Women, for fewer rapes in India, moral courage is a start

Those who would ‘sacrifice’ liberty for security deserve neither, Benjamin Franklin once said (hard as it is a true sacrifice always involves giving up something of a lesser value for something of a greater one, hence the quotation marks). Yet the rabid fear-mongering in Indian media in reaction to women’s rapes puts one off from thinking clearly. Here’s a non-conformist’s list of five guidelines to stop rapes.

Abolish the code of ‘womanly honour’ from society. It is patently false, yet the real reason behind most rapes. Hurting the victim’s morale and subjecting her to fear of being ostracized — real or otherwise — is the big agenda of the rapist as most rapes today are done in backlash to women’s empowerment (liberation). Remember our tradition includes Panch Kanya whose virtue is not compromised even by polyandry. Remember Gatha Saptasati prescribes seven husbands are the “limit to a woman’s honesty”. But, most importantly, remember it is the straight trees that are cut down first and honest people first face flak, so at least some of these rape victims must be honest as indeed is the case in ‘revenge rapes’, ‘correction rapes’ and, by extension, backlash rapes. Remember, real rape occurs only in the unconscious seduction of the victim by the rapist and more on this later. So rethink the stigma; ‘asking for it’ is a qualified term. (If one is targeted because of her good qualities that make her stand out from others or because she is doing the right thing then it is she who is far closer to the Indian suttee prototype and not the women in purdah ‘feeling unsafe’; manifesting Stockholm syndrome.)

According to a not-exactly-obscure Catholic belief infamously reiterated by politician Todd Akin, pregnancy cannot result from ‘legitimate rape’ as the female body has “ways to shut down the act”. Novelist-intellectual Faye Williams has termed this category of contact ‘aggravated physical assault’. This idea imputes power and not sexuality as motive to the ‘rapist’ and holds only a victim pregnant as a consequence to the activity guilty of provocation or possible capitulation.

Corollary: Allow the raped the option to protest undue stigma by coming out with their names. Not naming them and giving them monetary ‘compensation’ (for nothing) is reinforcing the wrong stereotype and a bad idea. Scrap IPC’s Sec 228A.

Corollary2: Groping does not necessarily equal molestation, even of the soul. Law, police and journalists should use a different term for the offence.

Corollary3: Let sexual harassment be termed sexist/gender harassment by the same logic. It will be more accurate in most cases.

Allow women the agency to protect themselves. Recognize true equality of sexes. Allow for eve-olution. Biological determinism as a result of sexual selection has led to men having greater upper body strength and a larger metabolism reducing the scope of a woman’s successful self-defence. But a growing body of evidence argues for physical parity between the sexes in terms of greater life expectancy (medical), better immune systems and genetic predisposition to fewer diseases (medical), stronger sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (medical), greater carrying angle of the arm (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex), bigger reserves of endurance and energy and lesser proportionate calorie requirement (The Second Sex), proportionately greater lower body strength (John Updike), greater chance of survival under duress (medical) and quicker reflexes (Natalie Angier, Woman: An Intimate Geography) of the woman. Rape is rare in the animal world. Frigidity to unwanted seed is nature’s way of ensuring passing on of the best genes. A magazine quotes crime experts postulating that an average unarmed man cannot overpower an average adult woman to the point of sexual subjugation unless there is coercion or blackmail. An Odisha high court judge has based his ruling on this observation. It is reportedly possible to resist rape through transcendental meditation leading to perfect regulation of one’s bodily responses as Nun Neelotpala is said to have done in the times of King Bimbisara of Magadha. One rural Bengali aphorism compares a woman’s virtue to a Pandora’s box-like closed fist that cannot be forced by others but once opened by its owner loses its contents forever. And new crime data in US shows a consistent drop in figures of women’s rapes — a combined result of social engineering and women’s empowerment. So chillis and martial arts are really redundant. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Overreactions and uncalled-for hostility owing to lack of real confidence on part of the victim is petty and unfair though deemed ‘attractive’ because it easily precipitates a situation wherein the victim fights but not hard enough to be effective, is seduced despite themselves and the sex when it occurs is the most enjoyable (Kamasutra). But if one is rational and just-minded one can eschew this behaviour and cultivate faith in self and one’s fellow living thing instead. Women living in these anti-physical, technology-overdependent times could do well to take a leaf of the masculist culture of old street gangs.

