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Spare our bodies….
I am writing this just a few hours after the critical verdict ( Nirbhaya case). And asking myself in a somewhat cynical way – does it matter? Even if the rapists / butchers are given the death penalty, will the rapes end? I think we are deluding ourselves by pinning all our hopes on one very critical judgement. And we have fooled ourselves into believing the mindset in India will alter dramatically after Nirbhaya’s killers are given the severest punishment. This is simply not going to happen. And here’s why : Rapists in India are as varied as our culture itself. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes . There is no standardized profile of a rapist. The urban rapist is no different from the rural rapist. A man in a well cut suit is as much of a rapist as that petty criminal clad in rags. A husband can also be a rapist. So can a brother, father, grand-father, uncle, cousin and son – no class barriers here. Rape takes place within the four walls of a home, at the work place, inside a hotel room…. or on the street, in a moving bus, at an abandoned mill. The rapist can be a colleague in a swanky corner office, or the shabbily dressed watchman of the building. Often, the rapist is a person the woman knows and trusts. With her life. She is still not spared.
Rapists rarely stop to think about the punishment that awaits them once the nasty business is over and done with. Most rely on the woman’s silence to protect them from the law. A victim’s silence is the rapist’s best insurance against getting nailed. And here we are talking about reported cases. There are millions of unreported rapes which feature repeat offenders. Do those men ever imagine they’ll be exposed some day? Nope. They are super confident it’s the woman who will fear exposure far more and keep mum forever. So, even if our laws are changed overnight, the crimes against women will continue unabated. Because it is our society that is guilty, not just the individual rapist. What can be done about that collective guilt? Where does one begin? At home, is the general opinion. Worth a go, if we can forget the alarming statistics involving domestic rape. Can we? Should we?
The other theory talks of shame. Especially the shame society imposes on the victim. Social workers tell us to free women of the stigma of shame. Others insist on the survivor’s identity being made public. We urge women to look the world in the eye and carry on with their lives sans shame. But, for starters, how does one explain the meaning of ‘shame’ to a three- year- old little girl whose tiny body has been ripped apart by a brute? What do we say to that 15- year- old villager whose ‘virginity’ is sold to a 70-year-old widower? How does the concept of lifting the veil of shame enter the picture when the woman has been gang raped in public?
The truth is, we are all struggling to find solutions to this scourge, when there aren’t too many. Rape is one of the original sins, as ancient as the other seven. Rape goes hand in hand with a sense of entitlement and power. Rape is about violence, not sex. And the men who commit it, are often convinced they are well within their rights to go ahead and violate women. Educated, elite men commit rape as casually as street goondas. So, it’s clearly not about the college degrees you possess or the cars you drive. It is not about an enlightened upbringing, either. Some of India’s most ‘cultured’ families have shielded rapists and damned the survivors. To talk about raising baby boys with the ‘right values’ has become an annoying television cliché. I cannot believe any family actually ‘endorses’ or encourages rape. It’s a daunting scenario, no matter which way we look at it. And please let’s not talk about chemically castrating rapists stoning them in public, or adopting any other medieval form of justice. If crimes against women have gone up dramatically, it is because of a set of altered social circumstances that we are still not comfortable with. The elephant in the room has a name and identity. The creature can best be called an ‘empowered woman’. Today, most women are empowered in their own unique way. Even the impoverished, illiterate ones. They know who they are. And what they want. The day rapists realize they can rape a woman’s body but not her mind, heart and soul, perhaps the futility of their vicious acts will finally sink home. And our bodies will be spared. This is more my prayer than a real hope. Is the Almighty listening?