Usha
On March 8th I saw a couple of Bengali films on Women – ‘Charitra’ which focused on the issue of rape and 'Diu konya' which showed the success story of two women who changed a poverty stricken hamlet into a prosperous community through their spirit, initiative and hard work. The films were part of a festival sponsored by justfemme.in , a women-centric online magazine. Please visit and join hands in their endeavour by writing on issues you feel strongly about.

Rape can be traced to several underlying causes – sexual frustration, perversion, an act of revenge and as an exercise of power. The revenge and power elements are born out of the social stigma that attaches itself to the victim of rape. She is considered ‘defiled’, ‘fallen’ and unchaste. She is a symbol of dishonour for the family.
So if you want to shame the family rape their women. If you have a caste dispute, go rape their women and subdue them and show your power.
If the community thinks a woman has not been following their rules, punish her by rape and have her head shaven off. She will be brought in line.
If a man rebels, rape the women in his household and mangle his pride forever.

Ok all this happens “out there” not in our families – more in uneducated, caste- dominated societies steeped in prejudices . We are educated, urban and more broad minded . So what is our attitude towards a rape victim?
We all show the right reactions when a rape is reported – we are outraged, we condemn the criminal and agree that he deserves the harshest punishment . We feel sorry for the victim. If we encounter one in the course of our daily life we would help her as we would any disadvantaged person.
I don’t wish this for my worst enemy but just for the sake of this discussion, if it were to happen to us or someone in our own family, would we be able to treat it as an accident and get on with life as before? Can the husband treat his wife with the same level of respect and love or would it somehow be tainted? (remember the film Ghar?) What about the rest of the inner family and extended family? Would they treat her without any reservations – would she still be treated as the Patni , the Grihalakshmi? Or does an accident somehow make her less of a woman. In the film, a victim who has been accepted by her family is asked this question if everything is normal between her and her husband and she breaks down and says : "no, what is broken doesn't get mended forever." The equality is gone. She is somehow inferior.
How many of us would go public and report the case? and how many families would think of family ‘honour’, sisters and sisters-in-law to be married and try to hush it up?

Among other dimensions of rape, the film explored if it is the besmirching of her character which makes rape so terrible for a woman even more than the physical violence she experiences. This actually works in two ways – first to keep all women submissive and if she is a victim, to keep her quiet for fear of social stigma.

What are the normal noises one hears from the ‘system’ when there is a rape?
Girls who dress with modesty don’t get raped.
If you are too aggressive you tempt men to rape you thereby exercising power over you.
A woman invites rape by venturing alone in the dark in lonely,less frequented places.
You cannot control what others do but you can be careful for your own safety.

Standard devices for keeping women submissive and dependent. When I was growing up, I constantly heard this statement on why a women needed to be extra careful :
Whether the thorn falls on the cloth or the cloth falls on the thorn , it is the cloth that gets torn so protect yourself.
The tear that they were referring to was the damage to one’s reputation and consequent damage to life.
It is bad enough that she has been physically violated and subjected to a crude form of violence. But she must prove that it was not consensual intercourse , that she did not do anything to invite this . And even after all this she is deemed a “fallen” woman – fallen from the high standards of chastity that a woman “must” have. She is defiled - she has to live with the stigma of a fallen woman.

And to prevent rape, we want to restrict the movement of our women - don't walk here, don't stand there, don't dress like this or that, don't go out after sunset, don't , don't, don't. It is simple logic that you cage the animal that poses danger to others but here we let the animal roam freely and cage the potential victims. Restrict a woman’s right to walk freely, talk freely, laugh freely and dress as she wishes.
Elementary, huh!

When a policeman asks a rape victim , as in the film, “what were you doing there alone at that time?” should we not be turning back and asking him why people should fear to go to any place when we have a paid police force. Isn’t every rape in a dark alley a sign of failure of the police system? If I have to stay locked in the safety of my house after dark why do we have the police? To provide security to the ministers ? Is the legal system all about punishment after the crime?

If you see the reports of rape there doesn’t seem to be any common reason – the victims are from all age groups, all social strata and there are cases where girls are abducted from outside their houses and taken to these lonely spots and raped. You can observe all the don’ts and still end up being a victim because it is not about what and who you are; it is about who THEY are.

