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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A matter of 'honour'?


It is time to debunk all the myths that have evolved around rape


It has become something of a pattern by now. A woman is brutally raped, or, as is increasingly common these days, gang-raped. News TV channels go on overdrive, having shouty debates in the studios about how outrageous these daily assaults on women are. Newspaper headlines blare their indignation and anger, with some of them even christening the victim so that they can launch a campaign in her name. The suspects are arrested and paraded before the media. A fast track court is set up to ensure speedy justice. The trial goes on and on until the case fades from the media and our memories. And then, another woman is raped or gang-raped, and we go through the whole sorry cycle again.

But while the details of every rape case may vary, the myths that swirl around rape remain the same. And no matter how much we try and dispel them, their hold on the public imagination remains as strong as ever.

First up, is the myth that the rape is somehow the woman's fault. Why was she out so late at night? Why did she go to such a secluded spot? Why was she wearing a short skirt/low-cut top? Why was she drinking liquor? Why did she agree to take a lift from a stranger? Why didn't she call her potential rapist 'Bhaiya' and ask for mercy? Why does she sleep around so much anyway? Why? Why? Why?

The questions pile up until the woman ends up feeling like a criminal rather than the victim of a crime. In one way or the other, she is accused of having 'asked for it'. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong clothes with the wrong people. It is her fault.

Only, it isn't. No matter what she may have worn, no matter how she may have behaved, no matter how late it was, and no matter how much alcohol was involved, the rape was not her fault. It never is. No woman ‘asks’ to be raped. No woman ever.

And while we are at it, no means no. That bears repeating. In fact, repeat that slowly after me. No. Means. No. And anyone who doesn't respect that is a rapist. It is his fault that the rape happened. He is the one who 'asked for it'. He is the criminal. He is the one who should be punished. And he is the one who should be shamed and ostracized by society.

The second myth is that cities, and some cities in particular, are more prone to breeding rapists than others. At the moment, Delhi is pilloried as being the rape capital of India, but given the rash of rapes being reported from Mumbai, the latest being the gang rape of a young photo-journalist, the crown of shame may well shift. In the meantime, we are all subjected to the asinine ‘Delhi vs Mumbai as rape capital’ storyline.

It seems absurd to me that this needs saying but say it we must: cities don't rape woman; men do. And not all men, either, just the rapists among them. And these rapists live everywhere: in sprawling metropolises, in sleepy mofussil towns, in dusty villages. It is not their location that determines their depravity but their warped minds.

If anything, the plight of women who live in small towns and villages is worse, because patriarchy and misogyny are even more entrenched in these areas. And if you are raped here, the chances are that the national media will never get to hear about it, the police will laugh in your face when you try to register a case, and if you do succeed in taking the matter to court, society will shame you and your family at every turn.

Oh yes, shame. That is the product of another myth: that when a woman is raped it is not just her body that is violated; her ‘honour’ is besmirched as well. The Hindi phrase used most often to describe rape says it all: “Uski izzat loot li” (Her honour was stolen.) But as rape survivor, Sohaila Abdulali, wrote so movingly, “I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina.” The only person who loses honour in the act of rape is the rapist himself. And we need to tell every rape survivor that, over and over again.

But the most dangerous myth of all is that if a woman is raped then her life is over. That being raped is somehow worse than being murdered because her ‘izzat’ is worth so much more than her life. The truth is that just as a woman’s virtue is not located in her vagina and cannot be stolen from her by an act of forcible penetration, her life also cannot be reduced to one heinous crime that was committed against her body.

Rape may have been the worse thing to happen to her, but it is not the thing that will define her. Life will go on. The scars will heal, the memories will fade, she will find love, she will laugh, she will take pleasure in the sight of a beautiful sunset, she will raise a family, she will grow old. But most of all, she will learn to live again.

Because there is more to a woman than her vagina. And her life is worth a lot more than her so-called ‘honour’.

17 comments:

Raj said...

Very appropriate but we need effective governance to abolish this menace.

Prince John said...

“Uski izzat loot li” - Yeah, this usage needs to die too.

Anil Kumar Yerrapragada said...

Beautifully argued. Couldn't agree more.

Naushad Khan said...

bt the socity also needs a huge change, we should teach our children all this, ...coz as u said, even if we all respects her, then also becoz of those teachings from her family regarding the izzat and all that, will she ever be able to respect herself.....

KRISHNAKUMAR KUMAR said...

