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Friday, April 19, 2013

Musings of a Rape Survivor

I recently read a scathing article by a girl who signed off as an 18 year old feminist, the main gist of which was that when women get raped, we shouldn't even begin to to talk about how they should dress, what they should do, how they should be able to protect themselves, etc. While I do not completely agree that women should not take precautions considering what a savage city Delhi has become, there is certainly a point in what the girl is saying. If I were to focus and channel my energy somewhere, then it must not be so much on how the victim can prevent the rape, but how I can stop the culprit from not committing the crime. This made me question the whole concept of rape. What is rape? Is it merely the forceful insertion of the penis into the vagina, or is it more than that? Is molestation, groping, passing lewd comments, etc. also rape? If we merely consider the physical act of it, rape is not such a bad deal. Two bodies have sex - one mind enjoys it, the other resists, struggles, but then when it is done, in most cases, both bodies leave the scene, and in a few days, traces of the event's occurrence are barely visible. So, if it's a physical thing, then it really isn't such a big deal! Then what is rape? I checked the Cambridge website and it defines rape as "to force someone to have sex when he or she is unwilling" Then it also says, "Rape also means to damage or destroy something by using it in an unsuitable way" - E.g. Developers are raping the countryside. For me, rape is 'when one unit of consciousness, or many of these at times, impose themselves on another (or others) without the latter's approval'. Yes, we can rape the environment too, some units of which aren't necessarily conscious, may not have a sense of identity, or may not even be alive, but here I'd like to focus on the rape of one human being by another, and it isn't, for me, only about sex. So let's look at Delhi - the rape capital of India. Does this sobriquet surprise me? Not one bit. Then I thought to myself, WHY DOESN'T THIS SURPRISE ME? Isn't there something really wrong in the fact that a city where I've lived for the last 12-odd years is the rape capital of the country and I AM NOT SURPRISED? This got me thinking about why I was not surprised. What was it about the city that made me accept this as a fact without even raising an eyebrow? It was then that it dawned on me.

A few years ago, I was going from North Campus to Gurgaon in a regular non-airconditioned bus when a man climbed on to the bus and asked if the bus went to Rajouri. The bus driver and the conductor, who was right in front at that time, replied, "Abbe chal utar! Nahin jaegi, saale Bihari!" The guy got agitated and said, "Gaali kyon de raha ho bhai?" in a Bihari accented Hindi. The bus driver replied, saying "Abbe gaali kahaan de raha hun, Bihari hi to bol raha hun!" I laughed at that point of time, because it was funny. A few years later, when I first met the lady (a Bihari) who worked in my house as the domestic help  for nearly 5 years, she told me that her son got really upset and would start hitting the other kids if they called him a Bihari, and so I had to sit him down and explain how he should be proud of his identity, of where he came from, and who he was, etc.  Anyway, as I read the 18-year old's scathing article on men, and thought about these two incidents, it somehow seemed to connect. She had written about a 5-year old who got repeatedly raped by her neighbour. She's right, the little girl could not have provoked the rape, or even 'asked for it', so the solution is defintely not there. It lies somewhere else. 

They say that it is not about sex, it's about power - the feminists do; and I think I agree. It is about power, about an inflated ego,  the lack of genuine empathy. In a city where every step makes you feel vulnerable unless you're one of them, lurking around, looking for someone to make fun of, someone to tease, and if you get challenged, go out of your way to whatever extent possible to squash that source of opposition that challenged your authority to do absolutely anything you want! Yes, the mind and one's identity get raped almost every time one steps out. It's not just the women getting raped. That is of course the absolute nadir that this primitive mindset can drag people down to, but I get raped mentally and spiritually several times every day. I was travelling on a really crowded DTC bus for my first job interview in Gurgaon, wearing a tweed coat I had bought from Daryanganj for 100 rupees, shampooed, conditioned hair, scrubbed, clean-shaven face when a group of teenagers next to me weren't letting me stand properly. When I requested them to make some space, they started hurling expletives at me, and when I tried to make some space for myself, one of them pulled my poney-tail! I think I know what it feels like to be raped, because I can imagine and extrapolate -  a skill necessary for being able to empathise. A few years back still, during my first few years in Delhi, on a DTC bus yet again, a man vacated a 'ladies only' seat and another man jumped onto it, while a 60 year old lady, along with her teenage daughter, stood there, trying to make her way to the vacant seat. No one complained, no one seemed to care. I thought for a few seconds and then went up to the guy and asked him why he was sitting in a ladies only seat, and that he should vacate it for the lady standing right next to him. His reply was "Saale teri maa lagti hai ke? Gaad doonga tanne yahin pe! Chup karle nahin toh pit jaego yahin pe!" I looked around for some support from the 50 odd other men there, some sitting, some standing, but got no response - a look of amusement and curiosity from a few at best. Some even asked me to move on and avoid starting a fight; and I thought to myself that maybe I was expecting too much, that maybe this was the norm, that this is how it worked here!

I was scared, just like a woman is when she encounters the possibility of getting raped. The thought of being beaten up, abused, their identity being violated. It is all about identity, isn't it? A stone doesn't get hurt even if you break it to pieces or turn it to dust, at least not apparently to the human senses, and this is because it does not have a sense of identity. A tree may get hurt, but doesn't scream because it does not have a voice. I'm not sure if a tree has a sense of identity.When we slaughter animals, slap a weaker person or kick the stray dog on the street, we are violating their sense of identity. Identity is, in a way the source of all problems. If we did not have a sense of identity, we would not have a problem even if someone came and stabbed us with a knife! However, until everyone in this world attains Nirvana (which from the current state of mental and spiritual evolution of the average human being must take at least a few zillion aeons to acheive), this is a problem that will always exist. So, eliminating the sense of identity is not really an option. The solution, though, is related to the sense of identity. In fact, it is an important part of my definition of rape. Rape is when we violate anyone's sense of identity, or we invade it without their approval.

If we want rape to stop, maybe we should change these little things in the way people treat us. If we want a woman to stand up and fight when she gets molested or raped, think about what we can do when when a person completely unknown to us passes a comment on something that doesn't concern him at all, on the fact that you have tattoos and piercings, or that you have long hair, or that your eyes are slanted, or that you have dark skin, or that you are walking with a girl on the street. Yes, we are constantly getting raped each time this happens. I was walking my dogs in my neighbourhood last week when a random guy walking on the road went, "Abbe yeh kaise desi kutte paal rakhe hain?" I just got raped right there! When I go to a grocery shop and ask for something the guy does not have, and he just gestures me away without even looking at me, I get raped right there. When I see a rickshaw puller being slapped by a local for asking for too much money, or by a cop for parking in a no-parking zone, I witness rape right there! When I went to a police station once to save a drunk friend from being beaten up by the cops, trying to reason with him and with the cops, and one of the cops turned around and slapped me,I was raped right there! When a north-eastern guy is called 'Bahadur' or a south Indian guy is called 'Madrasi' or when a Bihari guy is called 'Bihari' (yes, of course he is a Bihari, but it's not the word; it's the tone!), we are raped right there! What we can do about this is not something I'd like to venture into, as the purpose of writing this is more to kindle the idea of us being raped everyday without even knowing it, and not to dictate a solution, as I don't really have one. Maybe we can talk about it, write about it or act upon it, but the next time someone invades our right to exist peacefully by attacking our identity, I hope we see the face of a rapist right there in front of us and act accordingly...