Thursday, April 23, 2015

No acid attack victim's story has a 'fairytale ending'

(Published in on April 21, 2015, retrieved from

Over the last week, the wedding between acid attack victim Sonali Mukherjee and her partner Chittaranjan Tiwari has been celebrated in the media.

This is the story: A man is moved by the life-story of a girl who was attacked when she was 17, and who overcame the assault on her physical faculties to win 25 lakh rupees on Kaun Banega Crorepati; he gets in touch with her, and they become friends; eventually, they fall in love and marry.

It is the perfect media story.

Here’s a girl whose life appeared to be over. She falls in love. She marries.

Here’s a man who has set an example to everyone. He sees beyond the scars.

The fact is, this is no fairytale ending. Because it was no fairy tale. There was no witches’ curse. There was no Prince Charming. There were three cruel criminals who decided to attack a woman who would not entertain their advances; they got away scot free; she lost her sight, her hearing, and her speech. She has had several reconstructive surgical procedures, and will need several more. That is not a fairy tale.

A man fell in love with her, and this would not be out of the ordinary if she had not been attacked. That is not a fairy tale.

No girl dreams that she will be blinded and disfigured in the most painful and cruellest of ways, serving a life sentence while her attackers live their lives. That is not a fairy tale.

It is the worst thing that could happen to anyone.

It isn’t the most pleasant thing, either, for one’s wedding to make the front page news in several national dailies, all of which sing paeans to the magnanimity of the man who would marry a victim of an acid attack.

More than two years ago, I had written about the horrific situation with regard to acid attacks in India.

Even now, there is hardly any control over the sale of corrosive acids, that could kill or severely impair a human being on which they are used.

Even as we speak about the increase in molestation and rape cases across the country, we are not speaking enough about a crucial aspect of women’s safety – acid attacks.

A study found that the most prominent causes of acid attacks in India are domestic violence, dowry demands, marital rejections, and suspicion of infidelity.

In other words, a woman who will not concede to the demands of a stalker, lover, or husband, stands the risk of being attacked with acid. Her case will not be documented, as there is no separate section in the Indian Penal Code that deals with acid attacks. Her attackers will be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison, and can get bail right after they are arrested. Most are never punished.

We don’t seem to realise that the issue of acid attacks is as closely tied in with women’s rights as rape, and is at least as grave a crime. It scars a woman physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially, for the rest of her life.

Yet, we haven’t been discussing a way of finding a solution.

It has been nearly two years since the Supreme Court imposed regulations on the sale of acid. Over-the-counter sales were banned, unless the buyer showed identity proof, and logged his or her address and reasons for buying the acid. Minors are not allowed to buy acid. Yet, a few months ago, a lady doctor was attacked in Delhi by two juveniles, allegedly acting on behalf of a stalker. Since then, media investigations have shown that these rules are largely ignored.

It is certainly not impossible to bring in stringent measures to control the sale of acid, or to increase the punishment for perpetrators of acid attacks.

Bangladesh has brought down the number of acid attacks by eighty percent over the last decade by taking two simple measures – the government increased the punishment for attackers; and it mandated that all manufacturers, importers, distributers and consumers of all acids should be licensed.

It is disgusting that we are forced to discuss the percentages of acid attacks.

And it is worse that we don’t have the means to do so because there are no officials statistics available.

It is even worse that, despite almost daily reports of acid attacks on women, we don’t have rules in place to put an end to it.

Worst of all is that we are shamelessly terming Sonali’s story a “fairy tale”.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Yes, I am thrilled by the prospect of a meat ban

(Published in, on April 8, 2015, retrieved from

Picture Courtesy:

I know, even as I write this, that I will be vilified for supporting a dictatorial government, that my liberal credentials will be questioned.

In the words of my Autocorrect, I don’t give a ‘duck’.

The truth is, my heart leapt for joy when I read that the ban on cow slaughter and beef may be followed by a similar ban on other products involving the murder of animals.

Because, as an advocate of animal rights, I am simply exhausted.

