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How Our Society Has ‘Normalised’ Rape And Why We Should Be Ashamed

By Neha Nandakumar:

Jisha. Kerala. Law student.
Last Thursday she was brutalised, raped and murdered. Around 30 injuries were found on her body. Her intestines had been pulled out. This is only a part of the torture she was forced to endure, but do I even need to provide these details to evoke fury in your heart? We need to ask ourselves – will we not feel outraged unless other forms of violence accompany rape?

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We cannot possibly be creating a benchmark to judge if an episode of sexual violence is ‘worth’ public outrage. We cannot be selectively furious. We are angry but not angry enough. We have all become accustomed to hearing about rape in our daily lives. We have sorrow only until we scroll down to the next post or flip to the next page of our newspaper. In our silence is our acceptance.

For at least five days after Jisha’s was violated, there was a total lack of any outrage. There wasn’t enough media coverage or public response to what had happened. Hardly anyone I spoke to on last Tuesday had even heard of her name. The article about her in the Times of India was a carry forward from the corner snippet of page 1 to page 14. Page 14! And on Wednesday, there was no article at all.

What does our delayed response to this terrible incident say about us? Is it something to do with our prejudice against dalits? Does it have to do with her not belonging to a wealthy or well-known family? Or does it have something to do with our resignation, our acceptance? Of our lack of faith in ourselves to bring about change?

The perpetrators who tortured Jisha and sunk humanity to another low must be caught and given the severest of punishments as soon as possible. Nobody should have to suffer the agony of rape, or that of the torture inflicted on Jisha. She shouldn’t have had to endure what she did. She had a lifetime ahead of her. She had a future which was snatched away from her so unfairly. So brutally.

However, the problem does not end with catching the criminals. This is one case of rape out of so many. Not all the criminals have been caught or punished. They are among us. They walk free. Every time that a person is raped, our heads sink lower and lower. Our country falls deeper and deeper into a well of shame. The shame of not being able to give its citizens the free life they deserve. Rapes won’t stop by only punishing because the fact is that nobody is born a rapist. The environment that surrounds a person heavily influences the kind of person that they grow up to be. Some people grow up to think that women are inferior to men and that the bodies of others are theirs to violate. There are people surrounded by an environment where they learn that rape is a tool to exert power because let’s not pretend that rape is about sexual urge. Rape is about control. Control over the life and body of another person. Now think. Think of the number or rape cases in India every year. There are more rapists than the number of cases we hear of – now add to that the unreported cases as well. If there are so many rapists in our country, isn’t it high time we think why? What kind of environment are we living in? How sexist, how terribly misogynistic must a society be for there to be these many rapists?

If the root of a tree is poisoned, the tree will consequently yield you poisoned fruits. You can’t cut a branch and say that you have fixed the tree. Branches can grow.

We need to reach the root. We need to re-evaluate the kind of society we live in. The kind of things we teach our children. The kind of norms we attach to gender. When you teach your boys that boys are tough, and their power and masculinity lies in their ferocity and teach your girls that they must be dainty, delicate and always sweet, we build a power dynamic. We create a system where women are ‘designed’ to be submissive and men are ‘carved’ to be powerful. In its extreme forms, certain men learn that their ‘power’ lies in their ‘ability’ to exercise control over the bodies of women who they consider inferior to them.

We need to stop rape. We must not say that we can only reduce the number of rapes that occur but cannot stop them from occurring altogether. When we say that, we have given up already.

Last Thursday, Jisha was raped. By the time you read this, countless women around the globe would have been raped. What are you doing to stop it? What are you doing?

You may believe that you, a single person, do not have much power. But you’re terribly wrong. You have more power than you believe – in your words and your actions. Every time someone is raped, talk about it. On Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, face-to-face. Talk about it every single time. Open your newspaper every day. Read. Read. Read. Talk. Talk. Talk. Tire your followers with the number of posts you make. We have become tired of discussing rape, but not tired of the number of rapists in our country. I believe that you have the power. At least your words do. Share posts, talk, read, and make yourself aware. Because if we are not aware, we cannot fight and if we do not fight, the battle is lost.

Don’t protest only when someone is raped. Protest because there are so many women who are afraid of walking late in the night, so many who have some form of defence always ready at their hands – pepper spray, keys, the edge of mobile phones. Protest because women are told to be careful as if it is their responsibility to “not get raped”, for those who have been told that it is their fault. Why was she drinking? Why was she wearing that? What was she doing out so late? Why was she with her boyfriend? Why was she alone?

The moment such questions are asked, we as a society imply that rape is more of a consequence than a crime and that, that is one of the cruelest mistakes we are making.

It’s not as though men are not raped, or transgender people or those who don’t conform to the gender binary don’t suffer sexual violence. Men are not always the perpetrators; our mentality is. No one asks for it. No one brings it upon themselves. No one should ever have to suffer this way – whatever their gender might be.

Today, however, my outrage is for what happened to Jisha and how there was so little response for so long. We need to fight for Jisha and for every other person who has been raped. We have to punish the rapists. We have failed all these women once by not giving them a safe life. By not giving them justice, we fail twice. Else, the corpses of the daughters of a society that did them wrong will forever hang on our conscience.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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