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How Rape Survivors In India Get Blame, Not Support

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By Avilasha Ghosh:

On January 17, 2015, a 23-year-old woman was raped by a 20-year-old Stanford University student named Brock Turner while she was unconscious after a house party. She was raped behind a dumpster and the only memory she had of the sexual assault was when she woke up the next morning in the hospital covered in dried blood and multiple wounds.

The issue gained widespread public attention because of the leniency of punishment that was given to Turner by the Santa Clara County Court despite the egregious nature of the crime he had committed. To Judge Aaron Persky, despite Brock pleading guilty and being charged with three felonies, six months of imprisonment in addition to probation was punishment enough as otherwise, his career as an athlete would be seriously affected.

Emily (as Brock called her in the courtroom) has published an open letter online addressing her attacker on June 4, 2016, where she has put in details of her experience of the assault and what she found wrong about Brock’s statement of defence at court. While this letter has become popularly shared by social media users who empathise with her, there is also a circulation of Brock’s father’s controversial statement in which he had said that “20 minutes of action” should not cost his son a harsh punishment of six months imprisonment in jail. Further, since Turner also happens to be a star swimmer, most newspapers repeatedly emphasised on his athletic excellence, as if mentioning it reduced the atrocity of the crime he had committed.

After reading Emily’s letter (I find it to be a very brave effort on her part), I opine that rather than addressing her as a ‘Rape Victim’, we should call her a ‘Rape Survivor’. Although what happened to her that night was downright awful, she managed to survive the assault, make her voice heard and seek justice.

I wonder who the Court and public would blame if a similar incident happened in India. I think we have a good idea about it already after the infamous ‘Nirbhaya’ gang-rape case that happened in Delhi in 2012. Popular opinion on this issue blamed the girl for first, going out on a late night movie show with her boyfriend/male friend, second she was wearing “western” clothes which were apparently provocative and third, she was outside of her house late in the night with a man. Although controversial, victim blaming is recurrent in India which strongly relies on patriarchal norms with regard to a woman’s access to public space, her clothing and her association with members of the opposite sex.

GOA, INDIA - NOVEMBER 8: (L - R) Rape victim Suzette Jordan talks on  'The Beast In Our Midst - Rape Survivors Speak Their Stories' during the opening day of THiNK 2013 at Bambolim on November 8, 2013 in Goa, India. (Photo by Santosh Harhare/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Suzette Jordan. Credit: Santosh Harhare/HT via Getty Images.

In 2012, when some men raped a 42-year-old Anglo-Indian woman inside a car late night at Park Street, Kolkata, people did not question the act of penetration without her consent. She was labelled as a “bad woman” who is to be blamed for what happened to her simply because she visited a nightclub and was friendly with a bunch of men she was not previously acquainted to. Although the three convicts were sentenced to ten years of imprisonment, the social stigma and public shaming against the survivor, Suzette Jordan, continued. Such deviant acts keep happening time and again but there’s no saying that it is normal because it simply is not. Rape is a serious crime and it cannot be justified on any grounds. As Emily pointed out in her letter, rape is not a matter of promiscuity; it is a question of consent.

In India, given how popular opinion always finds a way to shift blame from the assaulter to the assaulted, Emily would have been subject to public shaming and societal exclusion. How could she go out of her house late at night? How could she get drunk at a party with unknown people? Why did she say yes to dance with a man she did not know? Instead of questioning the perpetrator as to why he thought it was okay to drag an unconscious girl behind a dumpster and penetrate her without her verbal consent and taking advantage of her loss of memory to justify his actions during trial, the girl would have been questioned on grounds of her sexual morality and unrestrained freedom.

I am writing this piece today because I think any form of rape happening anywhere to anyone is not okay. Physically and mentally harming someone simply because she was friendly and was out late at night is not okay. Exploiting her sexually when she was unconscious and then running away leaving her naked and injured behind a dumpster is not okay (no matter how drunk you are!). Rape can happen to anyone, anywhere but that does not mean that we need to quietly accept it as our fate and let the criminal get away with it.

We need a change of attitude towards how people look at the act of rape and the rape survivor. The idea that a woman’s life is over after she has been raped is downright sexist because it means that a girl’s self-worth is measured solely in terms of her sexuality. Why should she be ashamed of herself when she has not committed the crime? Why should she be stripped of her pride and honour because she has been ‘polluted’ by an unknown man? Instead of dehumanising her and treating her like a worthless being, I feel that she should be patted on the back for being strong and brave enough to have survived such a traumatising situation. Rather than secluding her to one corner, she should be encouraged to pull herself together and rebuild herself. After all, wearing western clothes, having male friends and going out late at night is not a crime but rape is.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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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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Find out more about the campaign here.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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