So why bring up issues about a woman’s character when she is the victim of rape? Why does an accident have to become a lifelong cross she has to bear? The way a society views a rape victim can itself go a long way in helping her - to heal, to get back to her life with less emotional trauma. Above all it will encourage them to come forward and report the cases and not suffer in silence and also ensure that the animals are brought to book. And detach the notion of honour from rape and you take away the sense of power that these perverted men derive from a rape.

In the 60s , Jayakantan wrote a story called “Agnipravesam” where a college girl is raped in a car on a dark rainy evening . On seeing her state when she reaches home, her poor widowed mother immediately senses what has happened. She takes her in and simply pours water on the girls head; then she tells her to treat the water as fire and feel pure again and forget the incident.

Agnipravesham indeed - being through the horror of a rape is worse than passing through fire and surviving it. She is a victim, a survivor and there is nothing dishonourable or fallen about her. If anybody should feel fallen, it is the entire system because every incident of rape is a sign of the failure of a system to protect its constituents.
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32 Responses
  1. dipali Says:

    Very well said, Usha.


  2. Anonymous Says:

    What we seem to be missing here is the psychological impact it has on the women. I am sure that there are instances where a man get mobbed and ill treated on the road but while this affects his physical being it does not affect his mental state which is why he is able to get over it easily in most cases though there are cases where men have been affected too. I guess the problem here has its roots in the amount of sanctum being attached to the virginity and fidelity aspects in this country or to put it precisely the importance sex has in the culture of our society.
    I do not agree to the argument that it is the duty of the police to ensure safety at all places so that anyone is able to walk around freely at all times. We need to appreciate the size and population of our country before we go on to make such statements. It is also the duty of the people to act responsibly keeping in mind the environmental aspects.
    I perceive this more as a turbulent transition period when we are caught in between our old values and the new culture that is being adopted without any rationalisation from the west courtesy the exposure. And all transition periods end up leaving a lot of victims. But I do believe that in this case, given again the size and populace of this country the transition is going to be long drawn and more painful than it happened in other countries.


  3. Usha Says:

    The whole post is about the additional trauma on the woman's psychology by adding the dishonour element and the fear psychosis rapes engender in women. Apparently I didn't get my message across.
    "I do not agree to the argument that it is the duty of the police to ensure safety at all places so that anyone is able to walk around freely at all times."
    So what is the role of police -to offer security to VIPs, to disperse meetings with tear gas, to instil fear in people so they are even scared to go to them for reporting a crime.
    And if a person cannot walk around her neighbourhood in the dark or ina tourist resort, shame on the country.


  4. Lavs Says:

    Your post touched a chord in me. As always, you have portrayed your point beautifully.

    Recently, I read about Gujarat riot rape victim case verdict in newspapers. The lady was pregnant and since she was a muslim, the mobs targeted her. She was gang raped and 13 of her relatives were burnt alive. It took six years for the case to reach its verdict. And the case saw an end only because of social activists who took up her cause when the police closed her case prematurely. This piece of news setting me thinking deeply. How much that lady would have suffered- not only her body was violated [that too during pregnancy] but also her daughter and other close relatives were burnt alive. In addition to this misery, she had to fight against the authorities to prove her point.

    We are so blatant in praising our cricketers for their victory by presenting them individual Rs.58 lakhs cheques. And what does this woman get for being so brave??? She has to move her home continuously out of fear and her future is bleak. She not only has to deal with her own psychological scars but also bring up her kids without any fear so that they lead a happy life ahead. This society is so cruel and partial to women. Such thoughts fill me with silent rage.

    I agree with you when you say “Isn’t every rape in a dark alley a sign of failure of the police system? If I have to stay locked in the safety of my house after dark why do we have the police? To provide security to the ministers? Is the legal system all about punishment after the crime?”

    What is the solution then??? Sadly I have no answers.


  5. rajk Says:

    That was a good post, Usha. You've said most of the things that I've always felt about rape and rape-victims..Agree with you whole-heartedly...The society's attitude has to change with respect to the rape victim. Yes, I remember Ghar...Beautiful movie...Wish everyone had supportive husbands like that one!
    Lavs, I too was filled with rage and helplessness when I read about Bilkis Bano...I wrote about her in my blog. Don't know how she's going to move forward...but she will, she's shown that already..


