(Published on December 15, 2014, on Sify.com, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/lets-face-it-theres-no-cause-and-no-forgiveness-for-rape-news-columns-ompiSjehifaee.html)
Every time there is a high-profile rape – and how abhorrent it is that, in this country, we must divide rapes into ‘high-profile’ and ‘everyday’ – there is a mushrooming of reactions across media. There are the open letters, and the open letters written in response to those open letters.
But, far worse than the sometimes-amusing, more-often-self-righteous, and usually-poorly-framed open letters, are two breeds of consciously contrarian writing.
One is that women should look after themselves, because, hey, this is not a free country. I mean, it’s free, but that doesn’t mean one can wear what one wants. I mean, one can wear what one wants, but that means there will be consequences. I mean...
And the other, more insidious, kind is the one that urges us to look at the reasons behind rape, the kind that exhorts us to examine the background of rapists, and treat them as human beings whose criminal tendencies are but a natural consequences of their upbringings – what can you expect from boys who have grown up in poverty, and watched their mothers and sisters being abused, the poor little darlings? – and the kind that points out that Norway’s luxurious prisons have worked as rehabilitation centres.
Well, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that line of reasoning. There is no reason behind rape, except love of the power one enjoys over someone who has been deprived of agency. And there is no justification for that power. A person who enjoys and exploits that kind of power does not deserve the dignity of being treated as a human being.
One only has to glance through the newspaper pages when the annual school examination results are printed, for stories of what other consequences being raised in an impoverished household can have. Every year, there are stories of toppers who went to government schools, and of children of food-cart vendors who got into prestigious institutions. Some of our best known film stars, sports icons, and politicians spent their childhoods in penury.
As for the high-security prison in Norway whose rooms are better-equipped than the last student dorm in which I lived, I think it is a thorough injustice that a terrorist like Anders Behring Breivik may be sent to live a life of comfort. Perhaps the rate of crime and repeat crime has gone down in Norway, but that is easily controlled in a country with a population that is a fraction of that of India – perhaps a fraction of that of some Indian states.
People who commit heinous crimes, such as murder and rape, cannot and should not be rehabilitated. They must be punished.
I hope the columnists who constantly write about the need to "forgive" and "reform" rapists understand that they're quite like the women who write love letters to men on death row. You cannot reform a rapist, and should not forgive one. The only solution is to lock him or her up and throw away the key.
Yes, it may not bring down rapes drastically, but it will bring down the chances of that particular rapist finding more victims.
Equally, a life of witnessing abuse cannot season one to commit abuse. If it does, it is less forgivable, if anything.
As for the argument that women must take care of themselves because cities aren’t safe, why don’t the men and women who say this stop to ask themselves who makes it unsafe? Because it is not simply rapists, but also people like you – people who set social norms of acceptable, or safe, dressing. What anti-rape clothes would you recommend? Cowls such as the burkha, niqab, hijab, nun’s habits, and whatever else are passed off as “modest” dressing for women? Jeans, because they are difficult to pull off? Sarees, because they are considered demure?
What anti-rape measures would you have women and men take (because, let’s not forget, many, many men are sexually abused too)? Pepper spray? Knives? Keep talking to someone on the phone throughout the car ride? Ensure that one doesn’t get drunk unless one is being driven home by a spouse, or trusted friend or partner? Make sure one stays awake while travelling alone?
Well, none of the above clothes or measures has been foolproof.
It is probably sensible to stay awake when one is alone in rented transport, but failure to do so doesn’t justify rape.
A few years ago, in Delhi, when I was working twelve-hour days through six-day weeks, I dozed off in an auto, against my best efforts. The driver stopped by the side of the road and called out to me, to say that the book I was reading had fallen to the floor. I remember waking up, startled and disorientated, and staring in panic out of the auto, to make sure I wasn’t in some deserted alley.
What is wrong with our world is that a woman lives with the constant fear of rape, the constant threat of being raped if she lets her guard down for a single moment.
And it does not help when people helpfully point out that it’s a good idea not to fall asleep in rented transport, or ask why a couple who spent more than a thousand rupees on the evening’s entertainment should choose to take a bus home.
The victims are not to blame. The rapists are not to be forgiven.