By Valson Thampu
29 October, 2003
recent rape of a Swiss embassy staff member in the car park area of
Siri Fort, where the international film festival of India was in progress,
has activated an avalanche of indignation. Indeed this regrettable event
eclipsed the film festival itself. That is understandable. But what
is neither acceptable nor understandable is the fact that tens of thousands
of other rapes are simply glossed over. Those in the capital city of
India sit smugly over the alarming fact that sex-related crimes in this
city have increased three-fold in the last five years alone.
Each new day, crimes
of lust attain a new peak. It rankles still in our memory that last
year a medical student was raped brutally in broad day light in a barely
secluded place in front of Maulana Azad Medical College. Beyond the
media sensation that such events provide, nothing much is done to engage
meaningfully this lurid symptom of our social illness.
It does not help
to deem some rapes as horrendous while thousands of others are considered
legitimate and even honourable. For far too long rape has been an acknowledged
weapon in the arsenal of humiliation in our society. Communal riots
are deemed incomplete without multiple rapes.
The face of a young
woman that I came across in a refugee camp in Godhra, in the wake of
the Gujarat riots, continues to haunt me to this day. Aged 23 and the
mother of a two-year old boy, she was caught and gang-raped repeatedly.
And then, as if to sharpen the edges of their perverse pleasure, her
tormentors beat her brutally with lathis breaking her hand and legs.
This caused her to faint.
Satisfied that she
was dead, they left her. She survived miraculously and was rescued a
day later by police. When I met her she was pregnant, carrying the fruit
of her subhuman violation. This was one of the several rapes that comprised
the background to the Gaurav Yatra (the march of pride) organised in
the wake of the Gujarat riots. Rape, to be sure, was a matter of pride
in Punjab is another version of rape as punishment. If a dalit boy dares
to court a girl above his caste, his sister stands in peril of being
raped by the girl's indignant male relatives. This practice is alarmingly
widespread and socially tolerated. Its underlying logic imitates the
logic of the assumption that because some Muslims practise terrorism
in Kashmir, Muslims in Gujarat need to be targeted and taught a lesson.
Social scientists who have studied the custom of honour rape have been
amazed at the zeal with which women - the actual victims of this practice
- defend and justify this abhorrent practice. It proves yet again, if
proof indeed is required, that social conditioning can whitewash the
blackest of deeds into legitimacy.
It is a well-known
secret that sexual exploitation is integral to Indian politics. Politics
is widely believed to be a dishonourable career for women, except for
those who have the advantage of clout and connections. Women are known
to be unsafe among politicians. Amarmani Tripati, Mayawati's colleague
in the previous UP government, is an illustrative case study. This gentleman
allegedly murdered a young poetess with whom he reportedly had an illicit
relationship. At the time of her murder the lady was six-months pregnant.
That, however, was nowhere near the conscience of Mulayam Singh Yadav,
who accorded Amarmani fulsome praise for "saving UP" by defecting
in time to help form an alternative government.
Rape is rapacious
consumerism. It treats partners as items and instruments of pleasure.
Rape is a dramatic metaphor of the violence latent in consumerism. It
insults human dignity to sanitise coerced prostitution -in actual terms,
crude sexual slavery - as "commercial sex work". The so-called
commercial sex work is the only industry in which human beings are at
once the raw material, workers and the finished product of consumption.
Their work is to
offer themselves as consumer items to prospective clientele. An overwhelming
majority of these "sex workers" live and work in servitude,
forced either by poverty or by the rapacity of their fellow human beings.
The weaker sections of a society, especially women, are bound to be
victims of exploitation in a consumerist society.
The rape of the
Swiss embassy staffer hogged the limelight only because it brought infamy
to our country in the global village. Of course, we must do all we can
to bring the culprits to justice. That, however, is only a part of what
needs to be done. There is an even more important and radical task at
hand. And that is to create a national culture in which women are safe
and free to move around, especially in our cities. This is a task that
cannot be left to police or politicians alone. Building a safe and sane
society must be deemed a fundamental aspect of nation building. And
that calls for the eradication of ideologies of hate and customs of