Sexually offended

Sexually Offended

I was confused about how to write this. As my feeble attempt at independent journalism is it a report or is it the aftermath of damage? The part of the story authors doesn’t write, because follow-ups on real-life horror, means bringing back so much pain to life. You never know what you will unearth when the dried leaves on the floor have been raked. You don’t know what the soil can give birth to.

Why did I choose to write it? Because it is important to be a parole officer with some wounds. It’s important to address because we all are trying our hands at self-discovery and nothing seems to make us understand this life better than that. I am writing it, because the countless men and women who have gone through these different experiences, still want to talk about it. Some of them have stayed unheard, some closeted with what happened, and some still need to make sense. I am writing it because when you google rape/ molestation victims in India, there are countless articles on why, how the crime is committed but there are close to none on who circled back to these victims and survivors to hear what they want. I know, because I am one of them.

A lot of people interviewed here are the privileged class. I think they know it too. That is also the reason, besides access, as to why I have chosen them. Crime doesn’t differentiate between its victims based on class, gender, age. To demographically frame it for you, they are all men and women between the ages of 21-40. All of them are educated, working men and women. Most of them experienced sexual assault as young adults and teenagers. Most of them did not take any legal action against the perpetrator of the said crime.

More the occurrence and repetition of a phenomenon (Rape) the less it’s worthy of outrage

Over the last few decades, in matters of sexual crimes, there has been but slight improvement. The numbers haven’t been pleasant, but there is better reporting. However, more reporting with no reduction in the crime itself has done one thing: It has normalised the concept of it. “Normal” is harmless, nothing out of the ordinary and hence not alarming. There is a strong difference between statistical normal and what people adapt as normal. Patriarchy, caste-based crimes and now COVID, overlong and short periods of time have been accepted as normal within our ecosystem. More the occurrence and repetition of a phenomenon the less it’s worthy of outrage. Statistically speaking, gender specialists in 2012 ranked India the worst place among G-20 countries to be a woman, worse even than Saudi Arabia where women have to live under the supervision of a male guardian. As per an Economic Times blog, according to government data, nearly four women are raped every hour in this country. What seems overwhelming in numbers, however, is so widely ignored in the country. When three men were convicted in 2014, for the gang rape of a journalist, Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi party said: “Boys make mistakes. They should not hang for this. We will change the anti-rape laws.” The normalisation of rape began at home turf. It began with us accepting it as another shameful part of this culture. It began when parents along with the rest of the society thought shutting up is always better than bad publicity. It began when criminals were paid off to leave towns, erring relatives were politely asked to give their house a skip for yearly visits. It was normalised when keeping a distance between the criminal and the victim was what our parents found the best option.

The normalisation of rape began at home turf. It began with us accepting it as another shameful part of this culture. It began when parents along with the rest of the society thought shutting up is always better than bad publicity.

Our criminal justice system is based on three broad questions: What law was broken? Who broke it? And what should the punishment be? But like most justice systems in the world, they forget to ask, what about the person who lost? As Rega wrote comprehensively in one of her weekly newsletters, “when we say justice, we mean revenge. The person most harmed is the person left bleeding.” They say “hurt people hurt people” and that the system is broken. There is a strong line of defence on why the criminal did what he did (patriarchy, frustration, upbringing etc). Our society very easily keeps itself in the criminal’s shoes, but the parody with the victim remains critical at best. Most of the women who reached out to me were strongly against the death penalty.

It’s aggressive to the extent of being rendered ineffectual. Revenge is passionate, and crimes are avenged (loosely inspired by Samuel Johnson’s thoughts, maybe.) But what punishment is really potent and constructive in a crime as heinous as this?

Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi party said: “Boys make mistakes. They should not be hanged for this. We will change the anti-rape laws.”

