By: Chitra Ahanthem
Suddenly, the issue of ?rape? is now occupying center stage due to a spate of such incidents across the country and the resulting constant national media attention. But the rape of a girl from the ?North Eastern? region in Delhi last week has seen strange reactions back home. For instance, one student organization wanted ?clarification about where the victim hailed from?. Some editorials have gone to the extent of stating that the case was not so much an issue of law and order as it was about the ?discriminatory/derogatory attitude of mainland Indians against narrow eyes and flat noses?.
But are we with the issue of rape or with questions of regionalism, alienation, identity and more? To someone who follows the presentation and response of gender related issues, it will surely be a case of digressing from the core of the issue if one is to look at the ?us against them? attitude. This is not to say that it does not exist but surely, rapes happen because of a more basic instinct: the power of the strong over the more vulnerable? That there will always be men who take perverse delight in using brute force and that there will always be men and women who will always blame the women or the circumstances or the attire or the timing or ethnic lines?everything except do something about it?
The reaction of certain people has been very confusing. For if we are talking about public anger or response and reaction to the issue of rape, why did not we see them against the rape of a Keralite woman in Nagaland or even the rape of a 3 year old Meitei girl by a Meitei man (which was reported on the same day as the rape of the girl in Delhi)? Or are we looking for excuses to alienate ourselves into a corner and then lay the blame on ?mainland people?? Would the reactions have been otherwise if the minor was raped by a non-local or even security personnel?
We have seen public outrage when non locals are behind the rapes but is that all there is to it? Why is it alright to let the issue to be enveloped by a veil of stoic silence if it is otherwise? Why are we not talking of uniform measures to address the issue but splitting hair?
The ?Special Report? section of The (Sunday) Times of India, May 8 2005 carried inputs on the issue of rape which gave out some rather alarming figures: 2 rapes take place every hour in India; 1 in every 5 victims is a child while 19 out of 20 rape accused walk free. It goes on to dispel very familiar myths held by the public: that the victim ?invites? rape by ?dressing provocatively? (sic) or by being at the scene of crime at that particular timing. ?Of the 15,856 rape cases reported in India in 2003, less than 9% were from 35 cities with a population of more than a million (2001 census). Over 90% of the cases were in small villages and towns where dresses would pass the most exacting standards of cultural policemen.?
To further put the lid on, most rape cases often go unreported for fear of stigma and social ostracization. The slow legal pace and the low conviction rate also contribute towards adding more cause for concern. In a scene reminiscent of a Hindi film, a man who raped and physically assaulted a nurse (to the extent of gorging one eye) in a hospital in Delhi had the nerve to ?offer? to marry the victim (!) which typically brings the debate to another head: marital rape as also the issue of rape by coerced consent. Both are traumatic experiences but are often swept under the rug of social purview.
But coming back to this present case of rape, let us not get distracted into other avenues or use the incident to demarcate further lines of division. Fact of the matter is that a woman was raped: where she belongs to or who she is does not make it any less or more of an ordeal. A raped woman who will probably be under severe psychological, emotional and mental stress deserves to get some solace knowing that the men who were responsible for turning her life around will get their just deserts. Not just the girl/woman from the ?North East? but every woman who undergoes that personal and intimate crisis needs to have the culprits brought to book.
If we are to be really champion advocates for women empowerment, let us debate and discuss on how best we can prevent rapes: legally by enforcing more stringent punishment to deter them and socially perhaps, by moral education and discourses on ethics and life values. But let us NOT be silent and wait only to react when one of ?our? own is involved.