Predicting Peace: Rape Activism in India

Recently, a high-school girl was followed out of a bar in Guwahati — one of the largest cities in eastern India and and the chief metropolitan centre of Assam — and stripped, beaten up, and molested by a mob of about twenty men for forty-odd minutes. A journalist recorded the incident on video, and later said it was “basically gang-rape”.

Cheerful, what?

This video was then uploaded on YouTube in three parts, called, chronologically, ‘girl in city 1′, ‘girl in city 2′ and ‘girl in city 3′. Suddenly, after days no absolutely no action from public safety institutions, there were reporters, media crew, condemnations, demands for inquiries, blog posts, op-eds, Facebook-shares, rights activism, populist posturing by politicians, and an actual arrest. Hallelujah!

But wait! There was also an opposing lobby slowly gathering momentum, which demanded to know what a school girl and a legal minor was doing in a bar, and just what made the mob pick her specifically, when so many other women walk around Guwahati unmolested. Knock on your brain, people! Tap tap tap! What is the media covering up here? Why aren’t there any clear pictures of the girl? What was she wearing?

And with that, the wagon would be back on the safe and familiar track of ‘she asked for it!’. Oooh, the relief. Everybody could then whip out their tired arguments and beat each other up with them, while their brains holidayed in the hills. Like it happened with the Park Street rape case earlier this year, and Pinki Pramanik and her flatmate/girlfriend’s putative rape a few weeks back. ‘Cause women, pooh. They’re expendable. Enough of them to go around if a few can’t take a little roughousing. Ickle delicate darlings. Probably best out of the home and gene pool. No need to clog the justice system with their problems.

If you don’t believe me, just sit back and watch this drama unfold. I have a sneaking suspicion I will be proved terrifyingly accurate.

24 Responses to Predicting Peace: Rape Activism in India

  1. Pramurto says:

    You are but then I did that 45…sorry three days ago.

  2. Lali Chattoraj Sengupta says:

    Yup. I keep thinking something will change somewhere in this country of ours, but nothing does. Men, and also sadly, many women!

  3. Mallika says:

    Yes I rather think you’ll be proved right . Its always about the woman and how she aroused the animal instincts of the men and asked for the gang bang – almost as if they are dogs getting aroused by a bitch in season – I am sorry for being crude but thats how it strikes me . And why the ineffectual press team did not stop it is beyond me – did they call the police ?

  4. Obi Wan says:

    Thank you for your latest blog post – “she tempted them” has long been the excuse of a very vocal minority here as well, and the Republican-led war on women’s rights hasn’t done much to stop that. Attacks on Blacks and Gays were also commonplace only thirty years ago but the ability of these minority groups, and that includes women, to band together and exert both political and economic pressure resulted in a series of legal challenges and victories … like India’s laws to open the doors to the scheduled castes … which has had a tremendous effect on blunting any sterotypes during the last two generations. Gay marriage is being voted in state by state despite the shrill warnings of the religious right.

    In India, the caste systems allows people who appear to be racially similar to be segregated socially and de-personalized. The concept that “she could be my daughter” is harder when there are color differences, which is why, in a largely white society, Obama’s comment that Trayvon Martin, the Florida shooting victim, looked like his own kids – was something that had never happened before. One evening in Delhi walking back to the hotel with a clerk who worked there, he spotted a woman … “there goes a call girl” “how do you know” “no proper woman would be out by herself at night” … just like that, like “the sky is blue” .. it was black and white. She had crossed a line – that was it.

    The interlocking social customs, the traditional roles and overly harsh treatment of those who “break the rules” seems to be part of the “dharma/danda” effect I coined, in that in Asian philosophical traditions that revere a system of interlocking rules rather than supreme lawgiver, what is seen as any individual bending of the rules to go against custom is viewed as a violation against society as a whole, as if any leak in a submarine must by met with immediate and forceful reaction before the whole thing goes. Thus one woman’s harmless activity is the beginning of the unraveling of the entire system and it must be met with immediate force .. the danda … before it spreads like a virus to infect them all. An outrage against God could result in being burned at the stake or public shunning .. but it didn’t threaten the system.

