unconventional crimes and fails to accept lifestyles that it looks down upon. We also end up making the victim guilty twice over: of “asking for it”, and for trying to get justice for an act that the victim could have prevented.
Our ideas of rape and sexual violence have to be wide enough to see all rape victims as individuals, subjected to a vicious crime that violates their individual liberty and changes their sense of security. The crime and our response to the crime—not the status of the victim—should be a weather vane for the depths that our society has plunged into. The Supreme Court has recently taken a very bold step by refusing to compromise on judgment in rape cases even if the victim forgives the accused. This is a much required stance that will prevent the victim from being coerced into a situation of taking on the responsibility of the crime. It is one small step. Until we push for further recognition within our society and in our laws to recognise all rape as an unpardonable violation of individual liberty and dignity irrespective of the situation, and irrespective of our personal biases and prejudices, we are and will remain our own worst enemies.
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