When a poll declared that India was the world’s worst country to be a woman, with Saudi Arabia following, the Western world was bewildered; our newspapers screamed out the headline; politicians were dismissive; men were puzzled. But I doubt any woman who’s grown up in this sex-starved nation of perverts was surprised.
When you’re a woman growing up in this country, whatever place you occupy on the socio-economic scale, and whichever city you live in, chances are that you’ve been groped, molested or worse, at least once in your life. Usually, the count is far higher. I know women who’ve had their clothes cut, who’ve been urinated on, and who’ve been kissed, in crowded buses. And I don’t know any woman who hasn’t been groped.
You quickly make your own safety rules. If you have to take a bus, you board early at the depot, and learn not to get up for old, disabled or pregnant women. If you’re ogled, you pretend to be on the phone. If you have to head out late, you make sure you have a man – and, ideally, pepper spray – with you. If you’re flashed, you look bored, avert your eyes, and walk away. If you’re followed, you race to a police station and park outside till your stalker leaves.
You read about rape so often that you learn not to be affected by it, unless it happens to you. And you make sure it won’t happen to you by being safe. But then, you realise suddenly that you’re never safe. And that in the twenty-first century, our politicians will blame rape on increased interaction between men and women, on chow mein, on late marriage, and on a hyperactive media that reports rape. Their solutions?
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee believes parents should reprimand people who hold hands, and the press should shut up about rape, in the interest of “positive journalism”.
Former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala believes that women should be married by 16 – apparently, providing men with younger virgins will lessen their appetite for more.
And khap panchayat leader Jitender Chhattar believes “light and nutritious food” will channel men towards less tamasic pursuits.
A few months ago, Assamese channel News Live broadcast the molestation of a Guwahati resident by a gang, clearly egged on by a cameraman who later claimed he was trying to identify the men involved. The editor, who has since resigned, insinuated that the girl may have been a prostitute, since bars are apparently frequented by prostitutes. Whether he believes prostitutes should be molested with impunity is, of course, another issue.
In this country, rape has become a page-filler. And yet, rapists are rarely convicted. Even when convicted, they rarely spend more than a year or two in jail. A case in point is Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, who walked free after serving two concurrent seven-year sentences for assault and robbery – not for rape, molestation or unnatural sexual offence – despite strangling, sodomising and brutalising nurse Aruna Shanbaug into a vegetative state.
Dr Sunitha Krishnan, co-founder of the NGO Prajwala, has often spoken about the prejudice and contempt victims of rape and trafficking face. A victim of rape herself, she spoke at a TED conference three years ago about her experience, telling the audience that what traumatised her more than the gang-rape was the stigmatisation she faced from society and from her own family.
But despite campaigns and demonstrations, despite education and economic progress, we remain the most unsafe country in the world for women. Hell, even toddlers aren’t safe. Days ago, a 13-month old child was raped by a man in his 20s, and a 2-year-old was molested by a man in his 60s, in Solapur, incidentally the hometown of Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.
Not even our campuses are safe. A student of the National Law in Bangalore was raped in the adjoining campus of Bangalore University. All news reports about the incident made it a point to mention that she was out late at night with a man she had met online (who, incidentally, was also beaten up by the men who raped her).
On Tuesday, a man accused of raping an 8-year-old child at the Kalakshetra campus in Madras was let off by a court, which reportedly said recording a statement before a magistrate and picking out the suspect in an identification parade didn’t make for enough documentary evidence to convict the man.
For years, filmmakers from Madras and Bombay churned out movies where saintly heroines would insist on marrying their rapists, and converting them into honourable men – rather than inflicting their sullied selves on those deserving of better.
It wouldn’t surprise me anymore if a khap panchayat that believes chow mein leads to sexual crime were to reason that the said crime can be wiped off by making the victim marry the rapist.
Maybe the only deterrent to rape would be to castrate the rapist without anaesthesia, and then sodomise him with a hot iron rod. But since that won’t ever happen, I suppose we must reassure ourselves that rapists will be chastened by weaving baskets in jail for a year or two, before they set out again into a world filled with prospective victims.