The savage rape of a 5 year old child in India’s capital New Delhi has once again brought to light the continuum of violence against women and girls in the world’s largest democracy. In this case, the penis was not enough; candles and a bottle were used to cut open the child (no iron rods this time like they used on Amanat, because the child didn’t offer resistance!?). The usual is well known by now, apathy of the law enforcement as police refused to register an FIR (First Information Report), police offering the parents 2000 rupees to drop the case, a female protestor slapped by the Asst. Commissioner of Police, hollow words of sympathy by the political leadership. Reasons enough to be engulfed by rage so consuming that it begins to physically hurt!
And then you see the half-baked and absurd political vocabulary floating around that enrages you further. The ‘argumentative Indian’ must argue about rape and must theorise. The right wing protectors of ‘Indian culture and civilisation’ (whatever that is!) find a conspiracy to Westernise the Indian woman. Blame the West for its relentless attack on ‘other cultures’ that leads to more nudity, more women out of homes, more women dressing shamelessly, more women showing contempt for traditional roles as mothers and wives, more sensuality and sexual imagery out in the open, more khulapan (openness). Ofcourse this onslaught on ‘Indian culture’ is an attack on Indian womanhood and hence rape and violence occur. Delightful logic, for if you didn’t know, the great ‘Indian culture’ has never oppressed women. Sati, dowry, female foeticide and infanticide, the social ostracism of widows, continuing child marriage, denying girls the right to education, sexual abuse and domestic violence are all figment of imagination. Our mythical heroines are Sita and Savitri who obey and fight for their husbands. My mother is in the village right now, trying to convince a relative to not marry off a 14 year old girl and to let her continue her school. I must remind her that it is good old ‘Indian culture’ after all that she resists!
Let me turn now to the well-meaning, progressive lefties now who cite the nexus of ‘capitalism’ and ‘Brahmanism’ as the only cause of rape. This would be pure impertinence on my part to argue with the critical thinking lefties. Arundhati Roy thought that it was the rape of a middle class girl (Amanat) that led India to protest, the same India lulled into silence when lower caste/class women are violated. Roy was criticised by her own cohorts but her statement brought to the fore the intellectual incapacity of the left to see the complexity of social life and violence against women. The impression one gets from them is that the rapists must all be upper caste/class/feudal men. They would have us believe that Dalit/Adivasi men don’t rape Dalit/Adivasi women or that there is no violence against women among any minority community. And ofcourse all rape and violence against women must occur because of the pernicious influence of capitalism. Violence against women in communist, socialist, Maoist, Leninist, Stalinist societies is non-existent because these ideologies are all about the ‘emancipation’ of the oppressed/marginalised and social justice and equality. Right? Wrong! While commodification of women’s bodies is a frustrating reality, the argument cannot be made that so much female nudity sponsored by capitalism incites rape!
And then the argument from the right and left about sexual morals and taboos is equally important to understand. The right wing wants to police all sexuality (but importantly female), endorse taboos and prevent the free mixing of sexes to prevent rape. Don’t ask, don’t tell policy in a pervert way! Sex is the dirty bedroom secret that must NOT come out in the open. The Westerners are corrupting us with their free sexual morals and so there is more rape. Don’t even dare to remind them of our naked Goddesses and our Phallic worship and our deities ‘making out’ for thousands of years till the earth shakes. I still think it’s a pretty cool moral and religious framework to live within but the right wing tells us, it is okay for the Gods, not okay for Gods’ creation! So if rape must be prevented, no sex talk please! The lefties, on the other hand, want a free flowing, open sexual order and no taboos please. So if rape must be prevented, we MUST talk sex. As if rape is ONLY about having adventurous sex!
Both the right and the left contribute to the perverted logic that women somehow provoke rape and men are provoked into raping because of Feudalism, Westernisation, Brahmanism, Commodification, Capitalism etc. Folks, rape is first and foremost, a CRIME and treat it like one please! You don’t bring in capitalism and feudalism and morals and culture when you analyse theft or corruption or any other crime (except ‘terrorism’ maybe?). Treating it like any other CRIME will take away the social stigma associated with it and women and families will feel comfortable demanding justice and seeking legal and police intervention.
Rape is an expression of gender power (over) that operates in multiple ways. Neither moral policing nor legalising pornography will prevent rape unless we understand the nature of power and gender hierarchy that pervades the social mindset. We can debate the merits of ideologies elsewhere. Rather than speculate about the caste, class, cultural, communal background of rapists, let us study and understand patriarchy, gender hierarchy and power and their relationship to every kind of social order in our country and even beyond.
And for all ye culture defenders, there is something paradoxically empowering about Indian culture (if only we see it that way). A fiercely violent, dark and naked Goddess Kali is invoked as the supreme Shakti and MOTHER. Men and women religiously prostrate with reverence before this naked image and yet female bodies are brutalised, women and girls are treated in such abhorrent ways. Something to think about? Meanwhile, I am happy to remain a political maverick and staunchly FEMINIST. Let us join the protests in India and organise some wherever we are.