Protest Nation

We’re a protest nation now. We are ready to set up Facebook petitions, start signature campaigns, and take our demands to streets. It might be against corruption or FDI in retail; anything that demands action from others. The ‘others’ is usually the establishment: governments, police, judiciary or a specific politician.

The recent drama unfolding in the capital is one of those varieties. We are angry because a few guys had brutally gang-raped and tortured a college girl. We want to hang those guys to ‘teach’ a lesson to all those other wannabe rapists. We believe that all our guilt will wash away the moment those three guys walked to their gallows. We also want to extend this ‘punishment’ to all future offenders so that India will become free of rape-related offences. In this punishing-frenzy of theirs, our protesters have ended up even killing a police constable.

This is another demonstration to show that we are also a knee-jerk nation. We react to situations immediately. The easiest option we could think of here was the capital punishment for rape.

Expecting that capital punishment will deter someone from raping a woman is to expect that terrorists in Pakistan will quit their activities because Kasab had been hanged. Also, do we like to believe that spending seven years of rigorous imprisonment and losing any future life subsequently hasn’t been discouraging the potential offenders? If I set out to rape someone, would I be held back because I think there’s a possibility of being hanged, but will not mind spending seven years behind bars?

The problem is not punishment. The problem is that of taboo. In India, rape sits very heavily on women and quite lightly on men. Still, in most parts of India we do not consider rape as a crime, but a mere ‘transgression’. A few days back, I saw a Rajinikanth film called Panakkaran, a Tamil remake of Lawaaris. In the film, the son of a feudal lord rapes Rajinikanth’s foster sister. The entire village erupts in anger and are subsided only after the chief promises that his son will marry the girl he had raped! Then, Rajini and others celebrate this as a great achievement! Are you surprised? Well, I haven’t seen the Hindi version, but I can recall at least two other Tamil films where rape is resolved in similar fashion. Just when the students were wreaking havoc in the capital, a girl in Patiala had committed suicide because when she had gone to report that she was gang-raped, the cops had apparently taunted, humiliated and even pressurised her to marry ‘one of’ the rapists!

Secondly, we think rape is about sex. We try to find various ways to either ‘justify’ or ‘solve’ the problem of rape. We think men are driven to rape because women dress ‘provocatively’. It is a bit confusing what ‘provokes’ men. In Afghanistan, apparently, seeing a woman’s ankles induces men to sex. In Delhi, it seems a sleeveless blouse will do. According to an MP from Rajasthan, banning skirts in schools will ‘solve’ the problem. Then another politician shares his wisdom that it is because people marry late these days and that is the problem, because, you see, they remain sex-starved.

Rape has rarely been about sex. I am not an expert on the physiological or psychological aspect of this crime, but I doubt whether the men who commit this crime ever reach a satisfying orgasm. Yes, they must be sadists and drawing some sadomasochistic pleasure out of this act, but I doubt if that pleasure was sexual. Rape is about power, dominance, and above all violence. Those who commit it are trying to prove a point, more so to themselves than to the victim. Of course, the victim is the target of this ‘proving a point’ and this point is often about dominance; to show that they are superior, to establish to themselves that ‘men are greater than women’. It can often be about establishing one group’s dominance over the other. That’s why we see so many rapes during communal riots or during war. When one army ‘successfully’ enters the civilian area of another, they try to ‘seal’ their victory by raping the women of ‘other’.

In south Asian societies, where virginity is priceless, where once a woman loses it out of wedlock she loses everything about her life, rape is also about desecrating a woman’s life. It is not just her, but even her family is stigmatised. Woman is also a ‘possession’, in other words, considered as ‘property’ of the family or the immediate clan. The North West Frontier cultures still practice the ‘giving away’ of women to settle old feuds between two clans. Considering all this, a rape is also a ‘dishonour’ of the family or the clan: a sort of ‘vandalising’ someone’s property. An Indian male instinctively understands all this; that a woman’s sexuality is far more than just a physical aspect. He knows that he has destroyed her entire life once he has ‘violated’ her. No amount of punishment is going to rob him of this satisfaction and contentment.

In the western societies, who are more enlightened and women are more empowered, rape could be considered as mere sexual transgression. It tends to cause more psychological scar than physical one and there are well-established processes such as trauma-counselling, etc. Rape in India, however, needs to be approached from a very different angle.

How are we, as society, going to address this taboo attached to rape? How and when are we going to lose our obsession to virginity? What plans do we have to educate our men about feminism and empowerment? When are our regional films going to start portraying rape as it really is: a heinous crime? When are our families going to start treating women as equals and not inferior members?

Unless the questions posed in the previous paragraphs are addressed satisfactorily, it is difficult to reduce the number of rape incidents. No amount of stringent punishments or fast-track courts will be able to do that. Significantly, these questions cannot be addressed by governments or judiciary. These are to be addressed by each one of us. That is the trouble here. As society, we are brought up to believe that all our ills are caused by, and to be solved by, politicians. It is a very convenient idea that helps us blame, caricature, and also look up towards them.

Whilst writing this piece, the girl whose case had the capital up in arms died in a Singapore hospital. Now the capital punishment can be awarded to the culprits without any judicial reservations. The central government has already promised daily hearings for the trial, both of which should quench the bloodthirsty crowd. They can now disperse without a care for what causes us, Indian men, treat our women brutally, with or without rape. Parts of the nation were enraged when Dhananjoy Chatterjee raped and murdered a girl. Subsequently he was hanged. That hadn’t prevented the villains of Amanat case to indulge in it. Now these four are most likely going be hanged, possibly on the same day to ‘teach’ our other wannabe rapists a lesson. Would that stop us from ill-treating our women? Would that make us believe that women are equal? Would that make the ‘weeping’ and tweeting Bollywood from referring to women as ‘item’, ‘maal’, ‘cheez’ in our movies?

What will stop all these things and start a new era in male-female relationship in India? Because that is the only change that is capable of reducing any further violence against women! With or without rape!

p.s. I wrote this piece a few days back, but since my site was down, I couldn’t post it. Thanks Subbu for restoring the server!