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Why rapes are still shame for the victim, rather than the perpetrator

It is appalling to note some instances of lawmakers shooting their mouths off with utter impunity. Is it a lack of education? Sheer insensitivity, or an attempt to play to the gallery? Hard to tell. But the statements tell their own story

Indian lawmakers are by and large notorious for their insensitive remarks on rape and gender-sensitive issues. Some of their sexist reactions or pearls of wisdom smack of deep-rooted misogyny and sheer callousness towards incidents of violence against women. Even now, such incidents of rape are associated with shame for the victim, rather than the perpetrator.

Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. According to the 2019 annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 32,033 rape cases were registered across the country, or an average of 88 cases daily, slightly lower than 2018 when 91 cases were registered daily.

In 2020, the total number of rape cases reported in India exceeded 28,000. Even though many rapes are not reported in the country, it is an issue that continuously makes news headlines, some leading to public protests, according to a study by Statista,

A victim of rape in India faces innumerable obstacles. The two big issues being: Social stigma and difficult fight for justice. The system often faults the victim.

There is a huge backlog of rape cases in India and new cases supersede the number of cases disposed every year.

Take the case of rape of a 14-year-old girl in Nadia district who died later. Mamata Banerjee led the charge by alluding to the incident as one of possible mutual consent. Even if it was truly the case would be treated as a statutory rape as the victim was a minor.

It is appalling to note some of these instances of lawmakers shooting their mouths off with utter and absolute impunity. Is it a lack of education? Sheer insensitivity or an attempt to play to the gallery?

Hard to tell. But the statements tell their own story.

According to Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey, ‘virgin’ means the same as ‘unmarried’ and ‘pure’, and hence Patna’s Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences did “nothing wrong” when it asked applicants to declare their virginity.

“Virgin, as per the dictionary, means an unmarried and pure girl. So all these words are not objectionable,” Pandey said.

In April 2014, while opposing the death penalty for three men convicted in a gang-rape case, Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav had said, “Boys will be boys, they commit mistakes.”

He had even blamed the girls for rape, saying that girls get friendly with boys and when they fight and have differences, they term it rape.

In 2015, Mulayam Singh said that one person commits rape and four are named in the complaint. “It is impossible for four men to rape a woman.” He added, “I know of many such cases, where one person commits the rape and 4 people are named in the report. There are cases where one person commits crime, four brothers in the same family get arrested.”

In 2013, Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh unwittingly made a crass remark by describing Rahul Gandhi’s aide Meenakshi Natrajan, party MP from Mandsaur, as “sau feesadi tunch maal” — which was his colloquial reference to “pure gold.”

In 2015, Karnataka’s then home minister KJ George Stoked an controversy with remarks suggesting that two men raping a woman cannot be termed as gang-rape, drawing severe flak from parties and activists.

He made the insensitive and controversial statement when the media asked him about the rape of a BPO employee. The 22-year-old girl was gang-raped by the driver and helper of the tempo traveller. The incident took place in South-East Bengaluru when the girl was returning from work around 10 pm.

While speaking at a poetry meet, former Union coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal had said that the women lose their charm after a few years of marriage.

,Nai nai jeet aur nai shadi ka apna alag mahatva hota hai. Jaise jaise samay bitega jeet ki yaden purani hoti jaengi. Jaise jaise samay bitata hai patni purani hoti jati hai, wah maja nahi reh jata hai,” said Jaiswal at a women’s college after India won their match against Pakistan in T20 championship.

“A fresh win and a new marriage are important in their own way. As time passes, the joy of the victory fades, just like a wife becomes old and loses her charm.”

In 2014, SP’s state president Abu Azmi attracted criticism for his statements about rape survivors. He said, “If a woman is caught (in a rape case), then both she and the boy should be punished. In India, there is death penalty for rape, but when there’s consensual sex outside marriage, there’s no death penalty against women.”

Earlier, in February 2019, when KR Ramesh Kumar was the Karnataka Assembly Speaker, he compared himself to a rape survivor. Pointing to repeated references to charges against him, said his situation “was like that of a rape victim, as they too are supposedly questioned about the incident repeatedly”.

Former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala had backed khap panchayat in 2012 over reducing the age of marriage to curb incidents of rape.

“Boys and girls should be married by the time they turn 16, so that they do not stray… this will decrease the incidents of rape,” a khap panchayat member said.

Chautala supported the demand saying, “People used to marry their girls to save them from Mughal atrocities and a similar situation is arising in the state. I think that’s the reason khap has taken such a decision and I support it.”

Actor and Trinamool Congress leader Tapas Pal, now deceased, was caught on tape threatening to let loose ‘men’ on his rivals. He was delivering a speech in a Choumaha village in West Bengal in 2014.

Pal said, “If anyone from Opposition or their wives and sisters are here, then listen up, if any one of your people touch anyone from TMC I will destroy you, I will not spare them. I will send my boys and they will rape people.”

Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Babulal Gaur described rape as a social crime. Gaur said the crime of rape can only be considered to have been committed if it is reported to police.

“This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong. Until there’s a complaint, nothing can happen,” Gaur said.

Even the erudite and very measured Arun Jaitley (now deceased), then Finance Minister, had said: “One small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of global tourism.” This came after the Nirbhaya gang-rape case in Delhi in 2012. Jaitley regretted later saying his remark was misconstrued.

India is known to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. Poverty is one of the main drivers for low literacy rates and in that chain what follows is disempowerment and abuse, studies say. So, at the top, we need lawmakers to back women; and not question them.

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here for Part 1.

The author is CEO of nnis. Views expressed are personal.

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