I cannot explain:

How exhausted I am from answering the question, “Are you vegetarian because of religious reasons, or are you one of those vegans?” [“Are you asking me that question because you have absolutely no sense of social decency, or because you think that personal questions are not rude in India?”]

How exhausted I am from pretending to smile when people grin, “Oh, you’re so unlucky, you’re ghaas poos.” [“I am not unlucky, you nincompoop, I just know that animals have a right to live.”]

How exhausted I am from trying not to react when people say, “Oh, I like animals. I eat them for dinner all the time”, mainly because I am not sure calling them by the name of any human or animal genitalia would entirely convey my contempt for them.

How I want to slap people who look at me quizzically and ask, “But...what do you do for your protein?” [“I don’t do anything; don’t I look like I’m going to drop dead at your feet any minute now? I work out for four hours a day, but clearly, I have zero energy because I don’t get your meat protein, no?”]

How angry I get when people ask me, “Are you vegetarian by birth, or by choice?” [“Why don’t you just come right out and ask me to which caste I belong? It’s more honest, and I would respect you a little more than I do right now because I would know you don’t consider yourself a clever ‘aunt’, as my Autocorrect would say.”]

How tired I am of explaining that I don’t use silk or leather, and then forcing myself to smile at the inevitable S&M joke that will follow – “So, no whips and straps?”

How my mouth hurts from conversations with people who ask me about killing insects, and when I respond that I don’t, ask me about killing germs when I breathe, and when I explain that that is involuntary as opposed to voluntary animal slaughter, come up with, “Plants have life too.”

How I avoid going out to dinners, because I don’t like being at restaurants that propel an industry which survives on killing animals. How I, in fact, avoid buying provisions in supermarkets because I hate that some of the money I give them will be used to stock their shelves with dead animals.

How difficult it is to explain to people, when I’m taking them out for a treat, to not order dead animals, knowing that the conversation for the evening will be dominated by my principles, and the ‘playing devil’s advocate’ arguments that people think are so ‘ducking’ original, but that vegetarians have heard so many ‘ducking’ times – the plants-have-life spiel; the food-chain nonsense, to which you have to say again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again that it doesn’t count if animals are bred for slaughter.

How I sometimes, just to avoid that argument, watch people gobble down cooked animals, pay the bill, and cry myself to sleep over the guilt of having contributed to this cruel industry.

How taxing it is to make the effort to deny someone the pleasure of a reaction when he or she tells me how tasty something made from a dead animal is, smacks his or her lips, and looks at me, perhaps not realising that the pain it causes me to hear this is so intense, it is physical.

How I want to sink my head into my arms, and then walk away, when someone speaks about how fashionable it is to be vegan, and how vegans have a holier-than-thou attitude.

How I stopped celebrating my birthdays – indeed, started hiding when my birthday is – when a friend insisted she would either order a meat dish or starve at a celebratory dinner.

How disgusted I am when ‘non-vegetarians’ say that they are against hunting, seemingly blind to the irony.

How much more disgusted I am by people who claim to be advocates of animal rights, or conservationists, but who speak of the need to separate ‘non-vegetarianism’ – a.k.a., the practice of eating animals that have been killed in order to satisfy the basest of your cravings – from ‘animal rights’. How can you be anti-fur, and pro-meat?

How much it hurts me in the moments after I grin that the only causes about which I care are the legalisation of marijuana and animal rights – that it hurts because, while the statement is entirely true, and that I state them in that order simply because it is funnier– I know that the one can be circumvented, while the other cannot.

How I instinctively like people who are vegetarian, and how I secretly have to force myself to take a moment and give those who eat animals a chance; how I have to make arguments to myself on their behalf, about conditioning and so on; how I know that they will likely be shocked if they knew that I had to make them pass this test in my head, and yet, what a relief it is to come out and say it here.

The fact is, I dream of an India where animals enjoy the same rights as human beings.

