Rape Culture Rears Its Ugly Head Again

In the wake of the gangrape of a young photojournalist in Mumbai, there have once again been encouraging protests by people, expressing anger against sexual violence faced by women. Women have refused to allow fear to rule their lives, and have demanded that the Government take responsibility to safeguard women’s freedom.

While the courage of the rape survivor and determination of Mumbai’s and India’s women not to give up their struggle for unqualified freedom without fear are inspiring, the recent times have also seen an ugly display of rape culture, especially in the political response to rape.

Staring us in the face is a naked display of double standards in the treatment of rape, depending on the power and clout of the accused. In the case of the Delhi and Mumbai rapes, the accused, based on identification by the survivor, were arrested and charged with rape. But godman Asaram charged by a minor girl with sexual assault in the custody of his ashram in Jodhpur, is yet to be arrested, 10 days after the complaint! BJP leaders are openly defending him and his supporters are intimidating the complainant. And the Congress Government of Rajasthan and its police are shamelessly delaying his arrest, on the pretext of ‘investigation’. By failing to arrest him, are they not allowing him to use his clout to intimidate witnesses? Are they not demoralising the complainant? Asaram ought to be immediately charged with aggravated sexual assault under the Prevention of Child Sexual Offences Act, and immediately arrested.

In the wake of the Delhi gangrape, Asaram had met with angry protests for suggesting that the victim was also responsible for the rape, which she could have prevented by calling her assailants ‘brother’ and begging them to spare her. After the Mumbai gang rape, we have been subjected to a spate of victim-blaming and sexist remarks by politicians and ex-cops.

Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agrawal has blamed rape on women’s lifestyle, food habits and clothes. His party colleague Abu Azmi has declared that women are ‘like gold’ – they are bound to be looted unless kept safely locked up. Azmi has blamed women’s clothes for provoking men to rape.

Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil, notorious for his obsession with banning women from dancing in bars, and his support for Mumbai cops who indulge in moral policing, has promised ‘police protection’ for women journalists. And Laloo Yadav declared that girls who choose to become journalists ought to ‘inform police’ when they visit ‘dangerous areas’! Laloo Yadav’s remark shows just how such Patil’s ‘police protection’ will take away the rights of women journalists and be used to blame them for ‘risking’ rape.

The Shiv Sena tried to use the fact that some of the rape-accused are Muslims, to raise a bogey against the minorities, whom they brand as ‘Bangladeshis’. The irony is that just a day before the rape, a Shiv Sena MLA had threatened to have women staff at a toll booth publicly stripped. When an Asaram is accused of sexual assault, the saffron brigade leaps to his defence – but when an ‘Abdul’ is accused of rape, the same saffron forces try to paint the whole minority community as potential rapists. This communal design must be exposed and resisted tooth and nail, emphasizing that rapists’ religion is irrelevant. MNS’ Raj Thackeray predictably used the rape to rant against migrants, and suggested that bangles be offered to RR Patil (implying that he’s not ‘man enough’ to ‘protect’ women). The sexism and misogyny implicit in equating bangles worn by women with lack of courage and political will, escapes the MNS. And of course how can we forget that the ideological forefather of Shiv Sena and MNS, Bal Thackeray, in a Saamna editorial in 2005, had justified the rape of a girl by a cop on Marine Drive, by suggesting that men could not be blamed if they were ‘incited’ by women wearing jeans!

The irony is that all these ruling class politicians are united in their cry for death penalty for rape. The hypocrisy and bankruptcy of this demand is apparent when we see the same politicians openly glorifying men accused of sexual assault: be it Asaram or Chhattisgarh SP Ankit Garg; and blaming women for rape.

Confronted with NCRB figures for 2012-13 showing high rates of rape in Mumbai, an ex-cop YP Singh claimed that the bulk of rape complaints are ‘technical rape’ or ‘false rape’ – i.e, cases of live-in relationships or prostitution deals gone wrong. And to justify this outrageous claim, he explained that most rape complainants do not have serious injuries necessitating hospitalization! Ever since the Mathura rape case of 1980, the women’s movement has struggled against the dangerous idea that rape is ‘genuine’ only if it results in grievous injuries; and even the law no longer holds this view – yet cops entrusted with upholding the law continue to peddle such notions.

The media coverage of the Mumbai rape is also disturbing in its total lack of sensitivity and responsibility. For one thing, the media largely ignores rapes happening in rural India, rapes accompanying caste atrocities and communal violence; or those committed by security forces. The media focuses almost exclusively on some gangrapes, also downplays and even questions the veracity of the daily misogyny and violence faced by women in their ‘normal’ lives. In their quest for sensation, media houses covering the Mumbai rape have chosen to reveal the name of the magazine for which the survivor worked; and have alerted the neighbours and staff in the survivor’s apartment complex that she has been raped. One reported even tried to climb 16 floors to interview the survivor in hospital. There is nothing shameful about being a rape survivor: but the survivor has the right to privacy, so that her identity and her life need not be marked forever by this act of violence. This appalling violation of the survivor’s privacy, and the sensational attention to graphic details of the rape by the media is highly condemnable.

The battle cry of women’s right to ‘freedom without fear’ is what we must continue to raise and emphasise, as we expose and challenge the rape culture of those blaming women for sexual violence and protecting powerful rapists.

Liberation Archive