In Jalore district in Rajasthan, a man reportedly raped his 16 year old minor daughter following which the brother of the girl died by suicide. While the rape of a minor demands speedy justice for the young girl, her brother’s decision to kill himself raises a pertinent question. Why is it that even today, violence against women, especially sexual violence, continues to be embedded in the victim blaming narrative that posits the honour of a family in a woman’s vagina?
According to a report by the NDTV details regarding the timeline of the incident are yet to be confirmed, however, the news came out when an audio went viral in which the girl is purportedly narrating to her aunt about the sexual assault. Her brother somehow got to know about what happened through the audio clip, following which he took the drastic step of ending his life by jumping into the Narmada canal in Sanchore district.
According to other reports published in Times of India and India Today, the victim narrates the entire incident and informs how her father took her in a vehicle on the pretext of buying her a new mobile handset and raped her on their way back home. The girl mentions in the audio clip that her mother insisted that the father take the brother along with, but he did not. When the girl then confronted the father following his sexual advances, she was reprimanded by her mother which pushed her into silence. Here too, we see how family structures prioritise the honour of the family than ensuring the victim is heard and protected. When we question why women do not speak up sooner about the incidents of sexual violence that they have had to face, it is because of this very reason: either they are silenced by the ones meant to offer them unconditional support or they are outrightly dismissed.
Reportedly, when the police finally reached the location, as soon as the audio clip was brought to their knowledge. However, when they reached the spot, they found the brother’s deceased body, and the girl’s father had escaped. Currently further investigation is still going on.
In Kerala too, merely a couple of months ago, we were witness to the death of Vismaya, a young promising woman, who was subjected to domestic violence related to dowry demands. When Vismaya narrated the incidents to her mother, her parents chose to not call their daughter back home to a safe space, thus re-instilling the narrative that a woman separating from her husband would bring shame to her family.
Women’s body and the question of honour
This brings to light numerous problems that young girls and women usually face are are often instructed to remain silent about. The idea of the family’s honour attached to a woman’s body and her chastity is ingrained in the Indian mentality.
In the present case, the brother of minor girl who died by suicide might have been more concerned about the family’s honour than to understand what the girl went through. Several Bollywood films too have normalised the narrative of a brother of a woman who was raped avenging the ‘dishonour’ brought upon the family by raping the sister of the former’s assaulter. Why is it that when a woman is subjected to sexual violence, her own personhood is often forgotten and the abstract notion of the family’s honour given priority, in such a way that further burdens the victim?
The power to restrict a woman’s agency and confine her humanhood is derived from the very masculine drive to dominate, exercise control and exploit her body with an entitlement rooted in gender power hierarchy. This, coupled with the patriarchal notion of burdening a woman’s body as the cultural bearer of family’s honour, further deprives her of any agency.
In Indian society, we are taught to respect elders, regardless of their behaviour and conduct with their children. This is a fundamental reason behind why those who are subjected to child sexual abuse remain mum: when they are forced to interact with their perpetrators and when any indication of discomfort is brushed aside by their own parents. Child sex abuse thus remains severely underreported.
In the words of Tara Kaushal who writes in the article Why Men Gang Rape; “It is as if family’s honor lies in woman’s vagina”, where the family feels victimized when daughter/women in the family is sexually assaulted.
Featured Image Credit: Arpita Biswas/Feminism in India