Exhortation

Sometimes right and sometimes wrong

A friend asked me today why I hadn’t said anything or sent a single mail about the recent rapes in UP.  

Another noted that I had also remained silent about the murder in Pune.  Not to mention the brutality in the Garo Hills.

This rape which is not one
By the time I searched for news about “the rape in UP,” it there was another one.  And in fact the first one itself was a double one.  (And it was certainly not the first.)  And for every one that is reported, how many go unreported?
Even before these crimes made headlines, another friend asked me for evidence to back up the claim that the majority of rapes go unreported.  Not merely unreported in the news, unreported period.   He was discussing the issue with some friends who doubted this.  Perhaps they expressed their doubts politely, earnestly, seeking to understand and not at all to be dismissive.  And yet there is an eery echo of their doubt in the stark statements of politicians (which one? you may rightly ask, so fast and furious do they come) who dismiss the violence and seriousness of rape:
Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav

Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav

“This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong,”  Babulal Gaur, Home Minister, Madhya Pradesh (Reuters) (4 June)

Babulal Gaur’s next sentence merits a line to itself:  “Unless a complaint is filed, nothing happens.”
“Such incidents [rapes] do not happen deliberately. These kind of incidents happen accidentally,”  Ramsevak Paikra, Chhattisgarh Home Minister (7 June).
“Rapes are not happening only in UP.  If you search on Google, you will find many rape incidents in other states, too.”   Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav (4 June).
In fact, Mr. Yadav may find on Google that if you search for “politician rape remark” you will find many incidents in other states too.  Perhaps like Stephen Colbert, we should keep a count of politician’s rape mentions.
Whenever we are called upon to explain something so obvious we have forgotten how to defend it we have to take several steps back into ground we thought we had already covered at least among our frequency of society, if not among Home Ministers.  At the very least we expected those friends to be with us on the front lines and not only join in the online gawkery when those Ministers get caught saying what they really think but did not realize would result in bad public relations or did not care because those aren’t the public that funds and votes for them.
Happens to whom?
When Home Minister Babulal Gaur says, “Unless a complaint is filed, nothing happens,” it may sound like he is explaining why pleading helplessness in the face of a crime that often goes unreported.  (Indeed, he goes a step further to say that the police cannot prevent such crimes as they get no “prior information” of them – does he mean that they get prior information of other crimes? )
In fact, when he says “nothing happens,” he is winking to the men and the boys that nothing will happen to them “unless a complaint is filed.”
Because what we have to understand is that all along he is talking not about rape – which happens to the victim, usually though not always female, but about the “charge of rape” which happens to the perpetrator, nearly always male.  Hence Mulayam Singh Yadav’s sympathy for the “boys.”
Because in their world, rape is a vague confusing thing “between men and women” that can trip one up by accident while the charge of rape is the deliberate act and the real cause of concern.
In their world, if a rape happens and no one files a complaint, nothing happened.
Dalit Women Protest Violence.  Source: The Hindu

Dalit Women Protest Violence. Source: The Hindu

Complaint and Consent
That failure to complain indicates consent and thus rules out rape is just a rephrasing of the logic of patriarchy.  Unreported violence against women is an indicator of a heavy gender footprint. a measure of sexism, inflected with intersecting forms of oppression.
Apart from the reasons of shock, fear of not being believed, being stigmatized, being blamed, dread of revisiting the ordeal while talking to police or prosecutors, and wishing that ignoring it will make it go away, there is another reason that so many incidents of sexual assault go unreported.  The sense of being overpowered which led to the assault in the first place remains to enforce the silence of the victim or to deafen those who might listen.  The sense of being entitled which enabled the assaulter,  extends not only to the body of the victim, but to the opinion of society and access to the justice system.
Touchable and Untouchable
The power can be blatant, as in the case of the police who asked Mr. Sohan Lal, “What is your caste?” when he reported that his daughter and niece were missing (“India’s Feudal Rapists,New York Times, 4 June 2014).
With respect to the rape that took place on June 1 in Katra Sahadatganj, while some have been quick to bring up the toilet angle, we cannot isolate this from land rights, which also reflects caste, another issue that is loudly doubted.
For an officer of the law to raise the question of caste in this way is to step on the rights of another, to remind them that their rights aren’t as rightful, their bodies aren’t as human and their voices are not of the frequency heard by those in charge.
With respect to the rape that took place on June 1 in Katra Sahadatganj, while some have been quick to bring up the toilet angle, we cannot isolate this from land rights, which are unequal along lines of gender as well as caste, another issue that is loudly doubted.   The proportion of land owned by scheduled caste households remains much lower than their share in total population, in spite of land reforms initiated after Independence but poorly implemented and almost forgotten in most states.
*  *  *
It’s been so many days since I started this article that I almost gave up on it – till yet another right-wing rape comment surfaced from old school conservative and Tea Party enthusiast George F. Will.  Like Mulayam Singh Yadav, he finds the concept of consent confusing.  One the one hand, we have a woman who has said, “No.”  On the other hand we have information about her history, what she wore, and where she was.  What do we believe?  If we recognize the power of a woman to say no, doesn’t it make it easy for someone complain of rape just to attain the “privileged status” of victimhood?  It certainly makes it easy for Will to blame “progressive” university education for the rise in complaints.  If only women would be conservative and focus on the MRS degree.  Such sentiments too emanate from the same “progressive universities” so it is not education or higher socio-economic status or even toilets that will bring about respect for women, equality or justice in society.
Gender Footprint
The question we have to address is what gives people the sense of entitlement to the bodies, lands and labour of others?  And what entitles people not to hear the voices of others?  As we speak of an ecological footprint, we also have to look at our human footprint and specifically our gender footprint.  How much of others’ humanity do we overstep, how much gender bias do we accept, in order to get ahead?  Even when we recognize that our ecological footprint is higher than our share, we do little more than shrug wistfully.  What then will we do about our gender footprint?
When assessing our ecological footprint, we grant ourselves a share of the earth’s resources in order to live and see how our lifestyle measures up to that.  Could we devise a way to calculate our gender footprint, assessing our lifestyle for subtle as well as blatant practices and beliefs that contribute to injustice and violence?  I believe this would be a way to connect the aggregate impact of everyday sexism, such as remarks of politicians, “jokes” by the boss, media stereotype, and division of labour to the incidents that raise alarms in the media.  Because we need to speak up not only about rapes and murders but about every trespass on the humanity of another.   If, crushed under the enormity of this, we fail to speak, and fail to act, we are left to face the possibility that we are no better than the crass politicians whose quotes so outraged us.
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