If considered biologically, we have our defence reflexes, our instinct system designed to right the wrong. If we are genetically wired to tribe loyalties, greed, revenge, denial and forgiveness, it means there are conflicting forces at play here. The battle between what leads to some amount of relief for the survivor: forgiveness or ruthless punishment then becomes a ground of contention. Fortunately, we don’t live in a lawless land, however, the big book on those laws was also framed by benches of men who claimed to know better than the victim. They decided what was functional and productive as a punishment. Rape numbers, though clutching men as victims too, are largely dominated by women. As Article 375 of Indian Penal Code stands, rape is something only a man can do to a woman. Here are some snippets of my email exchange with Dr Madhumita Pandey, who is a doctoral researcher in criminology at Anglia Ruskin University. She has interviewed over 100 convicted sex offenders in Delhi to understand the endemic sexual violence against women in India. She says, “Most survivors that I have spoken to want an overhauling of the system – while they want the perpetrators to serve a long sentence, they also want society and societal systems to reflect on their practices. They want to hold everyone accountable for such acts – the helplines, police, criminal justice system and society as all these aspects add to their mistreatment and injustice. Needless to say, some are also furious and want the most extreme punishments but also understand that is not going to be the long term solution.”

Most survivors that I have spoken to want an overhauling of the system – Dr Madhumita Pandey

What is the way forward then? Is it Restorative justice? The three large ideas under it being repair, encounter and transformation. It’s the mechanism that believes civilised societies need not follow the rules of the jungle. Harm need not be reciprocated with harm necessarily. It believes in the power of arbitration, communication to decide suitable punishments, mutually decided by both parties. This system of justice is entrusted to make the much-needed repair to people, relationships and communities. It is tough to imagine this system penetrating the rural community immediately because the stigma is so entrenched. Ancient caste biases prevail, deals are struck, money is exchanged and that’s that. No police, no system, no laws. Astha doesn’t believe in aggressive remedies, the death penalty for any crime being extreme. She recognises counselling and isolation of sorts as effective remedies. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Sujata. She doesn’t believe we punish them enough or too hard. She raises a valid question here: “Why murders are rare but not rape? Because it is explicit what happens to murderers but rarely people know what happens to rapists.” Is it a matter of case to case? Are blanket solutions not possible because conditions in which happen differ, the victim differs, the capacity of mental health differs? Personally, (because no matter how hard you try to not make it about yourself, you’re part of the story), I have realised how dichotomous solutions are dangerous. A few years back, a younger me would have preferred the harshest physical treatment for him. A 30-year-old me hopes that he has registered his crime, and secretly hates he has a daughter. He doesn’t deserve her.

“Why murders are rare but not rape? Because it is explicit what happens to murderers but rarely people know what happens to rapists.” – Sujata (Rape Victim)

In the same newsletter, Rega writes, “ Vengeance is evolutionarily useful because by harming someone back, we make it less likely that they’ll harm us again. It’s meant to protect us. To deter wrongdoing. Forgiveness is evolutionarily useful because we need lasting relationships in order to live and it’s inevitable that the people we have relationships with will occasionally harm us.”

A large number of unreported cases (whether out of shame, shambolic criminal system, political pressures etc) communicate forgiveness to these offenders. Is our silence on the matter emboldening this vulturine behaviour? “Realistically speaking, that means only about 90 women each day have the courage to report that they have been sexually violated.” (Economic Times). According to government data, nearly four women are raped every hour in this country. Do the math.

About 90 women each day have the courage to report that they have been sexually violated- Economic Times

Sujata doesn’t wish to be addressed as a survivor. She prefers the term victim because IT is a crime, and by extended definition, she feels wronged like a victim. Pranshi prefers the injured party. It was a public place, and hence public humiliation for her criminal is important to her. Ankita raises a very valid argument. The term needs to serve a two-fold purpose, it needs to stop pity for the injured party and not leave a bitter aftertaste when addressed. She prefers the term fighter. Ankita’s offender is a father to a daughter. She fears the safety of that young girl. Akshay is no longer impacted, he doesn’t dream badly. But he fails to understand how the crime is justified whether by upbringing, regression or clothes. No age, gender barriers on the range of victims remove everything as a logical defence. He needs the world to stop defining failures on external factors. Preferably, work in the direction of busting these rape myths. He says and I quote, “he had the power to make me feel sorry for him. Me? The one who was bleeding between my thighs at that very moment felt sorry for HIM.” I failed to fathom this.

Featured image: Wall Street International Magazine


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About the Author

Kanika Bhatia works as a lifestyle, gender and political writer. She represents new and upcoming startups for their marketing and content strategy. She believes in the power of story-telling and runs a podcast and blog under #SheSaidIt. 

One thought on “Sexually offended

  1. I really like reading through a post that can make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing me to comment!

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