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Trigger warning: Rape and Sexual Violence

Posted by Solanki Chakraborty

What is it about the act of rape that enrages the public so much?

The 3 rape cases that stirred the public the most in the last 7 years are that of Delhi, Kathua, and Hyderabad. In all 3 cases, the victims were murdered after the gang rape. The ‘brutality’ of the violence got imprinted in the minds of the ‘spectator’ public so much so that most people I spoke to could narrate the details of the respective crimes in perfect sequence verbatim. Meanwhile news of several other cases of rape went around, mostly in homogeneous circles that did not create such a stir. So, let me re-frame the initial question and ask, what is it about ‘some acts’ of rape that enrages the public so much?

We cannot deny the intricate details of the act of each rape that had been discussed by the media. In the incident of the Kathua rape, her photo, the color of her dress, her eyes, her hair all became objects that stood for her ‘innocence’ as a child. There were even cartoon images of her speaking to the soul of Nirbhaya after death. While the public was shocked that there had been rallies conducted to support the rapists, the public themselves displayed outrage only after the details of the rape were published in the media after the investigation which was about a month after the incident. Why this delay?

Where does the sympathy of the public vanish when news of other rape incidents surface? What happens to slogans like ‘Rape is Rape’ and ‘Rapists are Rapists’ when Kunan Poshpora is spoken of (23rd February just went by), the Kunduli rape allegation is forcibly falsified? Why does not the public remember the history of Bhanwari Devi and Phoolan Devi? Don’t their experiences resonate with our idea of what an ‘act of rape’ should be like? Or is it that their survival, resilience, and defiance of patriarchy undoes their trauma of the violence and therefore does not deserve much attention anymore?

In the incident of the Kathua rape, her photo, the color of her dress, her eyes, her hair all became objects that stood for her ‘innocence’ as a child”.

So, in order to answer the previous question, let me attempt to answer its negative: Why is it that some acts of rape DO NOT enrage the public so much?

Location of Incident

Most of the incidents that make it to the news have taken place in popular cities, capital cities, etc. Nabanita Roy, in an article in Round Table India, has cited an invisibility of non-metropolis locations in national statistics and national media as one reason to overlook rapes that take place in villages and small towns. Reading the ‘Crime in India- 2017 Statistics’, she points out that locations are identified either as a State/Union Territory or as a Metropolitan city. Crimes that take place in locations apart from these (Kunduli or Sutia) are subsumed into numbers, not qualifying for an independent dialogue on itself. With a complete invisibility of such incidents from the national media, they do not figure even in the national memory. 

Also read: The Protesting Lawyers In Kathua Are A Threat To The Justice System

Media Reportage

The more the details/sequence of the violence gets published, the more chances for the sympathy of the reader/audience. There is almost a demand by the public to know more about the violence in order to win their solidarity. It is a price every survivor/victim will have to pay. What else can explain the delayed reaction of the public in the Kathua rape case but public’s voyeurism?

‘Perfect Victim’

On the one hand, the degree of violence involved in the act of rape is a determinant of the degree of victimhood to be conferred upon the woman. On the other, the circumstances leading to the woman being present at that moment in the location also plays a deciding role in whether we would be enraged or complacent. The reaction displayed as the aftermath of the Park Street rape long back where a middle- aged, single mother was gang raped by her peers on the pretense of dropping her home from a pub late at night makes it evident. While all these italicized descriptors should not matter while registering a complaint of sexual violence, it sure does determine how the public opinion would be of the incident. She did not, therefore, qualify to be a perfect victim. 

Social Distance in Identities

Marginalized identities are often criminalized in the popular imagination. Working class identities like that of cab-drivers, truck-drivers, construction workers are looked at with suspicion and a certain bestiality and penchant for violence is expected of them. Hence, those incidents where the perpetrators belong to marginalized communities, receive more public attention. And it also becomes easier for us to demand the harshest of punishments for the accused- death sentence. One main reason for the outcry against #MeToo movement was the fact that our peers were being called out; those we had never IMAGINED to be capable of such violence; those social identities we too belong to- same caste-class-occupation-region, etc. It is too close to home then. 

Wider Discourse surrounding the Incident

In the Kathua incident, for example, the victim, who belonged to the Bakharwal nomadic community, was subjected to violence by the upper caste community of the village to force the same community to migrate from the village. The public refused to “communalize” the issue and chose to condemn only the brutality of the act. The irrelevance of the outcry can be garnered from the fact that though we continued to rage over the incident, her family was not permitted to bury her body in the same village and was forced to do so in another.

Working class identities like that of cab-drivers, truck-drivers, construction workers are looked at with suspicion and a certain bestiality and penchant for violence is expected of them”.

As I conclude, I realize that are many other reasons which I could have written of: oblivion of marital rapes, Intimate Partner Violence, sexual violence against trans persons, sex workers, homosexual persons, etc. The uncomfortable answer that emerges of the first question I had asked, is that it is mostly the identity of the perpetrator and the narrative that is woven around it that makes some acts of rape condemnable and others passable.

Also read: How Could The Media Have Done Better In Covering The Hyderabad Rape-Murder? | #GBVinMedia

So, it is not only the act that evokes reaction but the larger political economy in which it is taking place. We need to accept the fact that rape need not be ‘read’ politically; it already is. And we need to introspect and realize our deep-seated prejudices of caste and class that not only prevents adequate attention to be paid to many cases of sexual violence around us but also enables and grants impunity to perpetrators close to us in social/caste circles.

References


Solanki is an independent researcher from Kolkata, based in Hyderabad. She is an M.Phil. graduate in Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad. She is interested in food history and she swears by Bollywood. You can follow her on Facebook.

Featured Image Source: Feminism In India

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1 COMMENT

  1. What Ms Solanki wrote about the anatomy of reaction at the wake of surging rape and violance in lndia is absolutely depicted as an eye opener realisation through her observation on the basis of ground harsh reality.

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