Trigger Warning: Gangrape, Casteism, Caste-based Atrocities, Rape, Rape Culture
Social media platforms were abuzz with #Hathras and rightly so. Outrage to any kind of violence is natural. Four upper-caste men allegedly gang-raped a 19-year Dalit girl; who ultimately died after 12 days, fighting for her life. An outrage was inevitable.
In my opinion, how the government and administrative machinery handled the case smells of covert, if not overt involvement in the incident. This snowballed to more outrage. Opposition leaders, media, and the public at large was quick to ask some uncomfortable questions and ruff some feathers. Though there was a near-universal condemnation of the incident, some downplayed the gangrape, while some believed that there was no caste angle. Many even have asked for stricter punishment for the accused even bordering on extrajudicial one.
If we could recall from our memory, there was no condemnation of the extrajudicial method of justice provided in the case of Hyderabad rape case. Except for a few lone wolves from the civil society, there was a conspicuous silence in that regard; many even celebrated it. This is exceptionally intriguing and begs the question that as a society are we ashamed to face the social dynamics of rape and instead look at it as some aberration in a very just and equal company which needs to be uprooted at the earliest?
Do we fear that the judicial method of trial, or social dynamics of rape, may unearth the unjust, misogynistic and unequal nature of our society? Where our conditioning and mentality is no different from the rape accused? Do we fear as a society that we too may fall in the same pedestal as that of a rapist?
It should be clear that rape is not just the act of forceful physical intercourse but an instrument of supremacy and oppression. This is where caste, religion, community, nationality takes the upper hand. Since time immemorial, rape was used as an instrument of subjugation and dishonouring an entire community in times of ethnic, national, religious, and caste conflicts. This nature of rape, in turn, was used by the victimised community to tie their womenfolk in chains, instituting different kinds of restrictions on their freedom in order to save the honour of their community in future.
This argument in the modern century is also used by some regressive armies of the world to close their doors to women. Thus, rape seen in isolation without considering the socio-economic-political dynamics is covertly giving fodder to future rape to perpetuate.
Unless we embrace the cause, atmosphere, mentality, and culture, which breeds rape, any amount of law can’t stop it.
So to deny that rape is just an aberration and not a part of a phenomenon and conditioning is sublimely perpetuating rape culture itself. This phenomenon is so permissive and omnipresent that we knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate it every day from our home to our workplace, in buses, in theatres and think itself as very usual. This is the reason we can see people condemning rape on the one hand and blaming the victim on the other.
This victim bashing and character assassination is not only restricted to the general public but also permeates the different echos of the state machinery from doctors, judges, police, administration, to politicians. This makes the justice for the victim a hollow promise and fights against rape a farcry. Rape cannot be stopped by keeping the rape atmosphere intact.
The general masses in a deeply misogynistic society which propagates misogyny through its jokes, memes, tradition, folklore, or religion do not understand that they are no way different from rapists themselves. Maybe they are one step behind. In my opinion, that may be the reason why in cases of conflicts of caste or religion, we see a spurt of rape cases because that fear of law and social ostracisation by community or state machinery covertly or overtly collides with the perpetrators.
Sometimes rape of a woman of an enemy community is celebrated. This punctures the narrative where a rapist is regarded as a demon ready to be castrated or hanged. Hanging or castrating a rapist is an easy way for society to wash its hand from this social phenomenon. Probably a rapist provides the best mirror to society to reflect on that his mentality is no different from others and society wants this mirror to be crushed.
It is not in a mood to reconcile or reflect upon its patriarchal, misogynistic behaviour. Thus we see the documentary called India’s Daughter being banned or in case of Hyderabad, the extrajudicial killing of the police celebrated. The society which should ask the police administration why there was character assassination of the victim and deliberate refusal to file a complaint when her parents approached them to search for their missing girl suddenly went on to cheer the police force.
Are we as a society less interested in preventing rapes and only outraging when an incident happens? Instead of fixing the offence on the police administration for their omission aren’t we celebrating it? Is it because the accused in that case were known to be petty criminals possessed with dirty minds, and this, in turn, absolve the white-collar ones in offices, restaurants from the culture of rape? When in reality, we all may share the same disgusting and misogynistic attitudes? Are we as a society less interested in protecting lives than to break the mirror which shows our sin in perpetuating the crime?
In the case of Hathras, there are many layers to the crime, and it needs to be dissected to put the offence in perspective. It was not merely rape. It is a case of rape in a misogynistic society shielded by the umbrella of caste. In our society, rape is usually protected by the patriarchal nature of our being, but in this case and maybe in cases which were not reported there are two layers of shroud – misogyny and casteism.
The umbrella of caste gave impunity to the crime without any remorse and also the power to destroy the evidence. Thus we see the usual demonic nature of the rapist is lost in this case as the upper caste people declare the accused as innocent and protest for their letting off. This caste shield was so strong that it permeates every possible layer of state administration in the way of denying that rape even occurred. Even after such a gruesome incident and such covering of pieces of evidence, disrespecting even her death, the state administration is in no point of remorse.
The cahoots of the political establishment with the caste system may be a discussion of another day. Instead of shedding tears or accepting their devious ploy, the state administration has put the whole blame on the victim and her family, inventing conspiracy theory daily. Such is the robust cohort of caste and misogyny combined. Suppose after attracting so much of spotlight in media, and by the opposition and civil society, this is the response of the state administration. In that case, it’s only a second guess to predict what happens to cases which goes unreported.
What is the recourse for a victim’s family where all access to justice is blocked by misogynistic and casteist attitude of officials? Even after getting the media spotlight, if the victim’s family has to go to this kind of indiscrimination daily, what may be the price of standing up for justice for a marginalized family? Most of the victims do not demand justice in such a vitiated atmosphere lest they may be subjected to mental or physical torture. This begs us the question of how far have we moved from Nirbhaya? What have we achieved? A critical piece of recommendation post Nirbhaya was the Verma commission report, but sadly it falls dusted in some bureaucratic red tapes.
A critical recommendation by Verma commission and Vishakha guidelines was non-reliance of medical reports to prove or disprove rape. However sacrilegious it may sound, we see the same medical argument used in case of Hathras to disprove rape, and this does come from the beaconed officers of the state machinery; and also by any fig of imagination to even disregard the dying declaration.
Verma commission had rightly said that awareness in medical, police, political and administrative establishments is the utmost necessity to have proper access to justice. If not Hathras, what could be the best example?
To cry for victims and ask for capital punishment or extrajudicial killing of rapist instead of going to its roots, fixing its pivotal socio-political axis is at best a hypocritical act, only hogwash. This act of ours does nothing except give solace to our collective conscience by silencing our prejudicial thoughts. By silencing, we offer it to breed in our subconsciousness which inturn vitiated the atmosphere and nourishes the culture of rape. Until we press the delete button on our regressive thoughts, justice remains an illusion.