Monday, August 26, 2013

A rape is a rape. Period.

"We get roused into action only when someone like us is affected. But isn’t every single rape a human tragedy of the worst kind? And surely every single rape should shock us into action?"
By: Anil Dharkar

A rape is a rape is a rape. At least one would think so: any violation of a woman’s body is brutal, it is physically damaging, but more than that it is psychologically traumatising to such an extent that the person is scarred for life.

Our hearts, therefore, go out to the victim of the gang rape in Mumbai; we want to say sorry to her on behalf of every male in the world, but we know that’s a meaningless gesture. We end up doing nothing, except hoping that time will heal the wounds.
In the first three months of this year, 91 cases of rape were registered across various police stations in Mumbai, for long considered India’s safest city. If that average is maintained through the year, 2013 will be one of the worst years ever. Figures over the recent past confirm a rising graph: in the years 2010, 2011 and 2012, the number of rapes totalled 192, 219 and 231 respectively. Here we are talking of registered rapes; as any sociologist will tell you, there are many more that go unreported. That’s because many take place within families, and families do a cover-up to “save face”; many others go unreported because the woman is too scared to file a report.

Then, of course, there are rapes which do not enter our consciousness. On Thursday, August 22, the day the gangrape of the photojournalist took place in Mumbai, only about three kilometers away an unidentified man lured a six-year-old girl with chocolate, took her to a secluded spot and molested her. For some unexplained reason, he didn’t rape her, which is the only surprising element in the story because our newspapers carry tiny items like this on the city pages every other day: the “action” takes place in a slum, a man —
usually a neighbour — sees a little girl by herself, offers to buy her chocolate (the only weapon needed in these cases), takes her to an isolated place and rapes her. If she is lucky, he sends her off with a warning; if she isn’t, he kills her.

The police may register these cases if the girl’s parents insist, but they certainly don’t register all. For us, this has happened in a slum, in the underbelly of the city where “these things happen”. These brutalised young girls probably suffer even greater physical and mental trauma than an older, educated woman who can secure better medical treatment and counselling, but do we really care?
Don’t misunderstand me: I am in no way belittling the horror of the young (and brave) photojournalist; I am just pointing out that a rape is a rape is a rape isn’t necessarily true. We get roused into action only when someone like us is affected. But isn’t every single rape a human tragedy of the worst kind? And surely every single rape should shock us into action?

What should that action be? The Shakti Mills rape case has brought on the usual shrill cries of “Hang the rapists!” or “Castrate them all!” Spokesmen of political outfits like the Shiv Sena, always looking for opportunities to flaunt their favourite battle-cry, jump up and say, “These crimes happen because of outsiders and migrants.” They say this even before any of the suspects are caught and, for all you know, all of them were born and brought up in Amchi Mumbai. Whatever their origins, punishment like castration and hanging should never feature in any debate on rape. At least not in a civilised country. Chemical castration has been used in the West, but only for habitual offenders who, after repeated sexual crimes and repeated incarcerations, show no sign of either repentance or reform.
So what is to be done in rape cases? Punishment, without doubt, should be severe — perhaps as severe as life imprisonment. The judicial process should be quick and taken up in fast-track courts so that the accused doesn’t get off on bail with a chance to further traumatise the victim.
Yet, will this stop rapes? Realistically, it is impossible for the police force, given its small numbers, to patrol all isolated areas. Some experts have said that rapes wouldn’t happen if people were afraid of the law, but is this really true? Most rapes are committed on the spur of the moment: an opportunity is seen and, literally, seized. In such a scenario, the rapist acts without any thought of the consequences, so the prospect of even a long jail term does not act as a deterrent. If we look at both the December 16 gangrape in New Delhi and now the gangrape in Mumbai, the rapists don’t seem to have considered the consequences of their actions at all. In Delhi, they dumped the 23-year-old victim and her friend out of the bus in Mumbai, they only threatened the young photojournalist with uploading the pictures of the rape.

For women, and for us as a society, any solution has to be long term. And they have to focus on our attitudes to women. Recently, three women tourists from Delhi visiting a historic fort in Maharashtra were harassed by a group of young men who constantly brushed against them and also photographed them. A Chicago University student Michaela Cross’ article on the CNN blog has gone viral on the Internet. “Do I tell people about our first night in Pune when we danced in the Ganesh festival?” she writes, “Or do I tell them how the festival stopped when we started dancing, and every man began to film us? Do I tell them about bargaining at the bazaar for beautiful saris or the men who pushed by us, clawing at our breasts and groins? When people compliment me on my Indian sandals, do I talk about the man who stalked me for 45 minutes after I purchased them?”

This, sadly, is par for the course if you are a woman. How will all this change? With education? Better living spaces than slums? How long will all that take? Do women have to live through hell until then?

The writer is a senior journalist


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