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At a loss for the right words

What India urgently needs is a paradigm change in its narrative of rape. Stutee Ghosh writes.

india Updated: Jan 11, 2013 02:01 IST

From the time the December 16 Delhi gangrape case hit the headlines, our society has come up with some new words and phrases to describe its conflicting emotions. It's a different matter that the State is still at a loss for words to justify its failure to prevent the crime from occurring. So the new phrase for a woman with brains is 'dented and painted', a rapist is a 'bhaiyya', and the villain is 'skirt'. The latest offender is Asaram Bapu, who believes that the gang rape victim should have begged the assailants for mercy. But the poor self-styled godman is not to blame; he simply repeated what he must have seen all his life in Bollywood films, where actresses plead to a 'bhaiyya' before a rape sequence by saying, "Bhagwan ke liye mujhe chhodh do."

It's clear that society's insults don't stop at rape alone. In fact, the ridiculous remarks that follow the crime are worse. Even those who seem to be speaking for women sound like they had the devil as their speech writer. I heard the speeches made by MPs, including women members, demanding harsher punishment for rapists, stricter rape laws and speedy justice for the victim. But the language they used to denounce the rapists and support the victim sounded archaic to me.

Rape is a crime. Period. But our leaders connect it to the honour of the family as well as the nation. This, to my mind, feeds to the same stinking khap psychology that says that a man is a woman's protector and proprietor. Unless we contest such thoughts, we will play into the hands of the khaps.

And my sincere advice to those who believe that when a person is murdered he dies once but when a woman is raped she dies every day is: take a walk! Such a belief implies that a woman's body, after her rape, becomes the embodiment of collective honour. In effect, we are just perpetuating the patriarchal narrative.

In a world, where women are almost always relegated to the margins as mere symbols, we finally have the real name of the girl who was brutalised on the fateful night of December 16. But since the law doesn't allow the name to be published, I won't do so. There's no doubt that we need to ensure that justice is delivered quickly. But what we also need urgently is a paradigm shift in our perspective so that the rape narrative is not camouflaged in the same stereotypical patriarchal discourse.

Stutee Ghosh is a Delhi-based writer

The views expressed by the author are personal