How often have you felt that words are not enough? How often has approving, dissenting, commenting, outraging, endorsing opinions, views on issues around you brought you a fair amount of public shaming? How often have you been told that your Twitter posts and Facebook statuses on Rapes, Violence against Women, Farmer Suicides amount to nothing?
How often have you been told to go to the field and do some ‘real work’ instead of publishing articles and writing papers on Forest Rights, Land Rights, Habitat Concerns? How often have you laughed at people who choose to speak on every concern they have an opinion on and how often have you wondered if anyone is going to bother to listen?
I have faced each of these questions enough number of times to bother to share them with you. But, I have also witnessed the disdain for talking, speaking up, deliberating, discussing, asking questions reduce with each passing day. While words are clearly still not enough for many, it might be safe to assume that very few remain oblivious to the power of the spoken word and the reach of the written word. While public outrage on Rape is still in many quarters classified as a rant, emphasized by using ‘Feminist rant’ to make the disdain more clear, people are increasingly becoming aware of the worth of their voice.
Each voice speaking out against the gruesome Badayun Rape, each opinion on the dismal state of law and order in Uttar Pradesh has been a hand of solidarity extended to the family of the deceased young girls.Each man speaking against misogyny while discussing rapes shatters a stereotype, each woman speaking up about her own experiences shows that there is life beyond Rape. The collective conscience of the country is reflected through these many views and opinions and a public conversation of such a scale cannot be ignored. Using your words to share your anger, your helplessness, your sorrow on the routine indignity that women in this country have to face, amounts to something.
While talking, you are doing something. You are taking the cause further for the women of this country. You are an ally in this long and arduous journey towards the goalpost of true equality for women.
But, a public conversation as always has divergent voices.
Every day, with a new barbaric story of Rape, I learn of a few more reasons as to why Rapes happen. A few days back I learnt that Rapes can be divided into 2 categories- Good and Bad. An elected representative of the BJP shared his views on the how coercive sex, physically violating and brutalizing a woman, can at times have rather positive virtues! He did not go on to specify whether this type of Rape is good for the woman or for the society at large, because it aims at taming a woman gone rogue! Maybe a little more probing would have brought out the deep psycho-analysis he had obviously undertaken on the nature of Rapes in India.
A few days later, another elected representative pitched in to the conversation saying that Rapes are unintentional. He said that no one wants to commit a Rape, but is somehow compelled into it. The crux of his psycho-analysis of Rape was that women somehow lure, provoke maybe even force gullible and decent men to commit heinous sexual crimes. Rape is thus a crime of passion, of unintentional lack of control over attraction and libido and a small aberration by otherwise law-abiding citizens. A few months back in the throes of election campaigning, the undisputed leader of Uttar Pradesh, lovingly called ‘Netaji’ had made the strongest psycho-analytical dispatch on Rape, for his followers.
In a state where violence on women often coinciding with caste based crimes has reached mammoth proportions, he used one of his largest election rallies to share his views on male entitlement to Rapes. He said that the law of the land is too draconian on issues of sexual violence and leaves men disempowered. He went on to say that young men often commit minor mistakes like Rapes and this should not be the reason to ruin their lives. An election commission which strictly reviewed speeches for hate mongering, did not find anything hateful in this particular speech.
Ofcourse, terming Rapes as minor mistakes by boys could never have had any repercussions on the safety of women in the state! Not even when it was a clear message to all the young men and also the law and order mechanism of the state about the way the ruling party perceived crimes against women.
These are not the only additions to the public conversation on Rape which have left many astounded. The days following the Delhi gang-rape saw many more of such psycho-analyses of Rape which identified diverse objects from Jeans to Chowmein as the cause of Rape. Most of these shocking comments came from people who had been elected by us, to represent our views in the state legislatures and the parliament. It is not that only politicians have such views. A large chunk of the population can also relate to their analyses and somehow sees reason in the idea of women inviting Rapes. But, the fact that people responsible for making laws, for governing this country, for setting agendas made such comments, is indeed a chilling revelation.