Redefine modesty. Overdressing, too, is covert immodesty and indicative of a dirty mind. During early days of Islam in the Middle East, female citizens were asked to cover their head and elbows to differentiate themselves from prostitutes leading to the origin of physical hijab – originally meaning grace which is no more than a personal disposition — when it is the prostitutes who should have been the ones asked to cover up if the object was to differentiate them from ordinary folk who require baring for activity, agency and aesthetics. Uphold economic egalitarianism and pay your dues to an unequal society. That will give you the moral courage to face your jealous assailant.

Corollary: Scrap the phrase ‘outrage of modesty’ from the law books.  One’s modesty may or may not be outraged by a misogynist slight or an inappropriate touch from a random stranger. On the other hand, words coming from one’s own paranoid family may do the trick when they make one feel like a retard unconsciously seeking and vulnerable to some sort of sordid subjugation or gratification. But that again is something too private for the law to act or comment on and should not be a state offence (Some things should stay between individuals or within the family. Neither should the law have a say in deciding presence of sexual chemistry between the parties necessary for the modesty of one of them to have been truly outraged.). Criminal intimidation, though, is a true-blue offence should one choose to file a plaint.

Occupy public space as rightfully yours. Walk at night. Go alone, ditch that mobile. Hike out of town without your purse. (An honest woman’s virtue is unimpeachable; some of you, quit putting a monetary value on that virtue which may or may not be in your heart/brain/head/conduct but is certainly not located in your vagina during availing of transport by typically overpaying the operator and then complaining of extortion — it is quite a reprehensible act.) Explore ideas of assault, reverse rape (Saral Himsa by Bengali author Hasan Azizul Haq published as early as 1981 describes one such instance of frontal gang rape of a man by women as do news reports — Delhi 1999, Sydney 2008 — from time to time) and castration as retaliation/punishment. Solitary confinement after trial is also not a bad idea. Even forgiveness is an option but lessons must be imparted one way or another, examples set or made of. Aim for real respect from your enemy.

Women victims do lack effective social support owing to prevalence of the ‘honour’ syndrome and male dominance in neighbourhood watering holes though the latter may grant them more social options and greater behavioural flexibility. However, in absence of an effective law, efficient governance and a trustworthy establishment, vigilantism is a good bet Since you are on your own — and, come to think of it, that is a primary condition of anyone’s existence, as Karl Marx said, when your turn comes, do not make excuses for the ‘terror’.

Afterthoughts: That rape occurs in the unconscious seduction of the victim by the rapist is an argument that has been put forward earlier in this piece. This writer proposes the term parasexual offence to cover most rapes. These rapes are not really sexual in nature as these are driven not by chemistry but class hatred of successful and overtly non-traditional women perceived as a threat to patriarchy; yet the assault takes a sexual or rather sexist form as gender is involved.

As opposed to the ‘rape is a rape’ argument, all rapes are not the same and, admittedly of course, neither are all parasexual. That’s because the victim may experience forced orgasm — something that can arguably be regulated emotionally and is hence possibly a sign of the victim’s capitulation unless contact is initiated during sleep — (or may not but it is only orgasm that equals humiliation) and there may have been chemistry – a pointer to possible unconscious invitation on the victim’s part, both evidence of sexuality if not guilt or consent. They may even choose to change their mind and partake of the act mid-way. At this level, a medical test or the law is not equipped to distinguish between physical and sexual assault; or rape and ‘legitimate rape’/non-rape-and-aggravated assault of one’s private parts. But the second category of offences is definitely parasexual in its nature. Reverse rape and castration (in case of accidental pregnancy) can be appropriate punishment in the former case. Of course, marriage as ordained by some khaps is out of question even if there is presence of sexuality as the rapist is morally repugnant.