    This complicates matters even beyond the standard “bad woman” stereotype. This helpless woman, to that sort of mindset, represents a threat to all their wives, sisters, daughters and so on. It’s a crime against the dharma they grew up with, the system of rules they rely on, and fueled with ignorance and alcohol, they become nearly what we called a “lynch mob” out to get the Black man for looking lustfully at a white woman before every Black gets the idea that it will be tolerated.

    Thankfully, that era is largely behind us, and hopefully, the same trends will begin to have their effects on Indian society as well. Each culture has it’s throwbacks masquerading as tradition. It’s up to each of us to do what we can,

  5. S. Siddharth says:

    Disgusting, nd yes you are right, eventually the buck will stop with the poor girl, shocking!

  6. Jhuma Sen says:

    There has been a gang rape in North Kashmir too and guess how it is titled by beloved media? ‘North Kashmir tense after rape’. The mainstream Indian media can’t even think out of the ‘national security’ box! The culprits have been identified. No arrest made though. Lovely, isn’t it? :)

  7. Abhra says:

    You are really pissed.

  8. Kaichu says:

    Sankho, she speaks British English. Convent educated, ahem.

    Rimilet, ami normally fb-tey jhograjhaati kori na random loker songe, but recently one of my acquaintances had posted a photo identifying the culprits and in the comments section a bunch of people were all “Oh of course it’s such a sad thing! Poor girl! But what was a minor doing in a bar in the first place? The media should report both sides of the case, no?” Uncharacteristically, I actually stooped to reply and gave them What For. Fuckers.

    • Priyanka says:

      Kaichu, re. pissed, I was mostly taking the piss :D

      But I do find that speculative comments stated as facts, about another person’s state of mind during a conversation, does remarkably little to enrich the exchange, but a considerable amount in annoying that person. It also frequently has a sly, pejorative undertone. “You’re really angry now” might easily imply, “Look at you getting into hysterics. There’s no point talking rationally to you now”. Or, more simply, it might mean, “Wow, you’re really mad! Are you sure it isn’t an overreaction?”

      For people like me, who are frequently irked but seldom lose their tempers, and who cannot help examining possible subtexts of apparently innocent statements, these little interjections tend to have a slight eyebrow-arching effect, which, because I’m fond of the person interjecting (in this instance Shonkho, or as he prefers, Sankha), I like to counteract with a little wink-wink :-)

      • Abhra says:

        Okay, I was wrong. NOW you are pissed.
        I said that because the anger was reflected in some of the sentences, and I wanted to find out exactly why you are so angry. All said and done, this is a very public affair on the TV and newspaper etc that normal people find hard to get truly internally angry about, even though they may get excited etc. For example, I was angry too, but in the sense of ‘oh, what hell do I live in’. An anger that I share with many other people, hence diluted. Your anger wasn’t diluted. It felt somehow to be very personal and concentrated. This surprised me to some extent.
        I hoped somehow that you’d illuminate a bit on that. Honestly, that’s what I was after.

        • Priyanka says:

          Would that I could. In fact, were I angry, I think the illuminations would pour out of me, because most angry people on social media indulge their fury by holding forth about their discontent.

          I, however, cynically expect the worst of the world, and the world seldom disappoints. The grim pleasure of being right puts paid to the anger. Quite an emotional loss, probably.

        • Priyanka says:

          But, I can well imagine why most women would have a more visceral reaction the news like this than most (heterosexual) men. Mild harassment, abuse and molestation is something they have to live with most days, and the threat of worse brutalisation, rape, ‘dishonour’ and social abandonment are their constant companions.

