A Question of Rights

7 Jan

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In Delhi, a rape apparently takes place every 14 hours. But for reasons that leave many media analysts stumped, one particular rape has caught the entire nation in a whiplash of fury. True the rape was particularly brutal but even so, horrendous rapes are a dime a dozen in that vast subcontinent.

Before anyone takes offence at that seemingly judgmental remark, let me hasten to add, that Sri Lanka is no stranger to rape either – along with any other area of the earth where the species homo sapiens sapiens live.

They think very highly of themselves, these homo sapiens. They even have the nerve to name the nouns and adjectives of being kind, compassionate and considerate after themselves. ‘Humane’ and ‘humanity’ anyone?

So back to the media analysts. They come out of the woodwork from all over the place to offer their expert (but more often idiotic) analysis whenever something like this causes enough of a public furor. The recent Delhi rape has not only caused a furor in Delhi and subsequently the rest of India, but now is being analysed by the rest of the world too. The Guardian has already done an excellent job of dismantling the idiotic ‘holier-than-thou’ analyses of western newspapers but closer to home, we have the writer Arundhati Roy offering her opinions as well. She has made her name as an activist in several fields but perhaps – seeing nothing but negativity and oppression for so long can warp your views too.

According to her, rape is nothing out of the ordinary in India (true) and the only reason that this particular rape is being so railed against is because the perpetrators feed into the public’s notions of the ‘criminal poor.’ They are essentially lower middle class people – a bus driver, a gym instructor, a vegetable seller, who dared to assault a middle-class girl  – and so the middle-classes have risen up against them. That’s her ‘expert’ view on it.

The rape victim, known to the public only as Damini (not her real name), was horrifically brutalised during her rape and eventually died of the injuries sustained after lingering several days – but why exactly her particular rape has India outraged is a moot point. Arm-chair activists can speculate all day long on talk shows and ‘news’ on what exactly caused the national and international phenomenon but they hardly ever do anything more than speculate and most of the speculations, in an attempt to sound intelligent and wise, are only crossing the border into inane idiocy.

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On the other side of the divide, we get the public causing the phenomenon. Suddenly the internet, specifically the social media outlets are ablaze with posts on women’s rights. Their right to do what they please, wear that they please, go where they please and still not be raped.

Granted! I completely and unconditionally agree with that. Yet, there are some grey areas here that one needs to tip-toe around. As a woman, I do think it highly unfair that I can’t go about as I please, wherever I please without risk to my safety. Unfortunately though, I have long realised that I live in a less than ideal world where I do have to take precautions for my own safety.

I remember begging some drunk girlfriends not to go to a deserted beach to continue their impromptu party, which they in their giddiness thought a great thing to do, sometime past midnight. They went anyway and I sat up praying nothing would happen to them. It’s all very well to carry placards saying, “Just because I am drunk and passed out in the middle of the road, you can’t rape me.”

I agree – I really do. The question is, does the rapist? It takes a certain kind of psychopath to be a rapist. They are not your average frustrated male out there. I somehow doubt that carrying placards like that is going to change their mindset. For what it is worth, women have to realise their own vulnerability and take precautions.

That does not mean that I condone society’s tendency to blame the victim. Even in the Damini case, there have been both males and females pontificating that she might have been at fault. Why? Because she got on a bus at 9.00 pm after attending a movie with her boyfriend. We still have some archaic thinkers who think a girl shouldn’t be out ‘late’ in the nights – and 9.00 pm constitutes late in the night, for them. There have also been aspersions cast on her character, because (gasp!) she had a boyfriend (or at least a male friend she was out alone with).

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So on the one hand we have the feminists screaming their rights and trashing anyone who dares argue – and on the other side we get these archaic and judgmental upholders of ‘culture’ – never mind that that culture is Victorian and an import from our colonial masters rather than our own.

Stuck in the middle is us – the average women who live in a world where we frequently have to work late or even go shopping at 9.00 pm. We are told by the upholders of our rights that we can do anything that we want and still can’t be raped. The reality however is different. And if, God forbid, it should happen, we’ll have to hear, “what was she wearing?”, “Why was she out at that time?” and even “her virtue is ruined” from our own communities.

It takes some getting used to, this paradox we live in.

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