The fact is, I dream of a world where animals enjoy the same rights as human beings.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

CBFC's logic: Look, two women having great sex. Let's turn lesbian

(Published in DailyO, on April 3, 2015, retrieved from

India must be the only country where economic progress is inversely proportional to liberalism. Depressingly, this is reflected in our laws, drawn from the antiquated British penal code - from the Victorian era - and applied with few amendments today.
Homosexuality - in fact, all forms of "unnatural" sex, which going by the definition of Section 377, would include most sexual activities in which heterosexual partners indulge - has been re-criminalised.
And, it appears, so have films that depict homosexuality. They are "promoting" unnatural sex, and will "ignite unnatural passions" among their viewers. Because, clearly, sexual orientation is a state of mind, and tends to be influenced by a two-hour movie. "Hey, those women seemed to be having great sex. Maybe I'll become a lesbian," you might think, as you munch on your popcorn.
The ban on Unfreedom shows us that India has only become more regressive in the two decades since Fire released. That film did show in theatres, sparking off protests from the usual suspects. This film will not even be given a chance.
According to media reports, one of the excuses that the Central Board of Film Certification has produced is that the film also has an Islamic terrorism angle, and that this may rouse tensions.
If this is indeed true, it typifies India's reaction to any controversy contained in a creative work - ban first; speculate later. This year has been a dark one for "freedom of speech" in India - the documentary India's Daughter was banned, and television networks were prevented from showing it; 28 words came close to being banned from use in films; and it promises to get worse.
These are the latest in a series of guidelines and diktats that have been slowly twisting the arms of film directors. Every time someone lights a cigarette or pours a drink, a health warning flashes across the screen. Most swear words are beeped out or muted, often robbing us of context. All scenes of semi or complete nudity are cut, always robbing us of context. I mean, if you watchedThe Last King of Scotland in an Indian theatre, the climax would have made no sense.
The films Blue Jasmine and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo didn't release in India because the directors refused to put in the cuts that the film certification board deemed necessary.
Isn't the point of having "certification" self-explanatory? The purpose of the board is to certify that the film is "suitable" for a certain age group of viewers, taking into account the depiction of sex, narcotics, and violence, right? How does the board get to decide that a film should not be shown at all? Technically, the most the board ought to be able to do would be to plaster a warning: "Adultery is a crime"; "Premarital sex is amoral"; "Lesbianism is dangerous to health"; and so on.
When I look at films from the '50s and '60s, whose content would have had to take into consideration not just a draconian Censor Board, but a conservative audience, I am quite fascinated by the manner in which the directors managed to subvert moral codes. The raunchy item numbers were cloaked as dream sequences, and thus outside the realm of the film's representation of real life. The heroine remained chaste, the hero innocent and honourable, while the "other woman" would dream of him wooing her against waterfalls.
In yesteryear Tamil cinema, most of the titillation would be conveyed through suggestive lyrics, with double entendres. MGR was quite the connoisseur of these, singing of "luscious mangoes" and "two full moons" as the heroine gyrated against him in figure-hugging costumes, with the backdrop conveying the literal meaning of the lyrics - they would be rolling under a mango tree, or flirting under a paper cut-out of the moon. The only woman who would so much as hold hands before marriage was the vamp; she was free to do everything that went against the morals of society, because she was conveniently the "bad girl"; so, after her raunchy dream sequence, she could even attempt a seduction, and be told off by the hero, who was repelled by her open sexuality.
Raj Kapoor usually depended on the elements of nature to show his heroines in as close to the buff as he could get. Here is a sudden burst of rain, just when the heroine is walking home in a translucent sari; here is a gust of wind, blowing her sari away, and she's too busy running after the hero's plane to sort out her wardrobe malfunction; or, here's a fake moustache that totally convinces the hero that she's a man and so it's perfectly understandable that he tore at her shirt, leaving us with copious under-boob show for the long chase sequence. It would be terrible if our filmmakers had to resort to such tactics, which were degrading to not just women, but all of humanity. For some reason, India has clung on to the idea that cinema must advocate, rather than reflect.
Even worse, it is deemed all right for films to advocate the most disgusting "solutions" - for the longest time, women were marrying their rapists to protect their modesties, and reforming these rapist-husbands, so that they became decent, honest men; for the longest time, men were sexually harassing women till they decided to fall in love with them; independent, wilful women were being "brought under control", a trope that was funny in England in Shakespeare's time, and is considered just in India, today.
If the censors want to screen films for what they "support" or "promote", perhaps they should look at these storylines instead of picking on sex and intoxicants.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Since when did fashion magazines become our beacons?