  6. Wow! That was a beautiful and a soul reaching post... I agree with every word you have written in it...


  7. Anonymous Says:

    Well written Ushaji.
    Dunno if this cud help. But hanging the rapist in public would teach a lesson to the rest to some extent.

    Yes being aware that a nation where peace prevails... but not in this case.

    Come to think of those modestly dressed girls getting raped in the name of love or in the name of marriage, by their Boyfriends or husbands.

    What can one do at such situations.

    Police or self-defence still remains a question.

    In the 60's may be Agnipravesham wud have helped. But now "May be a bang! bang! wud help" (if u ask me)


  8. Pooh! Says:

    Well-written!


  9. Hip Grandma Says:

    A thought provoking post and just the kind I expected from you.A foreigner was raped in Ghatshila perhaps while watching the sunset on a summer evening(I am not too sure) sitting on the banks of a river.The rapists were street urchins barely 18 years of age.They were caught and punished by the local police who treated them to blows and slaps - the kind that our policemen gladly serve to the convict even before his crime is proved.But that is not the point I wish to make.@ weeks later The Telegraph carried an article by the rape victim who appealed that a distinction be made between the rapist and the act of raping.The act has to be condemned and the rapist needed counseling.I was moved to tears when a visiting tourist could be generous enough to make such an appeal and actually forgive her tormentors.But wasn't this possible because there is no stigma attached to the act in foreign countries?Or is it that they are better equipped to deal with such situations?Be it as it may but blaming the poor victim is an atrocious stand.


  10. Abhipraya Says:

    Dear Usha,

    It was very nice meeting you at the festival :) Looking forward to more interaction.

    And yeah your post is bang on. Well put.


  11. Chitra Says:

    Brilliant post, Usha! Made me seethe with anger at the way the society treats the so-called 'fallen' woman! "Honour is a woman's property and it has to protected at all costs". Hah !


  12. maami Says:

    Prototype feminists across the globe are debating the politics of rape. Rape is a henious tool of war and primarily a method of subjugating, insulting and oppressing by the use of physical violence over the weaker lot-especially women and children. While rape is not inevitable, it stems from deep seated attitudes.
    Rapists CHOOSE to rape. Theirs is an violent act that is premediated to subjugate the weaker lot, especially women. It stems from neandrethal masculine judgments and views that include women asked for it;inappropriate behaviour, provocation;on frivolousness over why a woman's yes is a no, why a little forced sex is acceptable within marriage and so on. Gender conditioning, altering power imbalances between the sexes has helped, atleast in the western world where the stigma is less, empathy for the victim is strong and support groups and self helpd advocacy groups offer succor for victims. In India, we need more of support groups to help rape victims tide over the trauma.


  13. PixelChick Says:

    I remember that Jayakantan story not because I read it in the original but because it was shown on Doordarshan as part of Ek Kahani or similar such series. I never understood what was being alluded to, until much later.

    My mom imagines foreign countries as a kind of utopia where there is no stigma attached to rape. Nothing could be further from the truth. You just have to read the advice columns of any major newspaper to read anguished questions from women who have undergone rape or similar assault, asking if it's best to divulge details to a potential fiance or husband.

    What is different abroad is access to counseling services, so one can come to terms with what happened and reframe one's life as a survivor, rather than remaining a victim.


  14. choxbox Says:

    i remember the story you mention as it was shown on TV as part of some short story serial i think.

    when it comes to this one crime, i think there should be absolutely no room for forgiveness or leniency.


  15. 2 B's mommy Says:

    Its the society who has to change their attitude towards the victims and shame the rapists publicly instead of treating the victim as if they have done something shameful. The police is same everywhere - they will give you long list of do's and don'ts if you want to avoid being mugged, robbed, raped, abducted. They tell us that's first its our responsibility to make ourselves safe. Here, at times they have increased the patrolling vehicles if some area is reporting more crime, but then they come back and say that they can't do it forever as they don't have enough resources.


