When I was a child, way before I entered primary one, I knew what rape was, courtesy of Tamil and Hindi movies. Literally every movie had at least one rape or attempted rape scene. What were these scenes for? To entertain the audience? Though I believe that one who is entertained by such scenes, must be of a perverse nature, and if these scenes are of mass appeal, then are the masses perverts??
In most of these movies, as a result of the rape, the woman would either commit suicide or live a life of shame thereafter. If she was lucky, the rapist would decide to marry her or someone would prevail upon the rapist to marry her.
I can't ever recall a scene where a police report was lodged against the said rapist, he being sent to prison for his crime and being whipped for it, his life and future destroyed. Nope, never. After committing the crime, he would gloat about it as the victim weeped piteously of a life destroyed.
Yup the message put across in such movies was a dysfunctional one, rape destroys the life of a woman, she is better of dead. The message put across was a frightening one indeed, you can be everything - modern, gorgeous, independent, intelligent, have a good education and career - but if you are raped, your become nothing, your whole life is destroyed.
I use to wonder, is it not depressing to live in such a culture, with rape being the veritable sword of Damocles hanging over the head of all women. But people used to say: "Ah that is how it is, a woman's virtue etc, etc." But I used to wonder, in that case, why not deal more firmly with such men, get tough with rape, the culture of objectifying women.
The subcontinent rose, and with it the world
India as with most countries in a pre-social media world was defined by the great men who walked her earth and supposedly performed great feats. Even a novice of history who is not Indian in origin would know of Gandhi and his philosophy of non-violence, but I doubt that even Gandhi the great Mahatma would have envisioned when he embarked on the historic Salt March in 1930, that a century later, a free India would bring the nation to its knees, as women and men marched in solidarity with a young woman called Jyoti Singh.
In those tense days, in that moment, she became India's daughter. Her brief yet promising life, the brutal violence she suffered on the night of Dec 16, 2012, her struggle to live despite her life threatening injuries, lit a spark, India and the world had had enough.
To be honest, I wish we were as angry about rape before her, throughout history, be it in India or elsewhere, scores of women and children have fallen victim to the brutality of rape. But angry public protests demanding justice, calling for an end to rape, demanding for better protection for women, who would have thought this would have been possible previously.
So the girl aptly named Jyoti, became a torchbearer for the fight against rape. As Jyoti's parents Asha and Badri Singh said in Leslee Udwin's documentary "India's Daughter",
The full documentary
"Jyoti means light. We were given a gift of light and happiness when she was borne," said Asha.
Badri takes this a step further and says:
"Jyoti has become a symbol. In death she has lit such a torch not only in this country, but throughout the whole world. But at the same time, she posed a question. What is the meaning of a woman? How is she looked upon by society today? And I wish that whatever darkness there is in this world should be dispelled by this light."
It's been two years now, the degree of sexual violence against women in India and the world at large has not abated one bit, but some things have changed for sure, and there's no turning back. For one women have become more assertive in fighting off and shaming sexual predators. And victim blaming is no longer tolerated.
Which is why the interview with convicted rapist and murderer Mukesh Singh caused such a stir. What he said is not surprising at all and cannot be passed off as the views of an uneducated, blue-collar type. For there are many Mukesh types out there - those convicted for sexual crimes and those who have escaped punishment.
But what Mukesh said in the BCC interview drives home some very pertinent points:
- Rapists don't repent for their crimes. No matter how severe the punishment meted out. Hence the high number of repeat offenders.
- Rapists have a low and twisted view of women which they are good at justifying.
- They see no harm in forcing themselves on a woman, give the opportunity. As Mukesh said, if she had cooperated, they would have done her and dropped her off (Rapists have been doing this for a long time now, doing and dropping off women). It is a sense of entitlement which makes them very dangerous members of society.
- They will reason why the woman or child deserved to be raped. In Jyoti's case she was out at night with a man not related to her. I wonder what reasoning the rapists of the elderly nun in Kolkata would proffer as an excuse? she was a Christian, and they Hindu perhaps??
It is for these very reasons that I firmly believe that the death penalty should be meted out for the very act of rape itself, not because the victim dies from it, or is murdered by the rapist.
Oh but of course I remember Mukesh's warning, that the death penalty for rapists would make things dangerous for women, but the world is already a very dangerous place for women, too dangerous. Because we continue to allow rapists and would be rapists to live.