New year, old thoughts

Happy New Year!

(I know I haven’t been posting very much on this blog anymore,but I was dealing with a lot on my plate. This month should hopefully be a little better on the work front and I can finally write all the blog posts that have been stewing inside my head.)

I have been following the story of the 23-year old whose life (and death) has succeeding in denting the patriarchal shell that envelopes our rotting national psyche. I’m glad I didn’t blog about it earlier, for the events of the past days have altered my mindset regarding rape.

I started out by feeling anger, and agreed with those who called for capital punishment / castration- but the more I dwelt on why I felt so angry, the more clarity I achieved . The epiphany was simple- rape is no worse than any other physical assault. Rape is certainly not worse that murder.

The not-very-legal definition of rape, essentially, is an attack on the genitalia of the victim, by the perpetrator. The fact that our society has a separate term for attacking another’s private parts is evidence of the importance we attach to certain organs and body parts over others.

The next logical step is then to question why penises and breasts and vaginas are more ‘valuable’ than ears or eyes or hearts. One answer is that they are the instruments of creation of new life, but surely imbuing them with so much ‘specialness’ is something we should reject in this day and age? The other answer, more relevant to rape, is that these organs are also the (false) repositories of our ‘honour’.

That brings us to sex. Yes, sex, which when we were no better than animals, was an act natural as taking a pee or eating. When society decides that the sexual side of our nature is something to be ashamed about, and that sex is only to occur under ‘honourable’ social conditions, sex becomes taboo. Infrequent usage of sexual organs becomes synonymous with a higher morality, and individuals who are sexually inexperienced are lauded as ‘pure’.

( An aside-It isn’t clear why society picks sex (out of all the biological functions known to our species) for this kind of step-motherly treatment. We will probably never know why or when exactly all of mankind ganged up to declare that SEX IS BAD. It happened, and we must deal with it, either by rejecting the idea as false, or by accepting it as true and modifying our actions to validate it.)

Anyhow, a clear line has been drawn by society , linking morality and honour to what are termed the ‘unmentionable’ body parts. A rational mind will reject this unfair association. Certain parts of the body ARE more important than the others BUT they happen to be THESE- the heart, the lungs the brain and the kidneys- the organs that SUSTAIN life and make existence possible.

Following this train of thought, the natural conclusion then, is this- our private parts are not really extra special, so an attack on them is not really extra horrific. Thus, the punishment for rape really ought to be the same as the punishment for assault.

What would that really do? In an enlightened society,  (that is , NOT present day India), the disassociation of the sexual nature of rape from the physical act of harming someone else’s body would help to ease the shame felt by the victim. As far as India is concerned, society’s mentality towards virginity and sexuality has to first change before we can make calls to view rape as a serious assault rather than some unspeakable crime.

Sure, the perpetrators’ punishment may be deemed ‘lighter’, but isn’t it worth it if the victim feels less ‘defiled’ ? If a change in how we punish rape prevents shame and suicides , isn’t it worth the difference in approach? Maybe it is time to stop asking to kill the rapist, if it means the victim will have a better, ‘taint’-free life.

P.S- The young girl was a victim of assault and murder . To reduce it to ‘death by rape’ in my view is a mistake. She was subjected to terrible violence, of which only a part was sexual. The fact that we view her rape as her most important and defining injury says a LOT about us. I hope she is in a better place.

ETA:This article is a must read. Also,  read Sohaila Abdulali’s essay in NYT, which also provides a link to her original essay on the experience of being a victim of sexual violence 32 years ago.


Rape 101

I’ve been doing a bit of reading on rape law in India . This post deals with the existing definition of rape in the Indian Penal Code,  as well as the prescribed punitive actions stated in the Code.

One of the first things I noticed was that the definition (Section 375) was written in 1860- a full 150 years ago.

It states that rape is said to have taken place when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman under the following conditions- against her will/without her consent/if her consent is obtained under threats made against her or someone known to her/if her consent is obtained by intoxicating her –either by the rapist or another/if her consent is given in the belief that she is consenting to her husband/ if she is 16 or younger (15 or younger if she is the man’s own wife).

Also, the ‘sexual intercourse’ is defined as at least a single act of penetration. 

The immediate issues are quite obvious- the assumption that only women can be raped , the specific exclusion of martial sexual intercourse from the definition and the rather narrow definition of intercourse that counts as rape. I also find the intoxication clause mystifying- to me it sounds as if  the list of invalid consent needs the addition of a clause on self consumption of an intoxicating substance.

Coming to the punitive aspects (Section 376), the Penal Code broadly divides rapes into 3 categories-

The first is the default category which attracts a minimum of 7 years imprisonment, a maximum of life – plus or minus a fine.

The second is the custodial rape category- which occurs in institutional premises (remand homes,jails,police stations, hospitals) and by staff working there at the time.The minimum imprisonment is 10 years , extendable to life, and may also be subject to a fine.

The third is gang-rape, the punishment for each rapist in the gang being as described in the second category.

The prison sentences to me , seem reasonable enough –  though many may disagree.Some countries tend to have a separate clause on aggravated rape where other injuries and STD transmission also occur- which have more severe punishments- perhaps that is dealt with in India by bringing separate charges against the defendant?

I also feel that it should be mandatory for the State to offer free mental health services for an extended period of time to the rape survivor in cases where a conviction has been secured- taxes can be better used towards the rehabilitation of the plaintiff.

All in all, it does seem like we need to quickly act to update the definition of rape in India, make the victim gender neutral as well as add a clause on martial rape. I am not sure if changing the punishment for rape will do much- a far more effective deterrent is to ensure more cases are brought to trial and that more convictions are fairly secured.

Finally,when I studied Forensics as a med student, our professor showed us an excellent video on the ‘how to’ of the process that ideally should begin when a complainant reaches the police station.It was made to sensitize both the police and the doctors on how to make the victim feel more at ease. (I think it was made by Gujarat Police with inputs from NGOs, not sure)- Anyway, I think such initiatives should be more widespread, and everyone should be able to access a ‘what happens next’ source that can prepare them as to what to expect.





Older posts-

  1. Another Day , Another Rape
  2. New Year,Old Thoughts

Honey Singh- Facing the Angreji Heat

I noticed today that the WordPress Annual Report  stated that my post on Honey Singh (circa July 2012) was the most popular one on this blog in December 2012. I was baffled till I checked the news- and voila! The mystery is solved.

I find it silly that he’s trying to ‘deny’ responsibility for his lyrics on the grounds that he didn’t personally write them- he IS the performer , after all, and there is enough by way of public performances and music videos to prove that he knew exactly what ‘message’ he was trying to push.

While i think calls to ban his songs are a tad excessive, it is true that his music is ‘dangerous’ because it is pure misogyny wrapped in slick and highly-produced packaging. By that standard , then, half the self styled magnum opuses out of Bollywood would also need to be banned.

There’s no doubt he’s popular. I am so far removed from the world that listens to him and yet, I’ve been to weddings where almost all the songs the DJ played were courtesy Mr. Honey Himself. And this was before he exploded onto the Bollywood playback scene in 2012.

Instead of preventing him from making his music, it’s far more important to create a society that refuses to consume his brand of trash. Sadly, there are plenty of takers for his work- some who subscribe to his views on women and others, who do not glean the full import of his words until they’ve looked up a translation- and even then don’t really care, ek song hi to hai, na?

Until we individually stop consuming the misogynist c**p dished out to us in the name of entertainment, we’ll just have to resign ourselves . To dancing at weddings to songs about women’s ‘measurements’ , fevicol-photos, and badnaam munnis – while congratulating ourselves on being so cultured and classy:)