Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rape is not a crime

The recent much publicized and highly controversial case of a woman raped at gunpoint in the up-market park street area of Kolkata seems to have brought all our repressive and regressive ideas about sex/sexual violence to the forefront again. As has a more recent case in Falta, roughly 100 odd kilometers from Kolkata, where the father of the school-age victim of an abduction and gang rape actually has to move court to get the local authorities to even register his report (still no actual case registered as of this morning).

As a culture, the shamefully biased and anti victim stance we have in such matters is of almost legendary proportions. We make a cultural art form out of victim shaming/victim blaming, and go all out to excuse, encourage, and make the perpetrators comfortable and safe in every possible way. We make an art form out of ignoring the victim, or maligning them, and completely exonerating the perpetrators.

The most glaring example of our complete blind spot towards sexual violence is that we have practically no laws to deal with it. We have absolutely no law to deal with the rape of a minor or any form of short or long term child sexual abuse. The only law which is used in some way to deal with sexual offences against a child is the section 377 of the IPC, which in turn creates a lot of mess for adults engaging in consensual sexual activity. We also do not have any kind of a competent law to deal with rape and other forms of sexual assault and harassment, forget a comprehensive one. We have no decent infrastructures or processes in place to collect evidence in such cases, or to even register a case without precious time being wasted.

What laws exist leave a lot to be desired, what processes exist are flawed and made worse by the lack of sensitivity and training among baseline law enforcement personnel. Until very recently, there was also no law dealing with marital rape. In fact the concept of marital rape still does not exist in our culture. After all, a wife is the property of the husband, to do as he likes, and sex within a marriage is a duty she owes him, and a right he can claim anytime he likes. The question of whether there is her desire, her consent, or her willingness, does not come into the matter at all. Also, it is the most often unreported crime. Neither the women, nor her well wishers, nor anyone around has any knowledge of marital rape – what it is, and whether it is a crime – and the Indian woman is highly unlikely to tell anyone even if she suffers it repeatedly.

We don’t have stringent laws, or any enforcement of existing laws – however weak they may be – to deal with molestation and sexual harassment in public spaces. In fact, to us, it is such a non-crime that we even give it the very benign name of eve teasing, as if that’s all it is, a little harmless teasing of protesting but basically willing girls. Whereas, it is probably the single biggest problem faced by any woman in India on a day to day basis. Of all the women I have met in my thirty six years of life, there is not a single one who has not been accosted, groped, inappropriately touched, or had offensive language thrown at her in buses, trains, crowded rail stations, and a thousand other places.

In the absence of a go-to solution for legal recourse, each one of us has come up with her own defense mechanism. Some carry rolled up umbrellas under their arms to prod unwanted physical closeness from pot bellied wannabe lotharios insistent on invading your private space. Some carry large safety pins to stab the groping hand with. And, more recently, some carry pepper spray or good old mirchi powder. It is a SHAME – in capital letters – that every single woman HAS to take “eve teasing” in her stride, as a way of life, as a necessary evil, something that must be endured because it can’t be cured. Our repressive culture even makes it very difficult for her to raise a hue and cry during the incident, because SHE is the one who will get the leers of all the people around her.

In the case of a schoolgirl, abducted by local goons, and gang raped for 10 days before she managed to escape, it is much worse. Although she was found by a police patrol, wandering dazed after her escape, and although her injuries are severe enough to warrant her being hospitalized for a month, no case is being registered, and the south 24 parganas SP actually goes on record with a statement that he APPRECIATES the Falta OC for not registering a complaint since this is apparently a case of the victim having an AFFAIR with the accused!

The highly injured, traumatized, and now pregnant, schoolgirl was having an AFFAIR with the five accused??? So the injuries, severe enough for her to still be in hospital more than a month later are no more than love-bites. Is it? And her trauma, and nightmares, and overall psychological shock is probably just pretense. Right? All this conclusion drawn from knowing nothing about the case? The point here is that regardless of what actually did or didn’t happen, the victim wants to register a case, they bloody well have to take the FIR. Facts of the case, affair or rape, blah blah, are all things that will eventually be sorted out via an investigation. It is not for the OC or the SP or anyone else to decide on the MERITS of the case BEFORE a complaint has been officially registered! It is not up to them to play judge and jury and dismiss a complaint out of hand!

Imagine then, how much worse it is for someone to garner the strength of heart to report a case of rape, especially given how our society treats victims. Most of the people I talk to, and Indian society in general, don’t even consider rape to be an especially heinous crime. In most minds, it is something that happens to young, good looking, PARTY going women who dress inappropriately (meaning anything from jeans and a long kurta to tube tops and mini skirts) who frequent pubs and bars, stay out late, and indulge in such WESTERN vices as socializing with the opposite sex, drinking, etc. so, all in all, it is their own fault, and the men are not to blame. Even in horrific cases, such as the rape of a 10 month old baby, the rapist gets a reduced sentence because the judge “understands” that he was living away from his wife and family, and was therefore lonely and frustrated!!!