  9. Ruru Chowdhury says:

    ei je “what was she doing” proshno ta na pisses the fuck out of me. She was drinking, jumping out of a plane, plotting to take over the world, having sex, eating, dancing, reading the Iliad, performing a magic trick…how does it matter? She was wronged. That’s all that should matter. Move on. Keu bole ni ore dwatiyo nite especially when asking questions like this shows absolute lack of any maturity. And even if assume for the sake of it that she started an argument/fight (as was claimed), there’s no justification for it to devolve to this, least of all anything physical.

  10. A few observations about the state of rape activism in India:
    1) The question of ‘rape’ and its subsequent treatment by the media and the society almost invariably focusses on the question of the honor, identity and motives of the woman which presupposes that any kind of violence is directed against such socially ascripted values. In my mind, the violence is something more primeval, against the bodily integrity of the woman which is elided in such a discourse.
    2)The assumption entails that somehow it is men who are the violators and men who are the saviours. But I find this deeply problematic that same culture of paternal benevolence is invoked to denigrate the same culture of violence. After all is not a test of ‘real’ masculinity to violate a woman is somewhere the same with ‘real’ masculinity that protects her? It does not need to be an acid test of masculinity to perpetrate and then ameliorate/resist such an act. That creates a loop.
    3) The benign patriarchy which is reinforced everyday by the need to belong to a man which thereby makes it difficult for us to accept a woman who does not play by rules needs to be resisted. It is going to be hard and sadly I find a lot of otherwise capable woman feeding into it willingly and unwillingly(now is that a politically incorrect/wrong observation to make?). It has to start early in classrooms and our peers who have had the privilege to gain an education to start sensitising the kids early about the use of public spaces and the need to respect the other for who she/he is. It is going to take a long time.
    I am not a feminist and I don’t know how you people who are more knowledgeable in matters of gender interpret this. But this is what I had to think about the serial cycle of crimes across the country.

    • Priyanka says:

      “The assumption entails that somehow it is men who are the violators and men who are the saviours. But I find this deeply problematic that same culture of paternal benevolence is invoked to denigrate the same culture of violence. After all is not a test of ‘real’ masculinity to violate a woman is somewhere the same with ‘real’ masculinity that protects her?”

      A *most* excellent point, Anindya. As are the others you’ve made, especially the one about sensitisation, although that word is so sterile and bureaucratic it puts me off.

  11. rumachak says:

    I think each of them should be tried for a multitude of crimes..and the punishment should be swift and fitting the crime..that is the only way to scare the living balls off anyone thinking this is a fun thing to do on an evening out. Women, even ones that drink in bars should not have to have the Secret Service protecting them on a night out.

    This has been the attitude of men towards women since the beginning of time…some have managed to evolve, others drag their arms in the mud and thump their chests in something resembling animal pride. these are the ones who finger women on buses, pass brutal porn around on their mobiles and go home to their mothers dreaming about when they can look up the next instalment of Desi Chutiya on a friend’s computer. They are not unique to my land, but they carry on because they are never punished while they grow to this stage of absolute certainty of being in the right.

    In Australia, if a male touches a female on public transport, it is reported in the papers as physical assault. When I see that, I applaud the editors and the laws that allow them to call it what it is! By that reckoning, I would have been raped at least once each day through the three years of college life……unimaginable! And I know, some would say that this is an overstatement…but that is exactly what it was…Did I protest…perhaps three times…I preferred to move away, stay quiet, fume, hate…..myself, the bus, the man!

    These men get away with this from the day they first reach out in lust. If this event is taken to the courts and the case is allowed to dither on for years, they become shahids in the fight to keep the Indian woman chaste….that is the reason these men get to be. This khap-panchayat mentality is all over the country…cow belt, IT belt …everywhere. And the scary thought is that for everyone of us who thinks they did wrong, there is a hundred dadas/behanjis/matajis/baapjis/auntyjis who are flapping their paws in praise and thinking, Achchai huya, ladkiyon ko sikhna hoga!

    • Priyanka says:

      Very powerfully put, Ruma. Perhaps your comment explains to Sankha why Indian women tend to lose their rag and get oh-so-hysterical when issues of sexual harassment are brought up :-)

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