Three months after the horrific Bengaluru incident, rape of a physically challenged minor girl at Odisha’s Jagannath temple has bought global attention to India’s sexual assault epidemic. The 11-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a 28-year-old man inside the premises of Lord Jagannath temple at Baripada when the victime went to the temple for the Lord’s Darshan. The youth who escorted the girl to the bathing mandap of the Lord took advantage of the deserted temple and raped her. The accused was later thrashed by the angry locals before handing him over to the police.
This incident reminded me of a very interesting comment that RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat made just days after the Delhi gangrape took place on December 16, 2012. Bhagwat while addressing a citizens’ meet in Silchar said that rapes hardly take place in ‘Bharat’, but they occur frequently in ‘India’! However, what Mr Bhagwat missed was that be it Bharat or India, sexual assaults are not just prevalent in India but equally rampant too. How else would you explain the rape of a mentally challenged person and that too at a religious place!
A documentary titled India’s daughter quoted one of the December 16 rapists, Mukesh Singh saying that how girls are most responsible for rape than men are and how a ‘decent’ girl wouldn’t roam around the city at 9’o clock at the night.
“If women are not good, men have a right to ‘teach them a lesson’ by raping them. And if that happens, the woman being raped has a responsibility to silently accept the assault. When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape,” he added.
Apart from being insensitive and blaming the victim, there’s something very disturbing in Singh’s comment. It reflects the general perception which is disturbingly very common in India and gives a hostile environment to the women all across the nation.
What’s even scarier is that this not just Mukesh Singh’s view but a traditioned mindset that women must adhere to the social norms set for them or else be ready for the consequences i.e. rape! So, if you are a career-oriented woman who is dating somebody and has crossed the marriageable age, then sorry sister but you deserve to be raped. And listen, this whole process of victim-blaming and forgiving the culprit is so deeply embedded in our culture that even our policemen support it.
But don’t you worry, you aren’t the only one. As per an Amnesty international report, in India a woman is raped every 15 minutes. Oh and I forgot, the statistic multiplied by 24 hours and 365 days! India is one of the largest democracies in the world and yet, it has time and again failed miserably to protect one of its gender. It has rather provided an institutionalised platform for a rape culture.
Though the documentary was later banned by our government, it brought out a simple fact out in the open: not just sexual assault and crime against women in India but also the failure to address it is high in India. It also shows that rape is not about sex per se but about violence and control over the victim. It gives the perpetrator a certain power over the victim.
And as India is going through a social and political transformation, its traditionalists are bitterly opposing the growth. And this very conflict gives way to the so-called rape culture. These traditionalists view rape as a woman’s honor and morality. To them the decisions about her sexual relationships are to be made by her parents and all her sexual decisions will be taken either by her parents or her husband. No wonder, we still haven’t criminalised marital rapes!
And it is this logic that makes rape permissible and the rapists look innocent. The same logic also sees rape as a tool for punishing “bad” women who “cross their lines” and warns other women who might be considering it of the consequences. And thus as India is moving towards urbanisation with its women embracing freedoms (which is a “bad behavior” for the traditionalists), rape is becoming the most underrated crime in the country.
And unless we move away from these skewed traditional prism of looking at a woman through her dressing and her “behaviour”, any change in the law or increasing number of fast courts will never be able to protect a woman in a bus, a neighbourhood or a temple!