The discourse of rape in India



By Nithin Sridhar

In the state of Uttar Pradesh, which has recorded the highest incidents of gang-rape (570 incidents) and stalking (835 incidents) in the country for the year 2014, the recent statement about gang-rape by Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose son Akhilesh Yadav is the present chief minister of Uttar Pradesh comes as a grotesque irony.

Over the years, Mulayam Singh Yadav as well as other members of Samajwadi party (SP), have made some outrageous statements about women and sexual violence against women. These statements and opinions not only serve in understanding the perspective and world view of SP on the issues related to society and women, but also contribute towards understanding the nature of general discourse in India about the issues of rape and sexual assaults against women.

Let us have a look into some statements made by SP leaders and try to understand the discourse surrounding them.

Gang-rapes are not practical

At a function this Tuesday, Mulayam Singh Yadav was reported as saying,  “Often, if one person commits rape, four people are named in the complaint. Four people are named for rape, can it be possible? It is not practical.”

Though the comments were made in the context of incidences wherein false accusations of rape were made, SP supremo clearly stated that it is not practical for a girl to be raped by multiple men.

In the light of Nirbhaya gang-rape that resulted in nation-wide protests and the recent NCRB statistics declaring UP as having the highest number of gang-rapes, the question to be asked to our politicians is: How can they deny something, which is so obvious and present right in front of their eyes?

Statements like “gang-rapes are not practical” not only depict denial of facts, but also the attitude of the society to deliberately turn a blind eye towards certain issues out of sheer convenience.

The root cause of the sexual assaults against women lies with the attitude of people. The issue of sexual violence is seen not as an issue or a problem of the society. It is seen only as an issue related to women. This discourse on rape and sexual violence, which associates sexual issues with only women is the cause behind denial of incidents of rape not only with respect to women, but also with respect to men. Society is simply not ready to accept that even men can be sexually violated.

When it is said “gang-rape is not practical”, it is not only irrational, but is also insensitive. Perhaps the politicians think that when a gang of 4-5 people rape a woman one after the other, the woman should file individual cases of rape against each of the perpetrator.

It is horrible and outrageous to even suggest such things. Men and women are biologically different. Hence, men may not always understand the emotions and feelings of women. Further, incidents of men facing sexual assaults are also less when compared to molestation of women. Hence, most men may not understand how when a woman is raped, not only her body is hurt, but her mind and soul are tortured as well. But this ignorance of women’s emotions should not be used to deny tortured and raped women their victimhood.

This deniability of the possibility of gang-rape is basically a deniability of victimhood to the rape victim. Statements like one person must have raped and others just watched or they are innocent, are nothing more than attempts at denying that she was tortured both physically and mentally. Even if we assume that it is not a complete denial, it is definitely a denial of the degree to which she suffered.

Therefore, through the deniability of the possibility of gang-rapes, a rape discourse is being created that is aimed at denying victims their victimhood by first denying the degree to which they were made to suffer. This “discourse of deniability” must be exposed and discredited before any genuine understanding and discourse around sexual issues are established.

Boys will be boys, ‘mistakes’ happen

In 2014, Mulayam Singh Yadav had said, “Boys will be boys, mistakes happen.” He had further added: “First girls develop friendship with boys. After that, when differences occur, they (i.e. the girls) level rape charges. Boys commit mistakes. Will they be hanged for rape?

Even if one were to assume that these are innocent comments that intended to highlight the issue of false charges of rape filed by some women who get dumped by their boyfriends, the tone and the essence of the speech gives a very different picture.

What does a statement like “Boys will be boys, they make mistakes” convey? Are men born as sexual perverts? Or does being a “man” means being a pervert and a rapist?

These ideas of associating perversion with masculinity, raping someone as a sign of being male, or as a weakness of being a male constitutes the “discourse of rationalization.”

When it is no longer possible to deny an incident of rape, or deny that rapes happen, the next course of action is to adopt this “discourse of rationalization.” This rationalization is not only far removed from reality, it is an outright insult for both women and men.

In this attempt at rationalizing rapes, men are considered as sexual machines looking out to satisfy their desires. Further, the very essence of being a man is portrayed as being “perverted”. But, such a portrayal is not only far removed from ground reality, but it is not rooted in Indian cultural consciousness.

The Indian ideal of “manhood” is not judged by how “hunk” one is, or with how many women one has slept with. Instead, it is judged by the benchmarks of Brahmacharya (celibacy) and IndriyaNigraha (Self-control). The paurushatva (manhood) of a man depends upon how well he can control his desires, his senses and his mind.

Therefore, these attempts at rationalization of rapes and sexual assaults are not only horrible and insulting, but they are also against the traditional values of India that have been practiced from time immemorial.