  16. Not for nothing were you given the Thinking Blogger award. :-)
    I too read the Bilkis Bano case now (i missed out on it when it happened, I was pregnant, I think) and was terribly moved by the poor lady's plight. How is it that such maniacal crimes are even thought about and worse still, how is it that people get away with it? The poor son and the poor mother. I am with you on the policement and security issue. If a woman can't be caught in dark alleys, then a man should be allowed to skulk around either. ABSOLUTELY right- the logical thing is for marauding animals to be caged, but instead it is us women who get to bear the brunt for thier insanity.
    I believe in certain Arab countries, the punishment for theft is to have the offending hand cut off. Ditto for rape. Away with the offending organ, I say!
    Drastic, you might say, but once a couple of men have it done to them, it will surely serve to deter the rest of them. With their symbol of power(???? huh?) at stake, not many men would steep to rape.
    Provoking post, Usha!


  17. In the earlier post, i forgot the not in - men should NOT be allowed to skulk around.


  18. WhatsInAName Says:

    Ditto my feelings except that you have taken up the cause so very well!
    Why should a woman be punished for a crime she has not committed? These thoughts have plagued me ever since I saw GHAR when I was still a child. I remember the movie, "sirai", where Lakshmi, the brahmin wife of a priest, is raped by a local goonda, Rajesh. When her husband turns his back on her, she decides to stay with Rajesh, since its him who has caused this. The movie had beautifully shown the hypocrisy of the husband and when she decides to remain as a widow of Rajesh rather than the priests wife, there was a lot of furore in our society. I feel the ending was very apt!

    I think what has to change is the mentality of the society. No amount of rules will help unless we all change our outlook!


  19. maami Says:

    indian movies,in my knowledge, apart from say ghar, and that bhagyaraj-bhanupriya movie have been consistently perverse depicting rape.(the idiot parthiban even won a national award for playing a reformed rapist). indian movies have sent the message out that it's better for the woman to marry the rapist by either reforming him or as a form of protest. 'sirai' and 'agnipravesam' convolute the oppression by making them themes of upper caste's mental violence and rape of the female mind versus subaltern rape of the mere physical etc. what they imply is a brahmin man could disown you, so it's better to forgive the lower class bull, who after all only violated your body, not your mind.
    bullshit eitherway to showcase a woman marrying or feeling sorry of her rapist whether he's of a lower caste or not. a bit like making a movie of a pedophile turning a model dad after molesting a child, because through he's of a lower caste yet he has high paternal instincts that are missing in her own upper class but cold father. a rape is a rape-class codes of conduct, caste rules of revulsion are all excuses to make meaning of a brutal act. our indian movies revel in justifying a rapist in such ways which is despicable. and we have people saying such movies are meaningful.


  20. Usha Says:

    Hi everyone,
    Thanks for your comments.
    When I spoke of rape here, I had only spoken of strangers using force over a woman to satisfy their lust, perverted desires, convoluted sense of power and superiority and as a weapon to settle scores.
    I did not even explicitly include the same kind of violence from within family.
    The point is that it is a crime and should be dealt with as it is without letting our notions of honour and chastity collude with the suppression of the crime.
    What the victim needs is non judgemental acceptance, support and help in healing and recovering from the trauma of the horror.
    Maami, I vaguely remember the story of Sirai when it appeared in ananda vikatan(?) I think the point was not to condone the rapist but to make him pay for his crime by making him responsible for his victim. And I think he expresses remorse and is penitent. Isn't it better justice than sending him to prison for 3 years and releasing him at the end of the term without even ensuring whether he is reformed enough and is safe to be let out?
    Agnipravesham - again in the 60s for a poor lower middle class madisaar-clad widow to take that step was huge. To say that there was no honour lost and it wasn't her fault provoked a lot of debate at least in middle class minds. May be that is what made my generation mothers impose less of don't on their daughters.
    (In the altered version of the story "sila nerangalil sila manidargal" the mama who is infuriated by the story and argues it would dilution of public morality - this same mama tries to molest his niece who has been through a similar experience.)
    The point is most Tamil films dealing with the issue of rape have made it an issue of hon our and portray the man who comes forward to marry a "fallen" woman as a mahatma.
    And there are films where the standard device used to bring a strutting woman to her knees is by forcibly kissing her etc.
    While the censor board is so worried about how much of cleavage can be allowed , no body seems to mind these kind of ideas and even super stars regularly mouth statements like "after all oru pombalai".


