Posted by Pratyusha Pramanik
Trigger Warning: Rape
A woman–she has neither the safety of a mother’s womb nor the comfort of a motherland. She deserves neither the home nor the dignity of the funeral pyre. She is a mound of flesh, which comes from the vagina and is a vagina, there has been nothing beyond that, and there never will be.
She has no place in his-story. She can be the dutiful wife, who is the mother of sons, and she can be the motherland, that needs the protection of her sons against foreign intruders. In this story of hymen and honour, there is not an inkling of thought spared for her personhood, her agency over her body, often a site for men’s wars, communities’ clashes and tensions.
Rape and sexual violence has been a political tool that has been systematically used against women and the vulnerable to silence and to dominate. Rape in our country has been more easily commercialised than it has received justice.
We cannot forget how Delhi Crime–a web series was produced glorifying the police a year before the rapists in the December 2012 case were punished. We also cannot forget how the biopic of Phoolan Devi, Bandit Queen, was denied a screening. The biopic which claimed to have represented the ‘truth’ was factually incorrect and also disrespectful.
It denied Phoolan Devi her human rights, her dignity, her privacy and her freedom. Mala Sen, while speaking of Phoolan Devi, maintained how she was not willing to discuss rape-
“When I spoke to her, she was reluctant to speak of her bezathi (dishonour) as she put it, at the hands of the Thakurs. She did not want to dwell on the details and merely said, ‘Un logo ne mujhse bahut mazak ki’ (Those people behaved badly with me) …we live in societies where a woman who is abused sexually ends up feeling deeply humiliated, knowing, that many will think that it was her fault, or partly her fault. That she provoked the situation in the first place, Phoolan Devi, like many other women all over the world, feels she will only add to her shame if she speaks of this experience.” (Roy, The Great Indian Rape Trick)
This retelling of her humiliation must have been traumatic for a woman already, but to retell it without taking into concern her perspective and position in society had added insult to the injury. Not only was Bandit Queen made to cater to the middle-class sentiments by editing out details from her life, but it was also a handbook for Indian women, who apparently “choose to get raped” and how she needs to seek retribution.
The State and the media trials have always been vigilant about the way they want to represent violence against women. The jargons and the narratives are selected to fit the appropriate socio-political atmosphere. It is not just about rape, the experience that is meted out to the victims which clearly reveal how rape is a political weapon. So, people, who reject the caste aspect in rape, are those who are blinded by their caste privileges.
Rape, more than being about the physical agony and the mental humiliation, is essentially a political tool. During the partition, the conflict zones in Kashmir, North-East and Chattisgarh, the Nandigram-Singur protests in West Bengal have all witnessed rape and sexual abuse against women.
Tapasi Mallick, who was raped in Nandigram while protesting against the government, was initially reported as rape by an estranged lover. The political aspect of it was hidden behind personal allegations.
The December 2012 rape case in Delhi or Priyanka Reddy’s rape case in Hyderabad, were not momentary lapses on the part of sexually frustrated men, they were outbursts of men, who wanted to teach women their position in society. They were men, who were reasserting their position in a society that was seeing increasing visibility of women in all spheres of the society.
So, today as we speak of the girl from Hathras, it is crucial that we remember that she is a Dalit, that her perpetrators were upper-class men. They are men who have the privilege of walking scot-free because of the lack of evidence or of mechanisms that are actively mobilising to destroy evidence; they are men who have the privilege of systemiclly suppressing a section of the society and then claim ‘casteism does not exist in India’.
At the heels of the Hathras gangrape case, there are already two more rape cases which have been reported within a matter of few days, that are an outcome of class based atrocities. While it is common to wait for forensic reports to confirm the allegations of rape, nowhere are the victims treated with such doubt and contempt as they are when they are women from the Dalit community.
Not only does this reveal the insensitivity of the administration, but it shows an active involvement on their part to influence public opinion about these victims. In a country that has an unbelievably high rate of occurrence of rape, with at least 11% of the victims are from the Dalit community, such insensitive approach is a plight for the women in general and the Dalit women in particular.
The autopsy report of the Hathras girl has already been used to claim that the victim had not been raped. However doctors from the UP hospital has confirmed rape. The samples from the girl were collected on September 25, which was 11 days after the incident; while semen samples may not be available after seventy-two hours of the incident.
The way her body was whisked away by police authorities and burned at 2:30 in the morning, shows us where the case is headed, and is nothing short of an attempt to destroy evidence.
This reminds us how Phoolan Devi was operated to remove an ovarian cyst. Her womb was removed, and the prison doctor had laughed and said–‘We don’t want her breeding any more Phoolan Devis!’
The State may have to control unrest and mob violence, but to deny her parents the right to see their daughter one last time is barbaric. As her body was burnt like thousands other in Kashmir who are cremated anonymously in the presence of limited or no family members, we get a glimpse of the Ram Rajya where there is no place for Sitas.
The State can remove the uterus from her body, or remove the body too without seeking the consent of her family members if and when it deems fit. Though legally the burden of proof has now shifted from the victim onto the convict, yet, the medical report and the ‘conduct of the victim’ is kept into consideration while giving importance to the testimony of the victim.
The police have in this case accused the victim and her family of offering unreliable information, and not mentioning the incident of rape in the initial complaints. But how often do we see women able to speak fearlessly of rape just immediately after the occurrence? Especially, when you are the daughter of one of the 15 Dalit families, living in a village of 600 upper caste families.
The administration instead of comforting and guiding the victim and her family in these tough times has offered veiled threats. The proceedings not only harass the family but also sends across a message that prevents families from reporting rapes, further silencing women who are victims of sexual abuse.
The threat today is real; it is brewing in the backyard. As celebrities and international NGOs are being witch-hunted in the name of exposing the truth and delivering justice, we need to know the cost of raising our voices. As we see Tanushree Pandey, the reporter who diligently broke the news of the girl’s body being burnt by the UP police at Hathras, we wonder what happened to the efficient paparazzi that stalked Deepika online and offline a few days back.
Sensitive reporting of the crime and informed understanding of the situation is still scarce. We still fail to see the rape as a political weapon. What needs to be taken into account is the victim’s perspective, her story and her rights. Even in situations of political volatility, individual rights cannot be trampled upon.
Also, the idea that rape ruins the purpose of a woman’s life needs to be questioned. Such harassment of the family members of the victims perpetuates the idea that death is the only way out of this dishonour. Just like the media trials of women after their lovers’ death takes us back to the age of Sati.
It is wrong to claim that nothing has changed in the last few centuries; instead, we need to notice, that all that had changed, all the freedom that women had started to enjoy is being systematically snatched back from them.
Pratyusha is a Research Scholar and Teaching Assistant in the Department of Humanistic Studies, IIT (BHU), Varanasi. She is interested in Post Colonial Resistance and Protest Movements, Gender and Film Studies. She can be found on Facebook.
Featured Image Source: Marva M/Feminism In India