What is rape? A crime? An issue? An act of depravity? A media event? A corollary of uncontrolled power? An act to avenge deprivation?
May be it is all of these and more. In fact I would like to see rape both as a crime and as a dangerous social phenomenon plaguing our society. And if we are seriously contemplating to get rid of it, we must first try to understand this highly complex phenomenon. I aim to share my perceptions about this issue to the best of my understanding which is constrained by the fact that I am not a qualified social scientist. At the same time I would invoke my freedom of expression as a conscious individual.
I see this phenomenon as a frame work consisting of four major aspects.
The first is the society, which views rape more as the sin of a female than as the crime of a male. This view is so hard wired that 2-3 decades of modern education have proved grossly insufficient to uproot it. At the root is a covert enslavement of woman. A woman is supposed to be owned, to be fully committed to the “master” to prove that commitment time and again in lieu of getting ‘protected’ from the ‘dangerous’ world.
I consider analysing language as a means to understand the thoughts. So I am deeply suspicious about the use of the expression “outraging the modesty” as another tool of enslavement. Of course it is highly disrespectful for anyone to be even touched without or against his/her wish. But in this expression I sense the “modesty” at stake is more of the owner than of the woman herself. So at subconscious level the expression imbues more threat than empathy or reverence. Because if a physical damage can mean loss of ‘modesty’ than why don’t we use it for someone who lost an eye or a limb?
So this first aspect, namely society, keeps on playing an active role at subconscious level right from the early stages of upbringing in conditioning the female’s view about herself and the world. The same society is instrumental in shaping the male’s worldview. The commonality between the female and male worldviews is that both assign a secondary role to the female. It is possible that women, some centuries back, at some stage of social evolution were probably relegated to being partially and conditionally sovereign as individuals and most of the patriarchal societies have happily persisted with the same ideology. By partial sovereignty I mean that women could enjoy a lot of freedom in a lot of areas till she conformed to certain conditions laid down by the society.
Let us have an example of how the worldview is manifested even in the investigation of a rape. This example is based on inputs from various sources. Imagine a police person interrogating a female who has undergone this gruesome experience. The typical questions could be:
What were you wearing? What were you doing there? Did you go there alone? Why were you alone there? How much and how did you resist? The questions can be far nastier but I am sure you have got the idea.
All the above questions in a nut shell mean: Are you sure you were not trying to be raped? In fact going by lot of accounts the female in a number of cases failed to convince even the family members that it was a ‘rape’ and that she was not ‘responsible’.
The second aspect is the female. The highly revered pillar of the society. The caring figure that deserves utmost respect epitomised in remarks like ”Ladies First”. But only till her conditional sovereignty is not breached.
In most of the cases, she is not only constrained by comparatively less physical strength and vulnerable anatomy but also by her sensitive mindset that has been conditioned to “fear for the social repercussions”. In a raw male perception she is dehumanised commodity, an object of desire, waiting to be owned just like a car. Only this ‘car’ can be at times perceived to be inviting. So high is the degree of commoditised perception that just like a pickpocket cannot resist the sight of a less protected wallet, a sick minded male would feel drawn to her. When a male walks on the road he is unmindful of who is watching him and with what intentions. But in lot of societies a woman may not enjoy this privilege. Like the analogy I used earlier she might be no more than an unprotected wallet to lot of sick minds who would patiently wait to pounce.
So this second aspect the female is living in a society where the odds of her safety are not very high and she is mindful of this.
The third aspect is the Criminal. Yes there cannot be any other word for a person committing a rape. If we really need to curb this crime then it’s necessary to understand this aspect. This criminal should not be generalised. He may be affluent or deprived, a charmer or unimpressive, usually aggressive or usually submissive, extrovert or introvert, loquacious or taciturn, uncouth or chivalrous or anywhere in between these extremes. In lot of cases this may be a crime of a moment. This could be a moment of lust, moment of frustration, moment of rage, moment of bad judgement. This is what makes it a crime which is very difficult to guard against as such moments may catch people unawares. And it may also be committed by a habitually perverted person.
But in all the cases one aspect is common. The biggest weapon of the criminal is the fear in the mind of the female. This known fear on one hand weakens the female both mentally and physically and on the other gives the criminal a sense of immunity. This is the biggest similarity. In most of the cases the criminal assumes the crime will never be reported.
Fourth aspect is the law having two forms, prevention and investigation. And here I am not demanding any change in the laws but asking for swift implementation of the existing laws.
The menace of rape is severe in areas with poor state of law and order. This is because it provides immunity to the criminal. From this angle prevention of rape is another challenge for the law enforcement agencies and a formidable one too, considering the police-population ratio. So police cannot be directly blamed for not being every where all the time.
However, police can be blamed in one way. When police has a reputation of being evasive, sloppy with respect to investigation, it strengthens the criminals. It also weakens the society particularly the female by indirectly discouraging from reporting the crime. . Normally the female is harassed when the criminal is from influential background and he or his family is able to influence the investigation. Female is also harassed with an objective of further exploitation.
So, on the basis of the above explanation, I would like to claim that rape is an event with severe ripples. It happens once but haunts for long may be forever, especially if it is reported. Because then the society aspect makes it difficult for the female to forget it. In a number of cases she is punished for being raped.
Rape injures but the post rape stigma kills. If rape is a dreadful sound emanating from an instance, the post rape stigma is the deafening and lasting echo that is feared even more than the sound itself.
It is here where things seem to be improving. People have become more considerate and they are trying to create an environment more conducive to healing and recovery. But there is still a long way to go.
On the basis of my understanding of this crime, I would now propose long term solutions.
First, to reduce this crime, we need to weaken the criminal. And the strongest way to do this by killing the stigma attached to rape and the female. This is because the biggest strength for a criminal is immunity against the reporting of his crime. The criminal knows that due to the social stigma of “being raped” the female would not report.
Do we look down upon someone who has been attacked by a robber, beaten brutally and deprived of his belongings? The answer is a clear no. We may use words like careless, unfortunate etc. But in this case the if person happens to be female and robber goes a step ahead and rapes her then will our perception be same as in the previous case?
A part of the solution to the crime of rape is hidden in the answer to the last question. And the answer to this question must be an honest YES.
What I am trying to suggest is the female should feel confident enough to go ahead and report it as a CRIME and not as an act of DESECRATION.
And to fill every mind with this perception, the society aspect has to play a vital role in conditioning the minds in such a way that female is not looked down upon for being raped.
Second, the investigation should focus on swiftly identifying and rounding up the criminal rather than harassing the female or shielding the male.
It is our responsibility to protect the children and the women as they are relatively vulnerable. But I believe we need to empower the women at the society level to really weaken the criminal and bring this the incidence of this ghastly crime.
And apart from reducing this crime we should also aim to reduce and minimise the ripples. Rape can be a life shaking experience like a big accident or the news of a bad disease. And the positive and healing role which the society plays in the latter cases is greatly needed to empower the female.
I hope that my thoughts find resonance and are able to bring people together in the fight against this monster!