By Rahul Maganti:
The statement ‘Boys make mistakes’ in the context of past rapes, made by Mulayam Singh Yadav, the supremo of Samajwadi Party, the ruling party of Uttar Pradesh which reports three out of the five rapes in India, mostly Dalit, cannot be looked at in isolation. Many anti-women statements by policy makers and politicians have diluted the feminist movement in the country. Here are some more gems. A day after the remarks made by Mulayam Singh Yadav, SP State president Abu Azmi said, “If a woman is caught (in a rape case), then both she and the boy should be punished. In India, there is death penalty for rape, but when there’s consensual sex outside marriage, there’s no death penalty against women”. Only God knows what he meant out of the word of ‘consensual sex’. In January 2009, after the Mangalore pub attack on women by Sri Ram Sene, a Hindu Militant group, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa created a stir when instead of unequivocally condemning the attack, he said that he wanted to “end the culture of boys and girls roaming around in malls holding hands”.
A couple of years ago, when a woman was molested and harassed in full public view in Guwahati, Kailash Vijayavargiya, Minister in the BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh voiced his opinion that the girls are equally to blame as they dress provocatively and invite these kind of incidents. The statement ‘Rapes happen by-mistake’ by the Home Minister of Chhattisgarh, a BJP ruled state is the latest gem among many others. These recent statements have led to a debate on the culture of impunity, where political dismissal of crimes against women encourages perpetrators and discourages victims from speaking out.
What do these insensitive statements by politicians mean to the larger feminist movement in the country? They succeed in blaming the choice of dress of the survivorÂ for the rape rather than the inhuman nature of the person whose penis sprung up to unleash his power of superiority over the women. With the political debate degenerating to such an extent, the idea of ‘Boys will be boys’ has gained ground. What does the phrase, “Boys will be boys” mean in the context of ‘boys’ and ‘men’ raping ‘women’? It essentially means that ‘Raping women is a birth right of every boy and it’s his inherent nature. That men must and should subdue the women by suppressing them and weilding power over them’. Is invading another person’s privacy a ‘boyish’ act? Will inflicting physical pain and mental torture on a woman, thereby ‘certify a boy that he is actually a boy’? Is a woman’s job to preserve her vagina and a man’s job to penetrate his penis into that vagina? Physical abuse of women and even rape is not a mere sexual act, but act of humiliation and power by male lacking in self-worth.
It is our natural human impulse to explain away ugliness. To be complacent and confront the fact that we are culturally saturated with historical misogyny and a patriarchal society is a complex and overwhelming problem to solve. We make excuses for it, because the alternative seems unachievable. Men are not inherently violent, degrading and predatory and women are not inherently victims. We need to move beyond the oversimplification of these constructs. The interface between patriarchy, caste and economic power makes women of the oppressed castes most vulnerable to sexual violence. In around 90% of the rape cases reported, the victims are DalitÂ and more than four Dalits are raped every day. Poverty also makes a community more vulnerable. Many victims were raped or assaulted when they went to the fields because, like millions of Indians, they have no access to toilets at home.
Anyone who has studied or worked in the field of domestic violence can tell you that the “overarching attitudinal characteristic” of abusive men is entitlement and the belief that they have rights without responsibility to or respect for others. Similar attitudes feed our steady stream of sexual assault and rape.
Women in India enjoy as much freedom as men in the country. Do women really need to be policed about what they wear in India in this day and age? With this statement, the onus of violence against women and their abuse have been clearly shifted from the attacker to the survivor, which is an uncompromising trend. Women in our country don’t get raped, abused or killed because of the clothes they wear or don’t wear. It is because men feel that they can get away with it and leaders in such high positions making a statement like the above only adds to this wrong belief. While every citizen of this country has a right to voice his/her opinion, telling half the population of the country how to dress certainly doesn’t seem right.