(Published in, on March 31, 2015, retrieved from

Over the past couple of days, the internet has broken and reassembled itself over the Vogue India ‘My Choice’ ad featuring Deepika Padukone, and ninety other well-dressed women, with a few tribal folks and senior citizens thrown in to depict, you know, a cross-section of society.

I am not sure what I find most befuddling – the fact that Vogue India is now at the centre of a media storm over the reaches of feminism, or the fact that a sultry-faced, staccato-voiced Deepika Padukone is being given most of the credit for a video that has her hair blowing in slow motion, even as she undoes her bra strap.

The now infamous My Choice video, whose script veers between pissed-off-teenager and aspiring-stream-of-consciousness-writer is only the latest in a series of hilarious ads that the fashion magazine has put up under its hashtag ‘VogueEmpower’.

The campaign – for what cause, we don’t know yet – started with Ranbir Kapoor blathering on about his love of black-and-white photography while a scantily clad Kangana Ranaut promised to empower women by talking to them about her journey.

Then, it moved on to an ad where a lot of anorexic women in business suits and bold lipstick strode around, plastering themselves against various horizontal and vertical surfaces, while screaming into phones, with words like ‘power-hungry’ and ‘arrogant’ jumping out of blackboards.

In another ad about saluting heroes, an acid attack victim who has turned her life around finds herself feted, alongside a female bodybuilder who giggles that her parents-in-law don’t know what she does, and an old actress wearing several layers of makeup.

This is followed by an outlandish video called ‘Warrior Woman’, where a dominatrix-type wearing leather and feathers stands among shaven-headed dancers.

Then, there is an ad featuring Madhuri Dixit along with a bunch of sadistic parents who command their sons not to cry, and culminating in a kohl-eyed man who twists the arm of his girlfriend, who in turn seems to have fallen off her high heels.

Arguably the most bizarre of the lot is an ad where Alia Bhatt’s car breaks down, after which she requests a lascivious gang of men who are ogling her to drop her home.

And, now, we have a problem with the verbal and visual content of the ‘My Choice’ video?

Since when have we been turning to fashion magazines to lead the way where perception of women goes? And since when have we been depending on them to speak to men on the behalf of all womankind?

Their attempts at joining the bandwagon of political correctness have usually backfired.

Case in point: a Femina cover with Huma Qureshi posing against a mannequin, an idea that was unofficially ‘borrowed’ from a photoshoot featuring plus size model Denise Bidot. 

Unfortunately for Femina, they decided to add the words, ‘I don’t owe you perfection’, thereby suggesting that Qureshi was imperfect for not adhering to the body measurement norm.

Across the world, fashion magazines and beauty brands have tried to adopt a ‘Real women, real bodies’ policy. But, strangely enough, all these ‘real women’, while wearing Size 28 or whatever below the neck, have heart-shaped faces with streamlined chins and cheekbones on which you could dice carrots.

Why can’t we simply accept the fact that some magazines and products will target an audience that is swayed by a certain idea of beauty, and that that is perfectly all right?

The problem crops up when we expect brands that celebrate physical appearance to speak for social causes.

Every now and again, a glamour magazine will institute a woman-of-substance award, or some such, and invite ‘real women’ to pose for its cover. For the rest of the year, the cover will have a woman displaying her cleavage and her pout, because that is what its target audience wants, and that’s all right.

Perhaps, rather than vilifying the magazine for its series of self-defeating ad campaigns, and Deepika Padukone for being a part of it, we should glance through the video playlist, snigger to ourselves, and move on.

