Recently, we were informed that Afzal Guru and Shafqat Hussain were forced to have anal sex as part of torture and humiliation in Tihar jail. A dense web of phobias and hatreds surround this revelation: the hatred of the Kashmiri Muslim, the reading of anal sex as humiliation, a hatred of homosexuals. But it also blows the lid open on a seldom talked about phenomenon in Indian prisons: sodomy and male rape.
Arun Ferreira in his recently published prison memoir Colours of the Cage also speaks about the sexual vicitimisation of male inmates, particularly the more chikna (cleanshaven) and younger ones. In all the public discourse about rape, male rape is seldom talked about. The rape of hijras has become part of the discourse around rape.
At one moment in his memoir, Ferreira speaks about some hijras being brought to the jail and the authorities not knowing where to place them as if they were placed with the men, they would surely be gangraped.
The routineness of male rape is only matched by the silence around it. This silence has to be broken not only because such rape should stop but also because there is a symbiotic connection between it and the violence that men visit upon women’s bodies and the bodies of sexual minorities. Unless we talk about this culture of male rape and what it tells us about masculinity and male sexuality, our fight against rape will be ineffective.
Sexual violence against men in custody is the nation’s most well-kept secret. From Kashmiri men routinely getting their genitalia electrocuted by the army and police to the pouring of kerosene into men’s anuses as part of interrogation-based torture, very few people talk about it and it is met with an unnerving silence.
But violence is also what inmates do to each other men in prison, men lining up to rape new inmates, more influential prisoners making young men into sexual slaves while everyone pretends not to notice. A Basharat Peer or an Arun Ferreira might mention these things but the silence quickly covers over them.
Nobody, least of all the men who suffer it, want to talk about it. Why does this conspiracy of silence exist? What it points to is the fragile and tawdry fabric beneath which the anxieties of masculinity lie barely concealed. This fabric is rent by the acknowledgement of sexual violence against men.
Masculinity needs to present itself as whole, in control, inviolable. Anal rape of men does not allow for that presentation.
It instead shows that masculinity inhabits the same messy terrain as femininity or gayness, the terrain of fallibility. Usually, men maintain this denial by transferring the violence onto women, homosexuals, other men. When they are violated, the denial is rendered impossible to maintain any more.
This breakdown must never be spoken of. The violated man is in the position of the receiver, the weak, the penetrated, the vulnerable. These are states women are used to, homosexuals are used to, but not men. These are not states that must ever be acknowledged by men.
These ideas have to change. It is only when men acknowledge their own vulnerability, the effects of violence on them, that the overall culture of violence will be questioned. The psychic and bodily damage of sexual violence if not addressed only produces more violence.
We must ask why the police, the army and paramilitary forces resort to sexual violence first. We must ask why prisoners visit sexual violence upon co-prisoners first. These cycles of violence have to be broken and this can only happen when we no longer participate in the conspiracy of silence around male rape and we rescue masculinity from the denial-based armour behind which it conceals itself. We have to render masculinity historical and vulnerable and real.
In the important fight against torture and custodial violence, it is equally important that we articulate the reality of male rape and sexual violence on men. It is only when we begin speaking about this that the culture of rape in this country will begin to die.
The title of this article comes from the Mahasweta Devi story ‘Dopdi’ in which the narrator refers to a tribal man who has been tortured in custody and who bit his tongue off so as not give in: “That boy did it. They kountered him. When they kounter you, your hands are tied behind you. All your bones are crushed, your sex is a terrible wound. Killed by police in an encounter…unknown male…age 22…”
It is only when we speak of this terrible wound that we might begin to heal.
More from the author:
Destroying teachers and celebrating Teachers’ Day
The problem with popular feminism in India
UK beheading incident gives insight into India's own double standards on violence
Mourning Mudassir's suicide: The tragic tale of a Kashmiri student
Delhi rape case: Death penalty, castration and changing the juvenile age law are not the answer
Ashley Tellis is a freelance writer, editor and gay activist