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.

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7 thoughts on “New year, old thoughts

  1. Pingback: Rape 101 « Desi Daaru

  2. I think a large part of the outrage in the Delhi rape is because of the savage brutality of the assault, rather than just rape. Most people were quite disturbed at the amount of violence that occured. I am sure if it was ONLY rape, the issue would have dissolved and shamed, just like the Gurgaon and Kolkata rapes last year.

    I do agree that rape should be seen as a case of assault, but as a greater degree of assault, since rape leaves a greater psychological scar than other forms of assault such a robbery, mugging or even being shot at. Note that my ‘degree of assault’ argument is from personal experience, not any controlled psycho-forensic study.

    As for the tabooisation of sex and the concept of ‘body shame’, there is a whole sociological basis for it. Probably a lot of explain in a comment, I think I’ll work a blog post on it.

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    • Yes, I agree that rape should be treated as aggravated assault- and in many countries rape is further divided into different kinds, based on factors like severity and associated injuries.
      This post was written about rape in general and not this particular case (which , due to it’s brutality and eventual death of the girl would be an outlier amongst other rapes).
      While the demand for death penalty in this case is now justified (seeing as how the accused are standing trial for murder as well), I disagree with the calls to make the death penalty applicable as punishment in ALL rapes- that’s just overkill, and symptomatic of the rape always ‘destroys’ the victim mentality.

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  3. And thank you for providing link to Sohaila Abdulali’s essay. It is interesting and very sad at the same time, especially the anecdote about the woman who set herself on fire. I think the attitude still prevails, as I heard sometime back, about a woman who committed suicide after a nude MMS of her went viral. This is a social issue that needs serious addressing, just like the rape issue.

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    • Yes, I think Ms. Abdulali’s article was good to read- especially the line about how she has been rewarded richly by life inspite of the incident.
      I wonder though, if her experiences were more positive owing to her family’s migration and subsequent life in the USA soon after?
      Will wait for your blog post.

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  4. You have raised some very pertinent questions about sexuality and sadly enough why a survivor is labeled “zinda lash” as if her being zinda is invalid after a sexual crime AGAINST her.

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  5. Like all parents, we want our girls to dream of success in a world where they are valued for more than their youth, beauty, and sexuality. And we want our boys to imagine happiness without the pressure to be physically aggressive and dominant over women.

    Yet that’s not the message being delivered by Super Bowl commercials. What’s being broadcast is that men are only men when they are big and strong, and that to be a valued as a woman you must be sexy and on the sidelines.

    Despite the fact that nearly 50 percent of the viewers of the game are women, advertisers continue to objectify, hypersexualize, and trivialize many of the women who appear in Super Bowl commercials.

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