By Abhijeet Kumar:
Sexual violence is ubiquitous. Subordination of women has been an ugly part of human civilisation. The growth of market forces seems to have made little difference. On the contrary, turning the human body into a ‘commodity’ has been one of its results. People across the world have been pretty vocal about this issue of late.
In India, debates and discussions over sexual violence have increased. Ironically, the number of rapes have as well. From the comfort of their homes, people like to opine as to why rapes happen. Some ‘geniuses’, held in high regard by others, enlighten us on what role the girls play in getting themselves raped, what should be done to the rapist etc. They put the blame on others, pretending they had nothing to with it.
The society as a whole has two sides on the issue of sexual violence. One addresses the violator and the second addresses the woman who is violated. It fails miserably on both sides.
Society’s attempt to understand the rapist is where it falters first. This is because it pretends that it had no role in shaping the personality of the violator. It fails to address the roots of patriarchy. The process through which this patriarchy is imbibed by children starts from the day they are born. Right from childhood, the idea of being masculine and thus superior is planted in the minds of boys. The girls are brought up being reminded every day that they are inferior to their brothers and other males due to physical differences. The toys they are given to play, the festivals they celebrate–Rakshabandhan and Bhai Dooj being cases in point–the domestic roles that are expected of them, the consciousness of them being physically as well as mentally deficient, thus become the products of patriarchy.
Women are made to feel like secondary citizens in society. Therefore, physical violence against females is a direct result of the structures which tilt the power relation in favour of males. This is the structure that society has created for itself and the structure endures.
This brings us to the other part of our discussion. That is the reaction of society when sexual violence happens, apart from holding the offender accountable. Patriarchy rears its ugly head again. The woman who suffers from sexual violence experiences violence at every level after the incident. First, from the legal system wherein she is made to relive the horrific experience if she is fortunate enough to have access to a legal recourse that is. Her morality, her character, her actions etc. are questioned, by the judiciary as well as the ‘sympathetic society’.
The way society and families deal with the women who have been sexually assaulted is of major concern. What follows after the rape is, in a way, more painful for the women. The reaction which they get makes it harder for women to deal with their trauma. They are constantly reminded, in a number of ways, that they are no longer a part of the ‘normal society’. They are constantly reminded that they will never go back to being the same person that they were before.
Therein comes the Brahminical idea of ‘purity’ that tells the woman that she is ‘impure’ and should not consider herself to be equal to others. In Ramayana, the ‘Maryada Purushottam’ Hindu god Ram, revered as the epitome of masculinity and perfection, did not hesitate for a second and refused to accept Sita after her abduction, his wife whom he supposedly ‘loved’ and fought a war for. The grounds were the suspicion that she might have lost her purity at the hands of Ravana.
Sita, to prove her ‘purity’ jumped into a fire. The incident is commonly presented by religious people as being an example of a great sacrifice. Such examples from mythology grant legitimacy to discrimination, or rather, exclusion, of women who have already suffered a lot. From this, one can easily understand what happens to women who are raped.
Women who are already considered secondary citizens, after their sexual exploitation, fall below even this category. What follows is that the ‘civil society’ refuses to have any kind of institutional ties, mainly marriages, with women who have already suffered enough. But this doesn’t come as much of a surprise since it is this same ‘civil society’ which, in matrimonial advertisements gives primacy to the caste and complexion of their desired brides. Thus, the society which presents itself as a ‘sympathiser’ of the survivor, in fact, becomes the agent of repeated violence on women.
Therefore, the we have to take responsibility for the violence which the woman suffers. Instead of pushing her into a dark corner and never allowing her to redeem herself, the society needs to help her recover. But, since we are a developing society, which is a common excuse for this, we will probably learn in time. Till then we can sit back in our homes, judging and blaming others while carrying on with our age old patriarchal practices mandated by our sacred texts and let our fellow humans die. But then again, what do we care?