A fashion magazine is simply that. It cannot be an instrument of social advocacy, except to suggest what dresses will make your waist look tiniest when you go to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award, maybe.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The dangers of a society that bans debate

(Published in, on March 17, 2015, retrieved from

Often, I think about what it is that makes us different from our neighbours – China, where artists of all kinds are in constant danger, Sri Lanka where every column could lead to the issue of a death warrant, Pakistan where it appears no one is safe. Perhaps not very much.

We call ourselves multicultural, and boast of unity-in-diversity. But is this diversity tolerable only when it is skin deep? Are we allowed to have opinions that are different from that of the majority?

One of our most important rights is the right to freedom of expression, but even that Constitutional guarantee comes with a rider that is open to interpretation – that it must not offend or hurt the sentiments of others – and is, besides, bound by several other parameters, ranging from foreign relations to ‘decency and morality’, all of which are open to interpretation.

Irrespective of the government in charge at the Centre, India’s first reaction to controversy, especially when it concerns art, is to ban without question.

Art is often considered representative and reflective of society, and so it ought to come as no surprise that our democracy is only really a pretend-democracy. We, as citizens, have never had a say in the actual running of our country. A politician can change the names of our cities at will, and we have no choice. A party can push through a nuclear deal that offers little guarantee for life or livelihood in case of an accident, and we have no choice.

We live in a country whose rulers actively escorted Warren Anderson to safety and immunity in the wake of the Bhopal gas leak, allowing him to die in peace and of old age – neither of which luxury is available to generations that were affected and will continue to be affected by the tragedy. And, yet, we offer little security to authors and artists who are threatened by bigoted and extremist outfits.

Every day, as the rest of the world grows more liberal and our own country thumps its chest on its economic progress, we are adopting smaller minds.

The clampdown on debate is only getting more stringent.

Nowadays, we don’t simply protest against opinions that are contrary to our own. We will not even allow them to be heard.

A television channel is attacked over the trailer of a programme which discusses the relevance of the thaali. The reason given by the attackers is that the subject is against Tamil culture. Now, the attack would have been disgusting even if the protesters were objecting to the opinions of some people in their programme. But it is absolutely terrifying when the protesters are objecting not only to opinions, but to the existence of debate, to the prospect of an open discussion.

It would be troubling enough if this sort of hooliganism were ignored. However, there is a sense that it is even encouraged. The governments at the state and central level have offered no protection to media networks that want to run programmes to which sections of the population object. Even our judiciary shrugs its shoulders. For the longest time, the judiciary kept legislative powers in check. We must begin to despair if it acts as enforcer now.

The number of bans brought in by the government has turned into a joke. But none of us will be laughing when the control exerted by the government begins to extend to the internet.

Because that is where China is right now. And I worry that its economic model will be held up to us as a shining example of all that can be achieved when debate is banned.

From the re-criminalisation of ‘unnatural’ sex to protests over Valentine’s Day to the treatment of women to religious freedom, it seems our country is moving back a century at a time, and will freeze at the most conservative period of its history.

It is not becoming a ‘Hindu’ nation, because there is no stricture in Hinduism that objects to romance, sex in all its variations – premarital, ‘unnatural’, orgiastic – or to debate.
It is becoming a nation of thugs, who make the rules.

We cannot afford to succumb to a dictatorship of ‘moral’ codes. For too long, we have been a society that has acquiesced in handed-down opinions on what is right and what is wrong. We have allowed these opinions to fossilise into rules, and even define our laws.

This conservativeness must be blamed for most of our current social stigma, our prejudices against divorcees, unwed mothers, single parents, and even rape victims.  

Unless we leave this conservativeness behind, our claims of progress will ring hollow.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Forget the documentary, let's talk about rape

(Published in, on March 12, 2015, retrieved from

In the week since India's Daughter was released, this country and its media has gone through a schizophrenic set of turnarounds.

First, there was the how-dare-India-ban-a-documentary-what-happened-to-freedom-of-expression campaign.

Then, people saw it and began a why-are-we-looking-at-India-as-a-rape-capital campaign. Of course, it doesn't help that the likes of Devdutt Pattanaik contributed to this discussion by posting comparative rape statistics in India and the US.

