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Why is rape our collective culture?

Annie Zaidi
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Once a man in a car followed me in Saket. He asked for directions to PVR, then asked me to come with him, and ended up calling me a bitch. I remember wondering what “provoked” him. I was wearing an off-white sari. When I wore it in Benaras, people mistook me for a grieving widow.

I drove away that man by noting down the car’s registration number. But what if I didn’t speak English, or looked poorer than I am? What if there were three men in that car?

You might say, don’t think about it. But we must. What is it about groups of men that makes them a grave threat? It must be a shared value system that helps them draw courage from each other, instead of working as a check on sexual violence. It must be that deep down they condone sexual violence.

If rape is all around, in every state and every caste, then our collective culture is one of rape. It’s a horrible thought. But what else do I conclude?

The New Year approaches and I think of mobs gathered outside night clubs. I think of women trying to enjoy life, instead of just existing to produce sons. But in our culture, we think the problem is the night club, rather than the men outside.

In a village, there was a curfew recently. Some boys tried to rape a school girl. The tragedy was averted. But the curfew was on account of the fact that the girl and the boys were from different communities. The local administration worried that the incident would lead to a clash. People would die. Women and children would be raped. Because rape is how our culture expresses anger.

I think of the girl’s classmates. Have their parents talked to them about the difference between wooing a girl and inflicting violence upon her? I doubt it. It’s not part of our culture, is it?

I sit with a friend one night on a promenade in Mumbai. I think of the girl raped by a cop after she was walking with a friend on the promenade.

I take the train to visit my mother who’s feeling ill. A cop sitting opposite has dozed off. I’m suddenly sorry for him. We now have cops in the ladies’ compartment at night. But if five aggressive men boarded the compartment now, the cop would be as helpless as me. I think of the woman raped in a moving train, several men looking on from the next compartment -- too shocked or too polite to interrupt an ongoing rape.

I think of the school where I went to kindergarten, in Lucknow. The girls in senior classes now wear salwars , I hear. There are rumours that the uniform was changed after a boy tried to put his hand up a girl’s skirt. Instead of boys being taught that it isn’t appropriate to touch girls without permission, the girls were asked to cover up, as if their legs were at fault.

Rape happens because schools and colleges ask girls to cover up. Because teachers are too embarrassed to talk about sexual justice. And because when your sons rape, you look for ways to lessen guilt by blaming their victims.

Because you tell your daughters to “be careful” instead of your sons, and because you wouldn’t fix your son up to marry a raped woman, and because you expect daughters and sisters to stay in marriage even if rape is part of the deal.

Rape happens because soldiers raped and the kings who led them in battle were silent. Because mobs rape and politicians are silent. Because cops rape and other cops are silent. And because when men from your caste rape, you don’t testify against them in court.

Rape happens because we believe that some women have it coming, like sex workers or militants. Rape is all around because if we let it happen to one person, we cannot prevent it from happening to all.

(Annie Zaidi is the author of “Love Stories” (HarperCollins))

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