When a woman arrives at a police station to register a complaint of rape, first she faces leers, then, the officer in charge makes comments like “how is it possible for someone to be raped in a moving car? Can you show me the exact position you were in when you were raped?” Then, when she refuses to be intimidated by all this, and insists on registering a complaint, they tell her to come back the next day, with a written statement, because apparently her STORY was inconsistent. When the case is finally registered, the chief of police makes statements like “she is already separated from her husband, what was a mother of two doing in a nightclub so late at night?” as if who she is and where she was has anything to do with it.

This only amply illustrates the Indian mentality. For a woman, being in a nightclub is an automatic certificate of loose morals. From personal experience, I can say this is not a rare mentality. When some friends and I made plans to go dancing, I made the mistake of inviting a young relative and his wife to come along. When he mentioned the plans at home, all hell broke loose! The outing was compared to going to some 10 rupees a pop prostitute! Keep in mind that this was not some man planning to visit a seedy dance bar with cronies. This was a bunch of married and committed people, with their spouses and partners, going to a reputed discotheque, in a group. No hanky panky, no seediness, nothing. Just some harmless fun. Not surprising then that a married but separated woman, alone in a nightclub at 2 am, is seen as little more than an escort. The point though, (which Indians will never get) is that it doesn’t matter. Even if the person is a prostitute, selling his/her body for money, they still have the right to say no, and no one, absolutely no one has ANY right to force any sexual activity on them.

We also don’t seem to understand, as a culture, that rape is not a crime about sex. It is about violence and power. If it was about sex and attraction, random strangers wouldn’t grope women they don’t know in buses and trains. If it was about sex and attraction, 10 month old babies and 90 year old grandmothers would not be routinely raped. If it was about sex and attraction, male rape would not be such a major part of subduing your enemies and the prisoners of war in any combat situation. RAPE IS VIOLENCE pure and simple. It is one party ASSERTING THEIR POWER over someone they see as less powerful.

And victim shaming, telling people that “it must be something you did” just gives MORE power to the rapists. Excusing men as helpless creatures with no control over their raging libidos just gives them an excuse to continue this kind of TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE behavior. It discourages women and children and victimized men from speaking up, which gives the rapists even more of an excuse to continue this kind of TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE behavior. It destroys the victim’s sense of self, or self worth, or self respect, all of which are already in tatters from the trauma of the crime itself. It also causes the general public to see rape as pure titillation. Rape scenes in Hindi films are tantamount to porn, to be rewound again and again for morbid enjoyment. Why? Because not only was she asking for it, deep down, in her heart of hearts, she enjoyed it! THAT’S the kind of mentality that has created today’s rapist friendly India.

Insensitivity is all pervasive, from the absence of adequate female constables and officers to take reports and escort the victims to their medical examinations, to the administration of the archaic and meaningless (especially in the case of women who have been sexually active before the incident) two-finger test on the victim (which they are finally talking about dropping).  In spite of a clear ruling from the judiciary that simply the word of the victim is enough grounds to register a case and begin investigations, especially forensic investigations (for evidence like sperm, which degenerates over time and any delay can mean the absence of conclusive proof), cases are routinely delayed, as with the park street rape incident, where forensic tests were finally conducted something like 9 days after the incident. Fat chance of finding anything! And this is being touted as another doubt, that there are only abrasions, but no CONCLUSIVE evidence of rape! Whose fault is that? And the Falta case? A month and more of delay in even registering a case has comprehensively ensured that there is absolutely no forensic evidence left to find!

This is how we react to the few cases of rape that are ever reported, which are probably some 10 percent of the cases that actually occur. We STILL have no concept, no teeny tiny discussion even, of male rape. We still think of and deal with child sexual abuse as a crime perpetrated by the dreaded STRANGER which is too rare to even think about, whereas some 60% of adults have faced some form of it in their childhoods, and given the blindness, encouragement to perpetrators, and the overall increase in crimes against women and children, the number is probably much higher today.

I really think we should all, collectively, wake up and smell the coffee!


  1. Beautifully written.. leave rape being considered a sex or power crime.. in most cases like you have quoted it is not even considered a crime.

    "Some carry rolled up umbrellas under their arms to prod unwanted physical closeness from pot bellied wannabe lotharios insistent on invading your private space. " - so true.. its is either a big handbag or a pin.. something to protect our space.

    1. sad fact of everyday life in india :(

  2. Hard hitting post. It really bothers me that absolutely indifferent, incompetent and insensitive people have the authority to take decisions that affect victims of horrendous crimes. The saddest is when they 'accuse' little kids of having 'affairs' with rapists. They don't even know that legally (and otherwise) a child cannot have an affair with an adult - it's child abuse any way.

    1. it is no wonder rape, molestation, and sexual harassment are among the lest reported crimes. everyone from the colleagues and family to the authorities responsible for safeguarding the victim's rights are more than eager to shift blame, responsibility, shame, on to the victim. anything not to have to face the fact the fact that we have created, and foster, a society that constantly victimises certain sections -- women, children, LGBT people, and anyone else who doesn't have the right to feel powerful under the heteronormative and Patriarchal model. hell, even i would think twice before reporting, given that from the struggle to even register and FIR, to the 20 year lawsuits, to the very tiny likelihood of the perpetrators actually being punished, its all really really loaded against the victim.