  21. S.Praveen Says:

    Hi Usha, very thoughtful...have u seen this movie called "Vaanam Vasapaddum". It is based on Irul Varum Neram by Sujatha who wrote the story based on an incident that took place in the 80's in Jalahalli Bangalore, where he was working then. The husband questions the entire system after his wife has been raped.

    Vaanam Vasapaddum review @ lazygeek

    Why dont u deactivate the word verification on the settings in ur blog, :( verrrrry irrritatttting...


  22. Space Bar Says:

    Usha great post (came here from Blogbharti, though I've dropped in now and then). But when you say, 'to make him pay for his crime by making him responsible for his victim', I assume you don't mean that marrying the rapist is okay? It could be construed as taking responsibility and frankly, the thought of putting some poor woman through that is terrifying.

    I agree that what we need is more support groups and a more sensitised spproach to the whole thing in the media.


  23. Usha Says:

    S.Praveen: I don't seem to rememebr this story by Sujatha. Will get hold of the book when I am in chennai next.
    Word verification - SIGH! iff i switch it off comments don't become visible till I approve and others who vivit don't get to see the comments until I have approved. Most of the time the comments contribute more to the discussion than the main post - this is why. ( any other alternative?)

    SpaceBar: That statement was only in the context of the story. If my memory serves me right , the victim is asked to leave her house and has nowhere to go - so decides to make him accept responsibility for providing food and shelter for her.
    There is no further relationship between them.


  24. Gauri Says:

    I still remember that incident which took place in one of the police stations in Bombay - where a girl was raped by policemen in a police station.

    These people whose job is to protect the common person on the street from violence commit crimes and no one is accountable. If this is not perversion of justice, what is ?

    And yes, I do wholly agree with you in saying that societal attitudes need to change w.r.t the way a rape victim is looked upon. Society ought to be able to discern the fact that the victim is not the one answerable but rather it is the perpetrator.

    Good post Usha, as always.


  25. Jane Turley Says:

    A really well written and thought provoking post Usha.

    I recently watched The Kite Runner in which a small boy is raped; it was very upsetting and as ever made my blood boil that women and children (and to a lesser extent men) be treated in this manner by others.

    At times like that I rather dislike the human race.


  26. dipali Says:

    After this very serious, saddening business, a light hearted tag. Usha, you are tagged.


  27. Thank you for writing this. Yours is the voice of change. Slowly, surely, we are awakening. Someday maybe, we will rize above our prejudices and make our society just.


  28. A Says:

    Came here through Blogbharti..Your post reminded me of the movie Bawandar starring Nandita Das- a village girl who tries to oppose sati and in the process is gang-raped in front of her husband. A Very painful movie...but very realistic


  29. Usha Says:

    Gauri: Yes,it is more scary when Policemen indulge in crimes - how safe does that make one feel?

    Jane!! what a surprise, welcome!
    I remember that from the book and I felt a similar pain too. People who can indulge in rape cannot be considered human - they are animals.

    Dipali: will take it up, thanks for thinking of me.

    anideal:Yes, every step counts.

    a: Thanks for dropping by. Will try to watch the film.


  30. Mahadevan Says:

    As you have analysed correctly, there are four major reasons for rape - sexual frustration, perversion, exercise of power to subjugate and revenge. In a male dominated society, a woman is considered to be the proudest possession and an easy target to attack. To defile the wommen of the other group is a sign of success, they believe.

    As Brinda Karat has pointed out recently, instead of sympathising with the victim, we condemn her. The recnt incident at Goa exemplifies this.

    I sometimes feel, Hammorabi's law - an 'eye for an eye', alone can bring about justice. Those guilty of rape, should be caztrated. Atleast they cannot repeat the crime.


  31. Usha Says:

    Mahadevan: Yes fear of law can be an effective deterrent. But how do we prevent rapes within a marriage or within the family?


  32. Congratulations :) This post in one of the winners of 'Tejaswee Rao Blogging Awards - 2011' (TRBA 2011). We would like to create an ebook with all the winning entries in 47 categories on Feminism and Gender Issues in India (and one category on Animals Rights). Please do let us know if you are fine with your winning post/s being included in this ebook. ( Please click here to let us know).