Monday, December 31, 2012

Is There a Hierarchy in Rapes?

There is no hierarchy in rapes but the culture that allowed deep divisions must be ready to introspect and apologise before it seeks healing.
Yes, it is time for mourning. Many of us prayed for her. We hoped against hope that she might survive. But she did not. On the night of 29 December 2012, the 23-year-old victim died due to multiple organ failure in a faraway hospital in Singapore.
Yes, it is time for mourning. Unwarranted death, even that of a complete stranger, must aggrieve us.
Yes, it is time for mourning. Innocence is trampled far too often in this sinful world.
But time such as this also forces some questions on us.
Here’s one: Is there a hierarchy in rapes?
As the news of this gruesome, literally gut-wrenching, gang rape began unfolding in the national media, the middle-class, metropolitan children of post-liberalization India began to crowd at key spots in key cities giving vent to the justifiable anger a tragedy like this must evoke.
But there is another India, some refer to it as Bharat, to which this all seemed a bit odd. Make no mistake. That second India did feel outraged at this act of violence against a young girl. After all, it gets affected by such incidents as a matter of routine. So, the irony of it was too blatant to escape notice. Crime against women is not something new in this country. Despicable acts like rapes, gang rapes, brutalization of women, parading them naked are not unknown in our part of the world. Let us list only the most well-known ones:
  1. Phoolan Devi, former Member of Parliament and an ex-bandit, was raped repeatedly, first by police and then by upper-caste men in her village. She was perhaps the only one out of hundreds like her who chose to pick up the gun to seek revenge.
  2. Not too long ago, stones were thrust into Soni Sori’s vagina by our Dabangg police officers, while—I tend to believe—casually whistling away to glory in the thana!
  3. Mukhtaran Mai in our neighbouring pious land was allegedly ordered by the village court to be gang raped as a punishment.
  4. Khairlanji created but a ripple and was smothered. Disrobed dead bodies of mother and daughter lay around there, just like that.
  5. Parading Dalit and Tribal women naked remains the most favoured torture tactic of the power elites in the hinterlands.
  6. Aruna Shaunbag, who has been in vegetative state for more years than my entire lifetime, has her “friend” asking for euthanasia.
  7. A tribal woman in Assam was disrobed and chased around on the streets. Hit on her genitals.
  8. Manorama in Manipur was raped and shot repeatedly at her crotch.
  9. There was Bilquis, gang raped in Gujarat, and the nun in Kandhamal and many other Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Dalit, Tribal women in innumerable state-sponsored or state-supported “communal” riots in the country.
Misogyny (hatred of women) is deeply ingrained in the cultural DNA of South Asia, despite its much-touted goddess-worshipping pretence. Rapes, along with other forms of sexual violence, continue unabated, even unchallenged. If we had done something about the very first rape that was ever reported from one of our dusty villages, we may not have had to lose yet another of our daughters. Or was it that the vulnerable women from the so-called weaker and backward sections (which most of us Indians are) were never owned like India’s daughters? Is it possible that these women were not worthy or valuable enough to be worried about? Was their honour expendable and their suffering well-deserved? How else can one explain the selective pangs of conscience?
With deepest sympathy for this latest victim of women-hating culture, for our young sister, we, the second India, only asked a question why no such outrage in any of the earlier instances of rape and brutalization and murder.
And the first India asks us in return: Is there a hierarchy in rapes?
An Indian journalist writing on an American news Web site counts various lessons this incident taught him—them. Here’s one: “We learned that it’s an exercise in futility to try and assign a hierarchy to rape as if one rape is more deserving of attention than the other. It’s a recipe for doing nothing. Let’s not question why this jolted us more than other rapes now. Let’s be thankful we are capable of being jolted.”
What this self-congratulatory remark assumes that those who have actually been fighting lone and largely losing battles to ensure justice to themselves or their daughters, sisters and friends do not exist; their sufferings, battles do not exist either. It is only now that something will be done. In the end, he is happy to discover that he and others like him are after all a sensitive lot. They care. Trust me, it is a consolation for us too that you are jolted. But we want to help you that you don’t slip right back into your earlier trance-like slumber induced by number of social privileges you enjoy. Try moving beyond the demand for castration and shouting “gallows”. How about working towards an egalitarian world? How about a little humility? If you are really serious, own up to your past insensitivity. How about seeing the world as it is? Recognize that there are deep and diabolic divisions in this culture you never tire of praising ad nauseam. Accept yours is the society that is built on rigid hierarchies of caste, gender and class. Admit you have graded human beings on the basis of their birth communities.
Many “noble souls” have even called for a change in the entire societal mindset without taking the trouble to hint what that might mean. But when the gentleman dreads that this jolt-worthy tale may “end in recriminations about how we care because this is a middle class girl and not a lower caste woman gathering firewood”, the second India understands exactly the mindset that needs to change, which humanly speaking is impossible—though with God all things are possible.
So, be truly brave and resolute.
More than us, you must convince your own inner self that you are serious about the change. You are not faking it. And “you” here is the entire chattering class of India, of which Indian media is only a subset.
You are under no obligation to listen to the second India but let it be said:
Stand up and say that you are sorry for not standing up earlier.
Say that you are sorry for not speaking up earlier.
Say that you are sorry for turning a blind eye to all the earlier brutalities to which women, men and children of lesser gods were subjected to.
Say that your fabled Mother India does not play favourite daughters.
Say that each and every instance of rape and sexual violence will be pursued with this same intensity.
And say that there is indeed a hierarchy; not of rapes and other crimes, but the way our society and culture views and values human beings, both men and women.
And then you will suddenly realize that how irrelevant is this questions: Is there a hierarchy in rapes?

3 comments:

mohit mittal said...

Hi Ashish
A society which celebrates and invests hundreds of crores of rupees in an item girl, a nation which blatantly objectify women as items of play and pleasure, rapes are bound to happen. We Indians are facing a deeper cultural crisis at the moment. We as creative people need to liberate our society from this item girl mindset and project women as strong and responsible citizens of the nation. Otherwise it would turn into a bigger and dangerous crisis .
Mohit

Muskaan Kapoor said...

Sadly, there is a hierarchy in rapes, coz we are dead beings who are jolted only when the victim closely resembles us or our near ones, or there is just too much to be ignored. The rest of the mess is routine coz we don’t bother about ‘others’ (too many in this category) -- those who don’t look like us, live like us, speak like us, pray like us or simply don’t belong to us.

We grade people from the time we meet them – secretly or socially – on the basis of their ‘power’ that comes from assets, class, gender; or on the basis of their utility to us. So caught up in this power play, we never really, truly connect to each other as humans or humane beings. So we don’t feel each other’s plight. We are the centre of our universe, the rest don’t matter much.

Pooja Sharma Rao said...

Its sad that like pigeons we close our eyes and just hope that the eagle picks someone else every time.
Every girl child killed before being born and every girl that we want to protect but not empower-we are commiting violence based on gender.