15 Apr 2018 18:58 IST

Monstrous mathematics

Many people find numbers hard to deal with, and in the context of rape, it’s totally baffling

It’s said that in India, there’s a rape being committed every 15 minutes. Now calculate what that means in terms of a 24x7 time period over 365 days each year. I did. It comes to about 35,000 people, young and old, who suffer physical, sexual abuse leading to various levels of trauma and, in many instances, death. This includes old women, small children, and even babies. Both girls and boys.

Not possible, that’s a gross exaggeration, you may say. Okay, so, let’s say the numbers have been inflated four times. That’s still 8,750 instances annually. In an ideal world — and that’s the world ordinary folk strive to build — that’s 8,750 too many.

And how many rapists are convicted? About one in four. In many instances, they would be rapists and murders. In some 98 per cent of the cases — in other words, in most instances — the rapists are persons known to the victim. These ‘known’ persons include uncles, cousins, friends, fathers, grandfathers. Often they are invested with power and/or trust. The violence can be premeditated, it can be random. Victims range from babies to the elderly. Victims are not viewed as living, breathing, sentient beings, they are objects in the eyes of aggressors, deserving of subjugation, of punishment, of oppression.

Stop shaming victims

In some instances, perhaps, the oppressor is as much a victim in that the former is sick, in need of medical intervention, both physical and mental. But to use this argument to cover up the fact that it is the victim who needs justice and not justify offender’s actions, is to perpetuate a long-held, misguided stereotype. The victim doesn’t deserve to be raped, or ask to be raped. What did the little eight-year-old in Kathua know of anything that January day except that she wanted a pair of sandals to wear with new clothes for an upcoming wedding, and that she loved horses. What did she know of sexual abuse, let alone sexuality, even as she was repeatedly thrust into and then smashed with a stone to ensure she was properly dead?

The teenager raped by a political bigwig in Unnao knew enough to make a noise about what had happened to her. Except that her cries and protests fell on deaf years for months. The entire nation reacted in horror as details of the Nirbhaya case unfolded. The State even got into the act and attempted to ‘rescue’ the young woman raped brutally on a bus by enabling efforts to re-constitute her body. Of course, ‘Nirbhaya’ was long gone. And, of course, she’s been long forgotten. All that noise, all that indignation, all those candle-light protests, all that howling. For nothing. Hiding behind all the hype, the power play continued, continues, will continue.

History of rape

Greek mythology is replete with stories of rape of women and youth. The much-glorified Zeus, god of sky and thunder and ruler of the Olympian gods, has a string of rapes to his ‘credit’: He transforms himself into a swan and rapes Leda, the wife of the king of Sparta, as she is bathing in the lake. He rapes various major and minor figures such as Demeter, the goddess of harvest and agriculture, and Europa, the Cretan moon goddess, among others. Stories of rape are plentiful in other mythologies as well. The goddess Rindr is raped by Odin, Nordic god of war, death, sky, wisdom and poetry.

Then we have the case of Ahalya, wife of a sage, Gautama, who is raped by Indra, god of thunder and lightning, and king of the devas. Naturally she is punished and condemned to become a stone until Vishnu places his foot upon the stone (which he does, as Rama). Indra’s punishment takes the form of vulvae covering his body, but these are converted into eyes after he does penance. So, there’s crime, punishment, and retribution for Indira, but for Ahalya, innocent victim, there’s only punishment. And of course, after she regains her human form, she returns dutifully to her husband who so unjustly condemned her.

In a 2014 article by Emma Rees published by The Conversation, she recalls a myth from the Baiga tribe in Madhya Pradesh about “a woman whose vagina punishes men by amputating their penises… this mythical castration by the equally mythical ‘toothed vagina’, or vagina dentata, leads to a wealthy landlord commanding four men of other castes to rape and subdue the woman”. The woman wails in pain but is consoled when one of the men promises to marry her.

Deep-rooted misogyny

Rees goes on to quote research by the renowned anthropologist Verrier Elwin that shows how misogyny has a long and deep-rooted history in India in the form of stories that focus on subduing women, “of violently forcing them into death or marriage, having first — usually — sadistically knocked the ‘teeth’ out of their vaginas”.

Victims being forced to marry the men who raped them — this is no myth, it’s a dream and a reality. A 2017 Washington Post article by Vidhi Doshi quotes research done by Madhumita Pandey who, after the Nirbhaya incident, interviewed about a hundred convicted rapists in jail: “…many men made excuses or gave justifications for their actions. Many denied rape happened at all. ‘There were only three or four who said we are repenting. Others had found a way to put their actions into some justification, neutralise, or blame action onto the victim.’…” One “expressed remorse for raping a 5-year-old girl. ‘He said, “Yes I feel bad, I ruined her life.” Now she is no longer a virgin, no one would marry her. Then he said, “I would accept her, I will marry her when I come out of jail.” …’ ” As for the child’s mother, she didn’t even know her daughter’s rapist was in jail.

Madhumita told Vidhi that she faced a lot of hostility. People “assume a woman doing research like this will misrepresent men’s ideas. Where do you begin with someone like that?”

Yes, where do you begin when the state refuses to allow a 10-year-old rape victim to have an abortion?

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