Attitude change needed to fight rape

TAKING A STAND: Indian protesters on Dec 29, 2012, demanding better security for women after the death of an unnamed gang-rape victim in New Delhi.


    Mar 05, 2015

    Attitude change needed to fight rape

    I HAVE been trying to write on this topic for quite some time. Unfortunately, I am left shocked and speechless every time I hear another frivolous justification for rape cited by sex offenders.

    Mukesh Singh - convicted over the 2012 Delhi gang-rape incident in which a daughter of India had to suffer the consequences of being born a girl in a patriarchal, chauvinistic society - asserted that it was the unnamed victim's fault, that she was "indecent to be roaming around at nine o'clock at night".

    What can you say to this twisted logic?

    What can you do to change it?

    No solution, no suggestions, no words ever seem sufficient. Worse, true justice is unattainable, impossible.


    When I first entered the field of law, I had the usual quixotic notions of the profession - how glamorous it would be, how virtuous, how just. I had imagined I would go about pleading justice and it would fly towards me like winged angels. I saw myself as a solitary force of order amid chaos.

    It would be easy, I thought, or at least convenient.

    One of the first files that came my way was that of a rape incident. The victim was a final-year medical student at one of the most prestigious universities of the country. The culprit was her maternal uncle.

    He had entered her house with the intention of theft, and was discovered by the girl. She was raped, apparently to keep her from speaking up, and the incident was filmed. Soon after that, the uncle absconded to a South-east Asian country.

    By the time I put the file down, I was fighting back tears. I thought about what she must have envisaged for her future, what she must have dreamt for her life. All those years of hard work, all those moments of struggle she must have gone through, and now, here she was, a rape victim.

    In sub-continental societies, a rape victim is a victim twice. She is a perpetual victim. Once invaded by the soulless barbarian, and forever stigmatised by the soulless society.

    We have been trying to get the culprit repatriated through Interpol ever since. Years have passed; the poor girl has had to appear in courts over and over, but without any sign of the criminal.

    Psychologists hypothesise that rape is about power and not lust. I feel that is an over-simplification of the truth.


    I remember that sweltering day in June when, just having finished cross-examination and drenched in sweat, a senior colleague and I were walking down the long corridors of the city district courts. An assistant sub-inspector approached us, requesting for help with a statement that a rape victim was to make in court. She did not have a lawyer.

    We quickly examined the file's contents and walked into the court. The perpetrator, the maternal uncle of the girl, was already standing there in shackles. The statement was made - a shocking story of betrayal and inhumanity.

    Then, the defendant spoke.

    He stated that whatever he would say would be the entire truth. He told the court he had sex with his niece only after marrying her. He alleged that the 16-year-old had asked him to save her from the clutches of her parents, who were forcing her to marry.

    Going by the convoluted logic of his sick mind, the request for being saved from the parents meant forcefully marrying the girl and raping her after that. This was his "defence".

    That was the first time I lost my composure in court.

    It was perhaps the only time I felt the urges that those imposing vigilante justice feel. I was too shaken to work after that - I went home and spent the rest of the day brooding.

    We get cases of murders on a daily basis - two, four, six, more dead - involving enmity, sectarianism, frayed tempers or something else. These incidents shake me up, but none half as much as rape and acid attack cases.

    Death is painful, but living a traumatised life which kills you a little every day is far worse. I cannot fathom the pain of it.

    Sigmund Freud had enunciated that as a consequence of cognitive self-defence, humans validate their acts by rationalising them as being right. According to Dale Carnegie, Al Capone - the most notorious gangster of 1920s America - thought of himself as more of a Robin Hood than a Moriarty.

    Mukesh Singh rationalised his rape like this: "A decent girl won't roam around at nine o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy."

    Nine at night was the boundary for Mukesh. A girl out on the road after a given time was asking to be raped. No other consideration required.

    I wish it was as absurd as saying a car out on the road is asking to be stolen, or a man out on the road is asking to be shot, but appropriating this logic for the rape analogy is much more nefarious.

    For others, it may be the dress code or the girl's conduct. It could be her attitude or something she said. It could be her silence or her mere existence. Everything is indicative of how she was asking for it; it was her fault; she deserved nothing better.


    I want to believe it is ignorance that causes such acts, I want to be convinced it is Bollywood that perpetuates this culture.

    But when well-read people - like Munawar Hassan, a former chief of the Islamic political organisation Jamaat-e-Islami - who have no business with Bollywood defend the accused by stating that a girl who cannot corroborate her story with four witnesses should not report rape, the above postulates become untenable.

    It is the patriarchy (in both India and Pakistan) and the tendency to think of a woman as chattel, even while claiming they assume a respectable position in our midst. Sadly, with this hypocrisy firmly in place, we will continue to ask the same questions to the same horror: What can you say to this twisted logic? What can you do to change it?