The opinions that follow are fuelled by the deeply unsettling Hathras Rape Case occurring in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Horrified and hoping to regain a sense of agency, we have spent the last few days researching, reflecting and penning down the public sentiment. It is our sincere hope that our words impact someone, somewhere and we make a tiny dent towards progressive change.
Some sources to gain a somewhat unbiased background on the case are given below however we strongly urge you to do your own research to truly grasp the political and cultural intricacies at play.
- A very detailed socio-political timeline by the Times of India
- This NYTimes article detailing the outrage
This Op-Ed and the opinions it contains are courtesy of Aaryana Jani and Hridaya Patel. You can read more of Aaryana’s work here.
In light of the recent bloodshed that has haunted our country, rage has filled several citizens of India as they take to protests and social media as a way of standing up against the brutal injustice that we see, almost too often now. But even then, history has repeatedly witnessed ‘educated’ men stay silent in times when being quiet is offensive.
The question then, is: why? When did we turn so cold to such a violent reality? How did the idea of rape get so intricately embedded in our skin and veins that our blood doesn’t boil when we hear about it?
These questions are hard to answer, not only because the questions are deep and thought-provoking, but also because there are so many things to say.
Does it start from movies and songs, that romanticise not taking no for an answer or repeatedly objectifying women? Did it start when we watched ‘The Notebook” and swooned after Ryan Gosling as he threatened to kill himself if Rachel Mcadams did not go on a date with him? For the record, no – that is not cute, it is manipulative, but after a point, the line starts to blur.
Was it when we all watched Dil Wale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (literally translating to “the hearted will take the bride”) and learnt from Shahrukh Khan how to treat women: consistently try to get physically close to them and then dangle their underwear in their face?
Maybe it wasn’t movies at all, maybe it’s the song lyrics that women are subjected to: “caffeine ki goli” (caffeine tablet) and “main to tandoori murgi hoon yaar, Gatkaale saiyan alcohol se” (I am a tandoori chicken, eat me with alcohol), songs that see no problem in referring to women as objects… property even.
This same sentiment is not limited to just movies and Bollywood music, in fact – Marital rape is STILL legal in India. It is 2020 and a spouse is allowed to repeatedly rape their partner without getting into any trouble for it. The government has come up with a variety of excuses the most perverse of which blames the illiteracy rates in India and insinuates the elimination of the Act to be detrimental.
In cases such as Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh administration and Justice K.S Puttaswamy v. Union of India, the government functioned with one single defence: the defence of privacy. They argued the case stating that what goes on inside the house is not the government’s business but is an internal conflict the people themselves should resolve. There is a difference between respecting privacy and turning a blind eye to a heinous crime and our legal system is yet to make that distinction.
The normalisation desensitisation towards abuse begins from childhood, girls are told that if a boy is mean to them – he actually likes you. What will our girls grow up to believe, that abuse is a form of attraction? It happens when our parents tell us: “I only shout at you, because I love you” and we start to internalise the idea that abuse is a form of love – and aren’t we so lucky to have a partner that screams, shouts, and hits?
But we all know that’s not the reality, the reality is that a girl in India is raped every sixteen seconds – just think about how many girls went through something they would never forget just as you read this article.
We justify behaviour with “boys will be boys” and normalise rape culture by policing what girls wear in schools. Instead of solving systematic issues we become a part of the problematic narrative and are always keen on taking the “jugaadu” way out – mitigating the fallout rather than resolving the problem.
To deal with rape in India means to deal with the problem of reporting rape – it is more embarrassing to be raped and report it than to be the actual criminal. We support athletes and celebrities that have been charged with rape, instead of attacking their victims for speaking out about it – “You know she’s just trying to destroy his career yaa, he has more money now, no?”. We ask her, ‘what clothes were you wearing?’, ‘did you smile at him?’ and soon resort to ‘you should learn self-defence, then things like this will not happen’. We fail to realise that in these sorry attempts to ‘deal with the problem’ of rape, we aren’t solving it at all. We are just propagating a cycle of victim-blaming, preventing other voices from being heard and diverting the problem.
You can claim that these habits of coping are subconscious, just a reflex action and they may as well be. However, it is our responsibility to be better, to work consciously against the grotesque culture we see spreading today. We cannot stop until rape is as disgusting to the public, and menstruation is to men.