Killing in self-defence is a legally and socially sanctioned response to the preservation of life and dignity. Whether murderers should be killed by the state is also, as far as debates go – debatable. By the same eye-for-an- eye logic, if it made the slightest bit of sense, we’d say — rape the rapist. Not only would this turn the gender equation on its head, since most rapes are committed by men, but we’d also have to sanction the act.
In some parts of our country we have the active lineage of deliberately raping women for violating communal codes, for asserting caste superiority, for revenge and for recreation. These are forms of sanctioned rape. One would not immediately think of what happened on that bus as sanctioned, pre-ordered rape — the home minister has had the audacity and daftness to call it a rare, one-off occurrence. Whether it was premeditated we do not yet know, were they prowling around for a
prey? Did they set out that evening, six of them in a “private bus” with the intent to rape, or did they come up with it spontaneously? Were their hormones so in sync that they all felt the urge together? Or did one of them start and entice the others? What was the anatomy of the evening?
What we do know is that six men raped one woman. This makes it sanctioned rape – because at any given moment there were five people, on the scene, sanctioning it.
Women in the national capital and around the country have gone hoarse saying it, if the predominant view of the law enforcing establishment is that women invite sexual assault we have no hope of stopping it. By casting aspersions on victims, the police sanction rape and by using it as a tool of suppression our rural, and not-so-rural, chauvinists sanction it. Behind diversionary statements about women’s characters and their lack of good sense about their own safety is a tacit acceptance of rape as an outlet of sexual rage.
Boys will be boys; women must contort to fit into their world and at the same time guard themselves in it. All forms of societal hierarchy dissolve at the question of women’s safety, particularly in Delhi — the man could be a semi-literate driver, the woman could have a PhD and teach at JNU, or a UN delegate but the burden of caution falls on her shoulders. Time and again the police have faltered in basic logic and decency, suggesting the female victim should have been more careful, or worse that her clothes or behaviour were the cause, while rarely openly denouncing the rapist.
Talks about the death penalty and castration are abuzz right now — but some deterrents are not deterrent enough. One would think that the presence even of a third person would deter rape, but here all five of them took turns. While we debate the penalty, perhaps we ought to consider the case of gangrapes separately. Perhaps if a man is implicated as part of a gang rape, he should be charged with not having prevented a crime along with having committed one. Turn the peer pressure
from participation to prevention. At the group level it is harder to plead temporary insanity for all.
Attack this form of social rape especially, because the second line of defence are onlookers (the first is in the rapist’s mind), break the social sanction this terrible crime enjoys from within our villages to our tinted glassed private buses. Send this message unequivocally — if a woman chooses to be out on the street at night, it is her urban (and rural) right, if she chooses to dress the way she pleases it is her human right, and if she chooses to roam the world naked, it is her birth right.
Priyanka Shah is an architect. The views expressed are the author’s own.