In a week, India has witnessed at least six incidents of rapes. The most horrifying of them has been the brutal rape and murder of a female veterinarian in Hyderabad, protests against which have now assumed a gargantuan form, reviving dark memories of the Nirbhaya rape case in the winter of 2012. The 27-year-old Hyderabad woman was abducted, inebriated and gangraped by four men before being smothered to death. On November 28, her charred body was found on the roadside on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
Although it takes us a ghastly Nirbhaya, a Kathua or a Disha (sobriquet given to the Hyderabad vet) rape and murder case to happen, to wake up to the fact how India is in the throes of a rape crisis, rapes in the country are not as seasonal as the media portrays them to be in the wake of a sensational case. The country, in fact, suffers the notoriety of being the most dangerous for women in the world, ahead of Afghanistan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, as per a survey conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2018. If the recent National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB- 2017) figures are considered, a woman is raped every 15 minutes in the country, taking the number to a staggering 32,559 per year.
So, it is not surprising that the same week Disha was raped and killed, the body of a six-year-old girl, was recovered from the bushes near her village in Tonk district of Rajasthan. She was kidnapped and raped by a 40-year-old man and strangled to death with her school belt. The same week, a 25-year-old law student was gangraped by 12 men at gunpoint at a brick kiln near Ranchi’s high-security zone.
There are more, both reported and unreported.
But, the question is how we have responded to such incidents, their brashly frequent occurrence and the audacity with which they are being committed. Have they taught us to be more alert, more aware or more sensitive? And most importantly, ask more pertinent questions?
Sadly, they have not.
Feeding off salacious content
The media, for instance, lapped up the Hyderabad story and didn’t think twice before emblazoning the victim’s photo all over national television and the internet. Social media followed suit, with some even juxtaposing the girl’s photo with her burnt body. The prettier the face and the gorier the body, the more the clicks and TRPs. It was only later that the face was blurred and the name was changed to ‘Disha’ at the insistence of Telangana police. A senior TV reporter of a well-known channel while talking to the victim’s relatives was found smiling all along, even as she was inquiring about the fateful night.
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Shaming the dead
Public representatives to save their own skin didn’t waste time in shaming the victim. Two days after the incident came to light, Telangana’s home minister Mohammad Mahmood Ali wished the victim had dialled 100 instead of calling her sister. Perhaps, she couldn’t have. Firstly, because when in panic one’s first reaction is to call someone they have faith in or can expect help from. Secondly, the police are yet to come under the safe confines of faith. There have been several instances, where women have been raped by policemen, even in stations. Recently, a woman in Odisha was raped by four including a former cop.
Disha’s family has alleged that when they approached the cops at Shamshabad police to file an FIR after she went missing, they not only delayed the filing of the report citing jurisdictional problems, but also asked them inappropriate questions – even callously hinting that their daughter may have eloped with someone.
In the Nirbhaya case, advocate Ajay Prakash Singh, representing two of the accused, in an interview, had said that the girl and her boyfriend were making out on the bus, which had infuriated the perpetrators, as intimacy in public, is banned in India.
Their 15 minutes of fame
Queerer than victim-shaming are the punishments suggested by activists, politicians, and protesters in the heat of the moment – lynching the accused in public, castrating them and selling their assets for the surgery et al.
So, it came as a surprise when Samajwadi Party (SP) MP Jaya Bachchan in a firebrand fashion suggested that the accused in the Hyderabad case, should be lynched in public. Ironically, her statement doesn’t resonate with the past actions of the leaders of her party. It was SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who while opposing capital punishment for rape (implemented in the wake of the Nirbhaya gangrape case), in 2014 had made the famous remark of “ladke, ladke hain…galti ho jati hai (boys will be boys…they commit mistakes).” Rampur MP Azam Khan in July had left the party embarrassed when he made a sexist remark at chair Rama Devi in Lok Sabha, telling her that he wants to fix his eyes on her as he finds her admirable.
Now, what punishment would Jayaji recommend for such misogynists, whose pearls of wisdom nurture rape mentality?
There are other politicians who whitewash the crimes of the rapists by stating that girls should not wear tight clothes, should not “roam around” with boys who are not their relatives and that rape of grown-up girls is understood, but that of minors shouldn’t be tolerated. And also those who are alleged sexual offenders themselves – former BJP MP Chinmayanad, accused of the rape of a law student and ex-party MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the prime accused in the Unnao rape case, for instance.
And there are sickening remedies dished out by public figures too. Daniel Shravan, a filmmaker in a Facebook post has suggested that women should carry condoms and cooperate with rapists to save themselves from murder and that legalising ‘rapes without violence’ is the only solution to the brutal murders of victims. “Girls above 18 should be educated on rapes (i.e. girls should not deny sexual desires of men)…simple logic…when sexual desire is fulfilled men wouldn’t kill women,” the post read, adding that anti-rape laws, women organisations and the government are frightening rapists who end up killing their victims.
Advisories, only for girls?
But, even before the accused are dealt with, homilies are given on how women should conduct themselves, when they should venture out and what they should wear. Curfew timings are made stricter in women’s hostels and advisories are issued for women to “stay safe”. A student of a private engineering college in Bhubaneswar tells us that while the boys’ hostel stays open all night, the girls are cooped up by 6.30 pm and not even allowed to access the hostel’s lawn. “Why such rules for us when we have done nothing wrong? Why are the miscreants roaming free, when we are locked up?” asks the 19-year-old. She says the rules have been made stricter after the Hyderabad rape and murder case.
The Hyderabad police issued a similar list of dos for women in the wake of the rape and murder. Informing family/friends about your whereabouts and return time, sharing live locations, always sticking to illuminated areas and not isolated places, asking help from passengers and shouting for help are a few to name.
What has stung more are statements like ‘women employees should not be given night duties and that their work should end by 8 pm’ from Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.
All in good faith, they say.
Fair enough. But doesn’t work all the time. And most importantly is unfair.
The Hyderabad rape and murder incident is a déjà vu moment because of its uncanny resemblance to the drama around similar cases like the Nirbhaya or the Kathua rape case. Instead of chasing our tail again, it’s time we ask pertinent questions to avoid the recurrence of another:
Why the introduction of the death penalty for rape hasn’t been a deterrent for perpetrators yet?
Why police is yet to make it to the speed dial of women in distress?
Why isn’t city infrastructure bolstered and policing heightened in desolate stretches instead of asking women to stick to illuminated areas?
And culturally and socially, why haven’t we evolved beyond being a victim-blaming society?