Just the term ‘rape’ has innumerable implications on any individual’s subconscious and that too predominantly violent. From the most regressive patriarch to the most radical of all feminists, any among those would declare rape to be the worst kind of violence encountered by few hapless women in their lives. But both the views have huge polarity in general and the reason for arriving to such opinion is diametrically opposite. For patriarchy, rape is evil because it is a crime against the “honor” of the family, whereas feminists denounce rape for it is a crime against the freedom, autonomy and physical integrity of a woman. This difference in understanding leads to totally opposite proposals for fighting this sham of a social curse.
Speaking in a patriarchal perspective, rape indeed is a fate worse than death. Our country believes that no normal life can be ever proposed for the survivor of rape and the best way to avoid this trauma is to lock up women in their “safe” households, within the well guarded family border lines of strict patriarchal control and supervision. According to this widely practiced norm and its futile solution, we can conclude that on these lines the raped woman is majorly responsible for the crime against her as she refuses to follow the normative values assigned by the patriarchy to her because either she crosses the lines drawn by either time (by going out after dark) or by the stupid concepts of pseudo respectability and dress code (Aren’t those jeans too tight and those skirts too short?)
This patriarchal understanding is pervasive not only in politics but also in the realm of the Indian judiciary. For example, Botsa Satyanarayana, the Andhra Pradesh Congress Chef who reacted to the brutal gang rape of a 23 year old student in Delhi by stating , “Just because India has achieved freedom at midnight does not mean women can venture out in the dark” and in 2008, Karnataka’s chief justice Cyriac Joseph said in a public meeting that “nowadays women wear such kind of dresses even in colleges, churches and temples that when we go on mediating of god, we end up on the person mediating before us instead”
Such a misogynistic, anti-feminist and patriarchal understanding of rape leads to the remedy proposed by courts sometimes themselves, of getting the rapist to marry the woman he raped. The marriage is meant to restore the social order. Once the rapist is woman’s husband, the act of sex is retrospectively legitimized as the consent of woman is irrelevant in marriage and out of it (the domestic violence act of 2005 recognizes marital rape but rape laws do not) the morals of Indian society do not permit consensual sex out of wedlock, but ironically if you rape a woman then it’s your moral responsibility to marry her!
Alleged rapists often get routinely acquitted for ‘lack of evidence and the proven ones often get a reduced sentence, sympathetically citing their youth and the promising life ahead of them. Gratuitous reference to ‘western women and their supposed attitudes to sex can be found in formal judgments and in the statements of rape by officials, the 1983 judgment of Gujarat High Court made the progressive argument that a charge of rape is not necessary in general, and that a woman’s complaint of rape should be taken on its own merits. But it justifies this argument on very patriarchal grounds. It held that Indian society-unlike the permissive west-is tradition bound and therefore any woman was unlikely to make a false accusation as she would be ‘reluctant to admit’ that any incident which is likely to reflect on her chastity has occurred. Western women, as it implies, were more capable of these things. The current rape laws thus are extremely problematic from the feminist point of view, there are on-going debates among the feminists and democratic rights group on the kinds of amendment required. One Important suggestion was to remove the narrowly defined ‘rape’ and replace it with a series of degrees of ‘sexual assault, the punishment increasing in severity and physical harm caused. With the new anti-rape bill on the cards now, Gender neutrality regarding the victim is being very strongly proposed so that the rape of boys, men and Transsexuals, too can be taken into account. The perpetrator is generally male but in cases of custodial rape or rape in the context of a clear power situation, gender neutrality with regard to the perpetrator. This suggestion however is very contentious within the feminist perspective though, as there is a fear that gender neutrality with regard to the perpetrator, except in clearly defined situation such as custody/authority, will only further make women the target of the law rather than offer them protection, given in overwhelmingly sexist context.
Sexual violence is, thus, the most visible aspect of a general climate for misogyny in which all women are always under the scanner for signs of immoral behavior. Every woman knows that the position marks ‘good woman’ and ‘bad woman’, Madonna and Whore are not stable and fixed. Every woman lives in the constant knowledge of how easy it is for her to fall from the light side into the dark side, and how impossible it is, once fallen, to get back again into the light. An unthinking gesture, a careless physical movement, the wrong kind of dress in a public place or at home, and suddenly, that’s it! You’re exposed as a prostitute! Prostitute becomes and easily available general insult suggesting someone willing to be bought .a woman with no ethics. In this case the insult arises from the comparison to a woman, of her own will, has sex with many men outside the prescribed social rules; as opposed to the non-prostitute woman who has sex only under conditions strictly controlled by patriarchy.
There are many porous borders evident in between the categories of ‘unmarried women’ ,‘Widow’ and ‘prostitute’-each of them unbound by marriage reflects the intense patriarchal anxiety about controlling the female sexuality. For example the idea of sexual desire in widows is still as threatening today as it was in the 19th century. The constant expectation of sexual purity on the part of the widows and the constant fears about their sexual agency is thoroughly valid in our society however the sexual exploitation of widows often by the men of their own families often go unpunished.
As feminists we tend to tightrope on the question of rape. On the one hand we want the recognition of rape is only one end of the spectrum of sexual violence, at the other end of which is a range of male behavior which is endearingly called as ‘eve teasing’. We want recognition that the pervasiveness of such a misogynistic culture severely restricts women’s access in the public spaces. We want recognition that not every woman has to be raped for her to learn to restrict her own movements. The belief that threat of sexual violence is everywhere, that it can happen anytime, that is the worst fate that can be befall women, is enough to make us police our movements and restrict our own mobility. Hence the use of the term survivor rather than victims should be our preference in these cases. Does the real damage of ‘rape’ lie in the web of meanings around it rather than in the act itself? That is a question we need to work upon for decades in this regressive scenario.
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