“You are safe right?”: The Impossibility of Empathy



By Soibam Haripriya

December 16th rings a bell; no one needs to explain more. The date is fixated on many minds as a day of a horrendous crime. That was two years ago. Does 27th May ring a bell? For a few yes, perhaps very few. Very few aftermath protest marks this crime. There is certainly no outpouring on the streets of Delhi. No one feels ‘It could have been me’; ‘It could have been my daughter/my sister/my wife’ (the rightful discomfort that women feel on being put in the category of sister/daughter/ wife/mother will not be discussed here). A thought that was shared by many in the aftermath of December 16th is certainly not a thought shared in the aftermath of May 27th.

Patriarchy and its oppression works out not as a standalone system but is woven with all the other oppression socio-economic, class-caste configuration etc. It is but a hope that our sense of indignation also DO NOT work in a similar configuration but it does. The Badaun rape case, -On the 27th of May of two sisters (post mortem report has confirmed rape) were raped and strangulated and hung from a tree a mere kilometre away from their home. To this and the dismal record of the safety of women in his state the Chief Minister’s response (to a reporter was) –“You are safe right?”

Rape is one of the many brutal acts of domination. In the aftermath of December 16th, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat had (in) famously said in Silchar “Crimes against women happening in urban India are shameful. But such crimes won’t happen in Bharat or the rural areas. You go to villages and forests and there will be no such incidents”. (That the Prime Minister of the country is a member of the RSS whose chief made this statement should be a cause of worry. This is certainly not a digression). Contrary to Mohan Bhagwat it is in his Bharat (as always) that a low class, caste, untouchable, woman has more chances of getting raped because of the inaccessibility to the police systems that work on the same line of caste configuration, political patronage and social political clout of the other group. There is almost an unwritten law of “who can be raped, molested and assaulted” with more impunity than the others. We all know “who can be raped” in this country because of (low) caste, (militarised) (rural/urban) region, (visual/ “racial”) differences. This also signals who amongst us will be indignant at what crime and where. There is a demarcation of boundaries beyond which we do not care to be indignant, a boundary beyond which there is an impossibility of empathy. It is certainly a tragedy that while many student’s groups fight for a “sister” getting raped in the capital, the strong drawn lines of identity prevents us from en masse protesting the Baduan rape in the heart of the country.

This is not to pitch one protest against another. There are many issues the December 16th protests raised and the everydayness of the evenings’ events before the rape certainly is what many could identify with. However, when other identities get enmeshed with violence against women one sees a lack of engagement with the violence itself. For instance the uproar in the valley after the molestation of a meitei actor is made to lead to the molestation and an attempt to sexual assault of two minor girls because they belonged to the community of the accused. Thus logically the protest is not a condemnation of the act of molestation per se it is because of ‘who’ had committed a crime against ‘whom’. The prevalence and embeddedness of other identity should not subsume the brutality of sexual violence and other crime against women. The universality of the crime should be recognised and therefore resisted.



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