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Need to Agitate Beyond The Biology Of Rape

By Shantanu Mehra

20 December, 2012

The rape of the 23 year old in Delhi has caused nation-wide outrage with candle marches and street plays spearheading an activism for change. However, it is time we analyse how much help or harm such activism has done in actually challenging the discourse of rape being or becoming a ‘culture’ in India. Understanding and analysing the current discourse on rape is imperative or else we shall continue to ignore or undermine the sociological discourse of rape and simply keep our energies focused on the intensity of punishment or simply argue in irrational metaphorical terms of men becoming animals.

There should be consensus about the fact that men are not genetically designed to be rapists. Therefore, attributing violence to men and victimisation to females simply is a wrong assertion to begin with. However, in a country like India, women tend to suffer more than men but this must be put in context. Rape is a manifestation of violent sexual behaviour coated in different social conditions. These conditions decide on how ‘rape-free’ or ‘rape-prone’ a society is.

The principal setback occurs when we speak in the language of ‘Rape is Rape’ and obviously has no significant context apart from being a heinous, inhuman act. The psychological refuge in this argument leaves no room for discussion and who ever discusses might just be perceived as being tolerant towards rape.

Rape is not biology gone wrong but is very much a part human sexual behavior which turns violent because of sociological and cultural settings of which both rapist and victim are part. Therefore it is these social contexts which either makes a society‘rape-free’ or ‘rape-prone’. Death penalty isn’t the way to drag society from being rape-prone to rape-free.

The social context become pertinent and is reflected in responses to the rape cases which get media attention. There was little (if not none) protest against a Dalit widow being raped at around the same time. In this case, there were only few local activists who were advocating for her cause. What were the reasons of the lack of coverage let alone outrage? She being Dalit, or she being in a village? This hints that there is a category of women abuse against which we are more tolerant of as compared to others.

What about Soni Suri? In her case, rape became a subtext or background to the larger political debate in which she was trapped. It seems that people in metros get outraged when there is no context and a rape is simply ‘a rape’. This attitude unfortunately is actually defining the discourse on rape which then becomes widely accepted and is then acted upon.

There are news from local people about rape committed by Army Jawans in North-East and Kashmir valley. Does their patriotism for fighting on the border provide them with a moral shield to not be protested against for their acts.

A Nepali gay hairdresser was raped and murdered in Ber Sarain in Delhi recently. Why was there hardly any coverage and no outrage? Are some bodies less important than others? A lot of the answer lies in the way media treats rape cases. For media as well, the horror of rape only comes true when the girl is based in 'normal' circumstances as other situations might dilute the intensity of rape.

Rape is closely linked to the public and private spaces which are defined for women by the society. The solution of marrying girls early which Khap Panchayats gave is a live example of how misleading and atrocious results can be when we act without thinking beyond the surface. Hence, keeping women indoors doesn’t sound rational but many people end up doing it because there is no clarity on how to cope with socially defined public and private spaces. But what of fathers who rape their daughters? How is the home necessarily a safe place?

In cases of rape, we should also not ignore the ‘fear of discovery’ factor and the role it plays in creating the discourse. The fear factor is not only related to shame but is symbolic of how the victim will be perceived by others in future. In many cases, the rapist is a known member and many a times within the family. However, such cases are often not reacted upon with great intensity as the rape gets layered with kinship relations which are tough to break though.

Therefore, even before we think of solutions, we need to understand the current perceived meaning of gender and women in our society. This might require a lot of personal unlearning for a lot of us where we don’t see women in extremes of either being helpless or strong enough to tackle this by themselves. The rapist can be anyone from a person within the family to a person completely unknown but we should not react as if the horror increases if the person is unknown.

Finally, the dominance of a gang in a rape should not only symbolise power and horror but also how masculinities are affected by social circumstances and why violent sexual behaviour is the outcome of men in groups.

Rape cases need to be tackled at various levels and arguments over punishment especially death penalty is just one of the links. The real concern lies in how we portray women in our society everyday unconsciously and consciously. The solution isn’t simple and definitely does not lie in just scrutinizing the loop holes in punishment delivery system. We need to look at the more micro details which would involve self check in everyday life without being credited for showing concern. This would mean standing up for the rights of women and gender equality without the call of rape! A good way to start is to listen to the female domestic help at your home and help her or her children with their grievances and sensitize them about their rights. This would also include bring her partner together for the initial discussion.

Shantanu Mehra is currently pursuing a research assignment with Charkha Development Communication Network. The research aims to bring to light how marginalized communities in conflict zones can benefit when provided with a media platform to raise their voices. He can be contacted at [email protected]



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