Then, Arnab Goswami got in on the act, and made a fool of himself yet again.

And now, the discussion centres on whether the filmmakers bent or broke laws to make the documentary.

It doesn't matter which country has the worst statistics of rape.

It doesn't matter what the background of rapists is.

It doesn't matter what the filmmakers did, unless it obstructs the course of justice in this particular case.

What does matter, and what we don't have an answer to is, what are we doing about rape?

In one corner of the country, an angry mob breaks into a police station and beats an alleged rapist to death. In another spot, a woman writes an angry blog about how she was harassed on her morning run by a sleazebag, and no one came to help.

What are we doing about the laws that govern harassment?

And why are we, instead, wasting our time and energy on discussions of whether India is indeed the rape capital?

A couple of days ago, the internet broke over the rejection letter written by a German professor, denying a job to an Indian student on the grounds that there are rapists among Indian men. She was put in her place by a cold, severe letter written by her country's Ambassador to India. So, can we move on from that?

If we were to take into account unreported rapes across the world – because, in every country, hundreds, maybe thousands, of rapes go unreported every year for various reasons, ranging from shame to doubt to 'cultural' – chances are that the statistics would change drastically. It would be a dark contest to see which country has the least per capita rape. So, can we leave that out of the discussion?

Our focus needs to be not on the documentary and how it was made, but what we know about rape and why it is such a serious concern.

When she made the documentary, Leslee Udwin said she wanted to understand why men rape women. Eventually, she spoke about her own experience of having been raped.
There is no point trying to understand why someone goes out there and rapes. Perhaps it is jealousy. Perhaps it is a natural tendency towards violence. Perhaps it is the need to enjoy power over someone. Perhaps it is sadism. Most likely, it is all of the above.

But what are we doing about it?

The fact is, someone who was an active participant in the Delhi bus rape will get out after three years at a juvenile home.

The fact is, over the decades, adult rapists have got out of jail after serving between four and seven years. Many have gone on to rape again. Remember the Nurse Aruna case? While she has been in a vegetative state for more than forty years, her rapist got away with a seven-year-term, which did not include charges for rape.

At the moment, marital rape does not even qualify as a crime.

And, yet, it seems to me that we have forgotten the central point of the discussion about the Delhi bus rape. Suddenly, it is all about the documentary, and about perceptions of India, and worse, about perceptions of India in Europe.

Every now and again, a 'survivor' of rape 'comes out' to the public. She or he – because there have been male victims of rape too – reveals her or his story, which is shared on social media for a few days, and goes viral. We all salute this survivor, and pat her or him on the back for being 'brave' enough to come out with the story. And then, we get back to our armchair philosophising about the clothes people wear, and how India is not the worst country in the world for women. We forget the irony of our calling these people 'brave' – they did not choose to get raped; and they should not have to think so much about revealing their identities. But they do, because there is a social stigma attached to rape.

Fact: I don't know any woman who hasn't been sexually harassed.

Fact: We couch sexual harassment in cute-sounding euphemisms such as 'eve-teasing'.

Fact: Rapists continue to get away as easily as they did before the Delhi bus rape, because the laws haven't tightened enough.

Fact: Any pro-woman amendment to the rape laws finds devil's advocates not only among men like Mukesh Singh, who think they are entitled to rape, but among people from the socio-economic background that is associated with liberalism and broadness of mind.

Perhaps we need to stop going blue in the face yelling about the documentary, and look inwards instead – what are we doing about rape in this country? And why do we want to stop talking about it?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The depressing truth about India’s Daughter

I set an hour aside, and watched India’s Daughter. What depressed me most about the documentary was that it had nothing new to offer, nothing that I didn’t already know, nothing that hadn’t tired me to the bone over the last couple of years.

Of course it’s exploitative of the victim’s family, as all documentaries are.

Of course it humanises the basest creatures on earth, as all documentaries do.

Of course it tries to find socioeconomic and geopolitical excuses for extreme human behaviour, as all documentaries do.

