Another gang rape? More space in print and talk time on TV? We read, we rage... we turn the page.
We have run out of words. How does one express outrage, disgust, despair when two Dalit teenage girls are gang raped, murdered and hung from a mango tree in UP’s Katara village?
No candlelight vigils this time. In the long list of such crimes against Dalit women, against all women in this country, this one has been noted. Katara has seen the usual procession of politicians offering sympathy and funds and the media displaying more than a passing interest.
But they have left now. Before long, Katara will slip back into anonymity. And even as the mothers and fathers of lost, raped and murdered daughters continue to mourn, we will fail to understand the real meaning of what is happening to our society.
Ever since the widespread outrage following the December 16, 2012, gang rape of a physiotherapy student in Delhi, talk about rape has become mainstream. Rapes are not minor items on the crime pages. They are given more space in print, and talk time on television. But at the end of all this, when yet another horrendous crime is reported, what do we do? We read, we rage and then we turn the page.
We move on without accepting that what we are witness to is not just an increase in the incidence of rape and sexual assault but something that can best be defined as a ‘rape culture’. If two teenage girls forced to go before day break to ‘relieve’ themselves, as newspapers like to put it, because their village has no toilets are raped and murdered, what else is this but a culture of rape? We need to stop talking about statistics. Instead we should ask what has brought us to this point where women cannot go about their daily tasks without fearing rape and assault.
‘Rape culture’ is not unique to India. In the U.S., for instance, people are talking about it, triggered by the recent incident where a 22-year-old man went on a shooting spree killing six people, including five students of the University of California at Santa Barbara. In a video he uploaded on the Internet, he claimed he was doing this to avenge his rejection by women even though he considered himself the ‘Alpha male’.
The shooting has raised questions not just about the terrible and incomprehensible gun culture in the U.S., but also the misogyny and the sense of ‘sexual entitlement’ that makes men justify assaulting women who reject them.
Social media has seen an outpouring with over half a million people responding to the hashtag #YesAllWomen. In an interview with Democracy Now!, writer, historian and activist Rebecca Solnit says #YesAllWomen was in response to the argument that all men are not bad. “We know not all men are rapists and murderers, are not abusers and misogynists, but all women are impacted by the men who are,” she said. “We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.”
Solnit said that her country needed to “stop treating rape as sort of isolated, aberrant incidents and treat it as a widespread problem that arises not from anomalies in the culture, but from the mainstream of culture.” We might argue that, in India, violence does have a specific caste context, for instance, and not just gender. Yet, her point about rape now being part of mainstream culture is relevant.
It is not just the number, the types, or the location of rapes, but the culture that allows men to believe that they can assault women at will that we must confront. If men continue to believe that they have ‘sexual entitlement’ and that women do not have a right to reject or resist, then this culture of rape will continue to grow.
As we mourn for those two young women, we must stop and ask ourselves: Is this the society we want? If not, what are we doing to change it?