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HindustanTimes Sat,23 Aug 2014
Bite your tongue!
Karan Thapar
January 12, 2013
First Published: 21:33 IST(12/1/2013)
Last Updated: 21:42 IST(12/1/2013)

It may sound flippant but, actually, it's the truth - you'd be hard pressed to think of more silly and objectionable things to say about rape than those expressed by some of our worthies. It only proves that many people we hold in high esteem don't think before they talk. Or they don't care about what they say. And, certainly, they don't know when to shut up.

To think that Asaram Bapu, a man many consider a spiritual leader, could blame the victim of a rape for the trauma she suffered, rather than her attackers, and then claim that had she called them brothers and begged for mercy they would have let her go, is not just hard to believe but almost impossible to imagine. Yet this seems to be what he said and he has no qualms about it. Worse, many would agree with him.

Or take the sarsanghchalak of the RSS. This honourable gentleman believes that rape only happens in urban and not rural India and that our traditional cultural values, as practised in villages, are a safeguard against it. There is, of course, no dearth of facts to prove otherwise but would that convince him he's wrong? I doubt it. His opinion is based on his belief that Indian values are superior to those of the West and rape is alien to traditional Indian male behaviour. Once again, many would agree.

And then there's the long list of politicians - including, bizarrely, heads of women's commissions - who hold that the way a woman dresses or the fact that she's out alone at night incites rape. For this lot, there's a lakshman rekha that women must observe at all times. And, once again, many, if not millions, would agree. But I wonder if they realise that the corollary to their position is that men are such horrible demons - rakshasas, in their language - that the very sight of female flesh or a girl on her own provokes them to automatic rape.

Yet it's not just the astonishingly stupid things that the high and mighty say that I find perplexing but also the fact their statements are intended as balm or wisdom. If this is how they comfort, I would hate to experience how they intend to hurt. If this is how they advise, I wonder how they would mislead?

I won't deny that many of these foolish comments have been prompted by the fact that a reporter with a microphone stood before them and asked an irresistible question. But you can't blame the media if you get drawn into saying stupid things.

The media will ask important people for their opinions. That's one of its functions. It is, however, for the important and the influential to think carefully about what they say.

My advice, for what its worth, is most people would be wise to shut up. For the Asaram Bapus and RSS sarsanghchalaks, silence would have been truly golden. Instead, they chose to speak and what they said has not only rattled our nerves but shaken our belief in them.

I'm not sure we can change their opinions. But each time they pronounce we must loudly and publicly dissent and disagree.

So, whether it's Mohan Bhagwat or Asaram Bapu, an MP or an MLA, or just an ordinary person, be he your neighbour or she a friend, do not hesitate to point out that their response to rape is silly and objectionable. Assuming, of course, that it is.

Views expressed by the author are personal


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