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.