True sexual exploitation/abuse is usually protracted and the only among this group of sexual and parasexual offences that likely involves the victim sharing a degree of onus (and guilt and shame) with the perpetrator. But the shame is not everlasting and the victim can always pick up the pieces and move on. Importantly, it’s a greater sin or vice to close oneself off to life and learning and friendship for fear of losing one’s virtue than actually losing that virtue in a bad relationship. Thus it is that permissive societies are the ones truly conservative in that they preserve the real values of a civilization, preventing them from degeneration.

Backlash is not the only reason for rise in rape stats. The others are increased reporting of cases and paranoia leading to a sexually charged atmosphere. This paranoia coincides with and is largely a result of a generation of women (Generation X) stepping out into professional and public spheres after being nurtured by their parents to do so – these parents are not equipped with matching mindsets.

A fact: Pre-independence India was a lot more liberal in this respect. Freedom fighter Jyotirmoyee Devi of the Surya Sen-Ananta Singha-Pritilata Waddedar circle (92 years old in 2008) would regularly sneak out of home and cycle to meetings with associates and it was her mother-in-law who covered for her before relatives. Ma Sarada is said to have trekked through a forest alone at night as a young bride. She met and blessed a gang of dacoits on the way. The Geeta Chopra Bravery Award instituted in 1978 following the Ranga-Billa kidnap-murder honours a child victim of rape.

A lone man’s company often makes a woman the target of rape: It takes away her aura of virginity which is the only kind of virtue recognized by rapists (as they are anti-sexuality in theory but not entirely in practice – a slight paradox). This sets her up as ‘fair meat’ to be competed for and also puts ideas in the accompanying man’s subconscious mind that may not have arisen otherwise and that can lead to blackmail or a play for dominance between the two. Hence, the increased need for greater agency on part of women to defend themselves and their own.

Word of experience: Occupying is a lonely job and entails loss of allies, (career and life) opportunity and even authority to speak with credibility. It is women who are the pillars of patriarchy for it is they who have it easy as their narrow interests – of food, shelter, clothing and safety — are served. It is also they who nurture a horrible fascination about this subject.

It is all very exciting for an outsider or a casual insider to live in an atmosphere of constant suspense touched by polemical feelings and the promise of forbidden sex and scope for easy bravado — when walking out the door is deemed an adventure in some circles — and fun what with the hoo-hah and attention and self-defence workshops but such a state of mind is actually a very insidious instrument that saps a society from within and blinkers its vision and limits its possibilities because it becomes/is part of the everyday dynamic of relationships and group behaviour within offices, families and communities where anyone who does not conform to expectations is misunderstood, silenced or snubbed.

It’s hurtful to know that your parents will wish you dead if you are raped whatever the reason and the nature of contact. It’s hurtful to know that should that happen you have to take matters forward on your own even if you can do so. It’s also hurtful though less so to know that you can’t trust your neighbour in this or the law of the land or police or so you have been told although this nameless 16-year-old rag-picker who was gang-raped in Delhi in 2007 put her four rapists behind bars by dint of sheer grit stoically attending hearings and not wavering from her stand, threats and mudslinging notwithstanding, right through to the bitter end of a trial that lasted nearly a year.

As a lone occupying pioneer on the ground for the past 20 years earning their right to write this every step of the way by doing the deeds (all of them all of the time without relief or relent and to the chagrin and more of one’s dear ones) under their own steam (one has to find it if one has a point to make) and being the person before saying the speech, so to speak, practising the principles much ahead of going to preach, walking the talk one talked in one’s adolescence before being challenged by elders saying one would change their stand with age, that what one was saying was impossible in the society one lived in – walking that talk after taking a vow of silence till the time that walk was achieved by one’s sole power sans outside help on the soil one is the daughter of – walking that talk and then talking again, this writer demands solidarity from women – both belonging to the ‘new’ India that has seceded into the privatized world of cars, security guards, gadgets and gated communities, who are driven by self-interest and whose only yardstick is wealth sometimes not entirely their own and to the old ‘India’ of hypocrisy and spiritual corruption, laxmanrekhas and no true maryada for anyone, where one dare not do right for fear of reprisal and where one uses convention and institution to justify dishonesty, stupidity and blind fear. Anything less would be a betrayal. Anything less and you are as much a part of the problem as the rapists, themselves, are.