Well said...and a great article. Touching indeed. I feel that unless and until harsh punishments like a very rigorous imprisonment for life (which mean complete life term of the culprits till his natural death) or "Bobbitisation" ...will only prove to be a deterrent to the prospective criminals. Fast track the cases and instill fear in the minds of criminals ....This way I think to some extent we can control the rape crime (cannot eliminate totally is a sad part....) Besides, no 'under-aged / minor' criminal should be treated as a juvenile and let off easily. Bxxxxx when he knows what he is doing, when he can indulge in gruesome crimes, he can get erection and force sex and bloody ejaculate and do all sorts of dirty things knowingly, ( pardon my language).... then he should be treated as an adult criminal and should be dealt with punishments as applicable to any adult criminal. In cases like brutal rape, gruesome murder etc....juvenile criminals should not be let off with light punishments. Law should be harsh on them too.
Above all....it's high time that thousands of policemen deployed in the name of providing security to the VVIPs and ministers be done away with. Minimise or drastically bring down their personal security and deploy police & security services more for the safety of the people. Only then the crime rate will come down.

KRISHNAKUMAR KUMAR said...

Great article-Touching indeed. I feel that unless and until harsh punishments like a very rigorous imprisonment for life (which mean complete life term of the culprits till his natural death) or "Bobbitisation" ...will only prove to be a deterrent to the prospective criminals. Fast track the cases and instill fear in the minds of criminals ....This way I think to some extent we can control the rape crime (cannot eliminate totally is a sad part....) Besides, no 'under-aged / minor' criminal should be treated as a juvenile and let off easily. Bxxxxx when he knows what he is doing, when he can indulge in gruesome crimes, he can get erection and force sex and bloody ejaculate and do all sorts of dirty things knowingly, ( pardon my language).... then he should be treated as an adult criminal and should be dealt with punishments as applicable to any adult criminal. In cases like brutal rape, gruesome murder etc....juvenile criminals should not be let off with light punishments. Law should be harsh on them too.
Above all....it's high time that thousands of policemen deployed in the name of providing security to the VVIPs and ministers be done away with. Minimise or drastically bring down their personal security and deploy police & security services more for the safety of the people. Only then the crime rate will come down.

Chetan Divekar said...

Swift decisive justice is the need of the hour. There is not enough deterrence for the rapists. Funny thing is none of the political parties are interested in changing the law. All they want is to extract mileage out of these incidents.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your views wholeheartedly. if we want to change the mindset of people, we have to start young. As parents of little children, we have to teach them about respecting each other. In most households, educated parents also differentiate between their children by bringing different toys for boys and girls and by being more lenient towards boys misdemeanors than girls. Somehow, this view is acceptable that boys are superior than girls and boys do grow up adhering to this view. Respecting girls and woman is simply not worth being taught to children according to most people.

Anonymous said...

Very nicely put....this artie should reach media first

Upasna Kakroo said...

It's recently since i am not in Delhi that I have begun to realise just how much (for the sake of safety) I have been 'adjusting' all my life. Rape is probably the worst of them all, but it is atrocious as to how many men on a daily basis think it is their right to what retards call 'eve tease'.

------
Upasna
http://upasna.blogspot.de/

Lis said...

Interesting, I teacher history, im from Chile and all we know about India is that is full of rapiest ... and of course your society should urgently change of mind! ...
big hugs from this last corner in the world... I hope I'll visit your country soon! :)

Deepam said...

Very powerful. Im glad to have got a chance to come across your blog and have read this.

Manali Rohinesh said...

I agree completely. A rapist isn't given a strict enough punishment. May be even starting a website and posting their photos on it would help. If they didn't feel ashamed while raping, why are they ashamed to show their face to the media? Shouldn't they look proud, as if they have done something great? The cops should stop covering their face and let them take the brunt of their behaviour. Why protect them anyway?

Anonymous said...

I wish a Copy of this article is published in every newspaper in every language and also a copy of this is pasted in EVERY STREET in India.

Respect for you Ms. Seema Goswami.

Ramesh Iyer said...

Couldn't agree more with the arguments put forth by Ms. Goswami. There can be no valid reason for anyone justifying sexual assault of a woman under any circumstances. Rape is perhaps older than what is believed to be the oldest profession in human history - prostitution. Ironically, what makes rape a unique crime is the fact that the victim has to endure far more social and emotional consequences, even ostracism than the offender does, if at all. Probably because since time immemorial women have been treated as 'commodities' or 'property' in a largely patriarchal and feudal society. Even in this day and age, there are few countries and cultures where men and women are treated as equals. Until they are, such gender crimes will persist.

Gaurav said...

Hi Seema...you come unstuck when you write on social issues..in cotrast last week's article on Oprah's Switzeland experience was fresh and enjoyable..y dont u stick to what you do best...and leave the social issues to the columnists who r experts in these matters..

J. M. Manchanda said...

Agree with every word you have written. And the road to change the male mindset begins within our homes. Once we respect the woman in our home and teach our boys to do likewise, society will change. Those who refuse to learn must be punished severely enough to create a deterrence. Very well written!