The experience of the Kolkata victim shows why rape is still a crime that dares not speak its name.
So, what was a 37-year-old divorcee with two children doing at a nightclub in Calcutta well past midnight? Well, I’ll tell you what she wasn’t doing. She wasn’t looking to get brutally gang-raped at gunpoint in a moving car by a bunch of vicious thugs.
That’s all you really need to know. She wasn’t looking to get raped.Other than that, her sexual history, her marital circumstances, what she was wearing, how much she was drinking, how she was behaving, none of it is at all relevant. All that matters is that she wasn’t asking to be sexually violated.
And yet, ever since the single mother has come forward to report a sexual assault, that’s all we’ve heard: criticism of her behaviour; barely-veiled insinuations about her character; even a bizarre claim that she is part of a political conspiracy against the Mamata Banerjee government.
Divorcee. Nightclub. Drinking. Anglo-Indian. All these words have dominated the discourse for a reason. In fact, the sub-text just leaps out and hits you in the face, doesn’t it? This was a good-time girl looking for a good time.
This was no dutiful wife and mother. She was divorced from her husband. She had left her children at home while she went out partying with her friends. She was drinking. She struck up a conversation with strangers and left the nightclub with them.
See where this is going? Yes, right. She was asking for it. Why else would you interact with complete strangers at a nightclub late at night? Why would you allow them to drop you home in their car?
Okay, so let’s assume for argument’s sake, that all these value statements are correct. Let’s accept that her judgement was impaired because she had been drinking. Let’s agree that she made a bad call by leaving the nightclub with a bunch of strangers. Let’s concede that she acted without a requisite regard for her own personal safety.
But you know what? Even if all of this is true, none of it is at all relevant. The only thing that matters is that she was raped. She was subjected to a sexual act that she did not consent to. Her body was violated against her will.
And yet, no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to wrap our heads around this simple fact: the victim is not at fault. She is not the one who has to pass some sort of purity test set by the moral police. She is not the one who needs to account for her past behaviour or her life choices. She is not the one who is guilty. She is not the one who should be feeling ashamed.
But the way things pan out in this skewered world of ours, that’s exactly what ends up happening. It’s the victim who is put in the dock of public morality and asked to explain why this should have happened to her. It’s the victim who is made to feel that she bears responsibility for the assault on her body.
In the Kolkata case, when the victim finally steeled herself to go and report the rape to the police she was met with derision rather than empathy. She was asked how it was possible for someone to be raped in a moving car. Could she describe the positions exactly? One of the officers at the station even asked if they could go to the nightclub in question and get a beer together (because she was that kind of girl, right?).
Worse was to follow. The chief minister of the state, Mamata Banerjee, announced grandly that the rape charges were cooked up and were just an attempt to malign the reputation of her government. One of her Cabinet ministers then went on television to ask: what was a divorcee with kids at home doing at a nightclub so late at night?
Well, Mr Minister, let me say this once again very slowly so that you get it: She. Was. Not. Looking. To. Get. Raped.Now repeat after me: She was not looking to get raped.
But her experience explains why so many rapes go unreported in India. Consider this. Only one out of 10 rapes in India is ever reported. And of those reported, only one out of four cases results in a conviction. Pretty good odds if you're a rapist, right?
If you are a victim, however, the dice are loaded against you from start to finish. First up, the police will refuse to take you seriously unless you fit in with their idea of a rape victim, i.e., a good girl who doesn’t drink, wear revealing clothes or flirts with men. If the case does get registered, it will be open season on everything from your wardrobe choices to your sexual history. And then, the case will drag on for years, making it impossible for you to move on or get some sort of closure.
In other words, after being violated by your rapist, you will end up getting raped yet again by the system. Are you surprised then, that so few women come forward to file a complaint of rape?
Which is why all of us need to salute the bravery of this 37-year-old Anglo-Indian divorcee from Kolkata who had the courage to come forward and tell her story, who had the guts to take on her rapists, who refused to lie down and play dead. No matter what the outcome of the case, in my book, she’s already a winner.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
From HT Brunch, February 26
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