The aim of such attempts at rationalization are two fold:

  1. To portray rape as a small incident that happened due to a slip of mind by which the sexually abused victim is reduced to become a victim of a simple ‘mistake’. Hence, all the suffering and torture faced by the woman, the gravity of the crime committed by the rapist are reduced to a simple ‘mistake’. When you cannot deny the crime, you deny the gravity of the crime and write off the sufferings of the victim through rationalization of the crime.
  2. To transfer the blame from the perpetrator to the victim, by rationalizing that it is in the nature of men to become sexually aroused on seeing women, and as this is beyond their control, they end up misbehaving with women. By extension, it is the duty and burden of the women so as to not provoke men to rape them. So, after denying the gravity of the crime and writing of the torture faced by the victim, the rationalization of rape discourse achieves shifting of the blame from perpetrators to the victims.

Therefore, this “discourse of rationalization” must be understood and removed.

Absurd and mindless oratory

Rapes are of two types; forced and mutual consent.

In June 2015, Totaram Yadav, senior SP leader was quoted as saying, “What is rape? There is nothing as such. Rapes happen with mutual consent of boys and girls….Rapes are of two types, one which is forced and another that happens with mutual consent.”

This is a clear case of “discourse of confusion”. When the denial and rationalization of the reality of rape does not bear fruit, a discourse aimed at creating confusion is adopted.

What does rape by mutual consent mean? It has no meaning. It’s meaningless. Rape by its very definition is “forced”. But, this line of argument is adopted by society and its leaders to avoid any honest discourse and analysis regarding rape and sexual assaults.

By saying there is “rape by mutual consent” one is being forced to reconsider the very definition of “rape”. If this farce is not recognized for what it is, then we may even start believing that there is nothing like rape. For people taking this line of argument can clearly argue that rape victims are not really victims because they did not prevent rape from happening, and hence, there was a consent from the woman as well.

This discourse deliberately misses the point that the women protested against the assault, but they were overpowered. Or maybe, they can argue that, the fact that women were unable to physically resist, shows that they are meant to be treated like sexual objects, and hence, there is a ‘consent’ even there. That is, as the rape victims were not physically strong enough to fight the rape perpetrators, there was a consent in the sense, their body was naturally made to act that way and get abused by others.

These perverted arguments are endless and they are intended to create confusion and hence prevent any real discourse and discussion about rape and sexual violence. This is the “discourse of confusion.”

SP leader Totaram Yadav spewing-out outrageous rape comments

If any woman goes along with a man, with or without consent, she should be hanged.

In a 2014 report, Abu Amzi was quoted as saying, “ If Any woman, whether married or unmarried, goes along with a man, with or without consent, should be hanged. Both should be hanged. It shouldn’t be allowed even if a woman goes by consent.” He had further added that: “Rape is punishable by hanging in Islam. But here, nothing happens to women, only to men. Even the woman is guilty.”

This statement is a clear tactic of diverting the attention from the core issue by mixing it with another issue. Here, the issue of rape is being mixing with adultery and cheating and hence, the attention is being diverted from rape to a broader issue of cheating.

Let us consider the issue of adultery. Adultery is nothing but cheating one’s partner, and by definition it a consensual act. There is no use of “force”. So, why should death penalty be given for adultery? When adultery and rape are not connected in any way, why should their punishments be co-related? On the other hand, when a woman was forced to get physical with a man, it becomes a rape and the woman a victim.

What justice is it to punish victims? In both cases, there is no ground to justify punishments to women and to justify mixing up of issues. The intention to mix up issues, is to create a diversion so that the goalpost is shifted from “rape” to “adultery”. But, when analyzed properly, this “discourse of diversion” will stand exposed.

Abu Azmi bites the dust on ludicrous rape comments

If anywhere rapes are minimum, it is in UP

In July 2014, Mulayam Singh Yadav had stated, “If anywhere such crimes (rapes) are minimum, it is in UP. The state has a population of 21 crore. Considering that, such incidents are very less.”

When everything else fails, one can always go for quantifying an issue and pointing out the “proportion”. This “discourse of quantification” aims to show that the statistics of rape incidents say that they are only handful, especially when they are compared to the total population.

In any issue, quality and quantity both have their own values and place. Hence, any discourse on any issue should give both quality and quantity their due importance.

But by opting for the “discourse of quantification”, one intends to submerge the essence of the rape issue by over-flooding the discourse with statistics about how a particular location has a lesser number of cases than some other location; or how the proportion of the crime with respect to whole population is very minute.

Rape remains a rape, it remains a heinous and horrible action irrespective of whether it is committed hundred times or just once.

This “discourse of quantification” that is carried out using statistics to suppress the content of a genuine rape discourse is the final tactic used by those who want to prevent and distort any genuine discourse about rape.

This is not to say that any one political party alone practices these perverted arguments to divert the attention from the real issue. Instead, the whole discourse and discussion about rape and sexual violence has been perverted. The statements of leaders from one influential party are an illustration to show how the perversion of rape discourse has become deep rooted in Indian society as well as in its people.

A genuine discussion about the issue is clearly missing from the general discourse in the society. In its place the society has absorbed and imposed the arguments put forward in the discourses of deniability, of rationalization, of confusion, of diversion and of quantification. It is high-time that the rape discourse is made free from these imposed arguments and discourses and the real issue is brought forward.