It leaves me drained. I am tired of people offering ‘impoverishment’ and ‘upbringing’ and ‘cultural seasoning’ and ‘mentality’ as reasons for rape.

This is not about India. Look at the trailer of The Hunting Ground.

This is not about education. Look at the trailer of The Hunting Ground.

When the verdict came out, the defence lawyer – an educated man – said, “If my daughter or sister engaged in premarital activities and allowed herself to be disgraced and to lose face and character by doing such things, I would certainly take her to my farmhouse, and in front of the entire family, douse her with petrol and set her alight.” Two years later, he stands by the statement. This man is rich enough to own a farmhouse.

What I find chilling – more chilling than the defence lawyers’ assertions, and the rapist Mukesh Singh’s rationalisation of the rape – are the reactions of the liberals to the documentary.

Do we still think rapists should be given a second chance?

“These men are ours, our society has to take responsibility,” we say. NO. These men are not ours. These men are brutes. If you and I wouldn’t do such a thing, why ought we to claim responsibility for these men?

We preach tolerance in the “spirit of India’s history”. What history are we discussing? When has tolerance ever been practised in India? And when has tolerance of crime served us well?

Here’s a chunk out of the documentary: An NGO worker says, “There are people who have committed two hundred rapes, and have only been punished for twelve. They do it over and over again, because they don’t realise it is wrong.”

They don’t realise it is wrong?!

I don’t know, maybe they do it over and over again not because they don’t realise it is wrong, but because they are addicted to the sense of power they have while they are doing it, and because – just a thought – they can get away with it, over and over and over again?

Here’s another chunk out of the documentary: The rapist Mukesh Singh compares this rape to other rapes, and says, “In one case, they cut out her eyes; in another, they poured acid on her; in another, they set her on fire.” While all he and his friends did was to pull out her intestines. He argues that the death penalty for rape could actually put women in further danger – now, rapists will not “spare” the victims, as he and his friends did, “spare” her by disembowelling her, but will kill them so that they cannot testify.

It does not even occur to him that rape should stop.

Our takeaway from the documentary, if there is a takeaway at all, should be that the only way we can put an end to rape is to lock up the perpetrators, and throw away the key.

Those who argue that the death penalty will not deter rape ought to chew over this – hanging a rapist may not end all rapes, but it will deter more rapes by that particular man. And those men who have committed more than 200 rapes would not have been able to commit 199 of those if they had been punished right away.

Don’t tell me this is about patriarchy, and how women are perceived. A male friend of mine was raped. Shortly before he was raped, he was sexually harassed by a police patrol. When he tried to complain, he was asked why he was wearing effeminate clothes.

Don’t tell me education will change things.

Don’t tell me that second chances will change things.

Mukesh Singh has no remorse, and he deserves no sympathy. Even if he were remorseful, he would deserve no sympathy. Don’t tell me that he didn’t know it was wrong to assault a woman. Don’t tell me it was because he had grown up witnessing women being slapped around in his slum. Millions of people work their ways out of slums. Millions of people are horrified by violence because of early exposure.

This is a man who respects a woman with whom he indulged in a quickie at a wedding, because she was culturally sound enough to object to kissing on the mouth. On the other hand, the rape victim was loose enough to be out at a movie with a male friend, and object to the advances of the men on the bus. Why ought she not be taught  a lesson?

Because that is the word he uses – “sabaq” – lesson. He calls it an “accident”, and reasons, “Sabaq ke liye hua hai”. It happened so that the victim and her friend could be taught a lesson.

If there is anything we need to learn from the documentary, it is this – it is about time we stopped confusing poverty and morality and culture and mindset with crime, as the documentary does. We could listen to talking heads compare women to flowers and diamonds till kingdom come. We could watch the parents and wives of the rapists crying for all eternity. But the truth is that a lot of people who are not yet in jail ought to be behind bars. A man who says on camera, twice, that he would set someone on fire for going on a date ought to be locked away from society.

Our failure is not in producing these brutes. Our failure is in not recognising that they are beyond redemption.
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