These are the people who are supposed to unpack the layers of voices and opinions against Rape, distill the changes the nation wants to see and make our collective voices bring about change. These are the people who are supposed to reassure the men and women of this country that sexual violence and crimes and the impunity of assaulters will not be tolerated by the state. But, these are the people who chose to speak different knowing quite well that in the public conversation, they are the ones who will be heard first.
It is not that the comments of these politicians and public figures were not aggressively criticized. Both the mainstream and the social media mounted a charge on such insensitive views and expressed a lot of outrage. The Prime Minister of the country in the first session of the newly elected Parliament urged politicians to refrain from indulging in such psycho-analysis of a critical and sensitive issue like Rape. He said that it is better to stay quiet than make such disgraceful comments which attack the dignity of the women of our country. I saw the entire speech and was happy that a cautionary note had been provided by no less than the Prime Minister of the country, on the floor of the parliament.
But, the very next day I saw the outrage over these insensitive comments morph into something sinister. It was being said that the Prime Minister had urged people to stay quiet on Rape and was encouraging a culture of silence. While spinning his concerns of psycho-analysis of Rape, ruining the impact of collective angst against Rape, it was said that the Prime Minister had failed to understand the power of the public conversation on sexual violence and was trying to silence outrage. The motive behind this gross interpretation can either stem from political reasons or from a dismal understanding of Hindi. The latter can ofcourse be worked on by merely asking for help when unable to comprehend an ‘alien’ language. The former is a more critical problem.
The Prime Minister’s comment if taken in the right spirit could have only helped strengthen the arguments of all those people who believe no woman ever, under any situation invites Rape. All those people who had outraged against the powerful politicians’ who could influence people with their disgraceful comments on Rape, could have used the Prime Minister’s endorsement to step up their opposition and add to the public discourse on safety of women.
All the people who consider themselves allies in this fight against sexual violence and Rape, could have considered this proclamation at the seat of power, to be a victory of their relentless campaign against misinformation and misogyny. This could have been seen as an addition to your collective voice against Rape, a powerful addition nevertheless.
But, you choose to see it as an encouragement of silence, as a call to people to stop talking about Rape, about women, about law and order.
It clearly was not that.
It was a call to have zero-tolerance against Rape and say no such thing which will deflect attention from the severity of these crimes or dilute the resolve with which the state and the people intend to proceed. It was vociferously stating the fact that the current public debate on Rape has no space to interpret the crime or the intentions of the Rapists.
The current public debate also has no space for people who want to somehow find justifications to blame women, external reasons, clothes, food, westernization for Rape but stay clear of blaming the men who commit the crimes. Is that not what people as allies want anyway? Is your outrage because you want people in positions of power to continue making such statements so that you continue to debate them? It is not that these revelations by politicians are the only window through which one is exposed to the deeply misogynist and patriarchal mindset dominating many quarters in India.
Would you rather not have politicians entrench the fact that certain public statements are wrong irrespective of what their views on Rape are? Would a person distraught by such comments not want politicians to know that such statements are no longer welcome? Is the continued vocal insensitivity of these leaders more critical to inform debates on Rape than their measured silence which could keep the discourse more solution centric?
I really have no answer as to what prompted this outrage.
Maybe because it was Modi and for some he should at all points be trashed, irrespective of what he says. Maybe because they genuinely feel that insensitive, crass statements need to be aired and asking misogynist politicians to hold their tongues amounts to thwarting of free speech. I don’t speak for all women here but just for myself. I value speech, I know the criticality of this public debate on Rape and I realize the significance of airing a plethora of viewpoints. But, as a woman harrowed by the open misogyny of people in power, I have suddenly realized the virtue of silence.
For this Rape culture to be over-turned, we don’t just require more spirited voices but we also need more silence. Silence from the people who we have elected and who believe our clothes, our food and our bodies’ corrupt men. Silence from those who think I invite Rape and I don’t know that Rape can actually be good for me. Silence from those who think men are entitled to a trample upon a few vaginas and move on because it’s a normal mistake.
If the Prime Minister wants these people to be silenced too, I support him and always will. This time I will use my voice not to ask people to speak up against Rape but to shut up about Rape. If it bothers you that this somehow translates into a culture of silence on crimes against women, then you just have to deal with my dissent. And hopefully, the dissent of many more like me.