What we talk about when we talk about rape

A new book by my friend and college room-mate  Sohaila Abdulali explores the idea that victims of sexual violence are not broken beings. Awful as it is, rape is survivable, and those who have been raped are deserving and capable of happiness again. 

I don’t remember the precise moment when my then college roommate, Sohaila Abdulali, told me about being gangraped when she was 17. It was just an incontestable fact of her life: she was from Mumbai, she loved to dance, her parents grew orchids, she had been raped.

This is not to imply that being raped was not a big deal. It was. If I remember correctly, this is how she explained it. “It’s like being run over by a bus and getting terribly hurt. You might never fully recover from your injuries. But you go on living. You can be happy again.”

In the three decades that Sohaila has remained my friend, she has never let that single event define her life, even though it is an inseparable part of who she is. Three years after being raped and while writing her undergraduate thesis on rape in India, she created a minor stir by writing about her own experience for Manushi. Nobody, at least not in India, had ever written about being raped. Nobody had run such an article with their photograph.

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It’s time we recognised that men can get raped too

Now that we are making our child sexual offences law gender neutral, isn’t it time we started talking about adult male rape survivors?

Sohaila Abdulali is telling me about the time many years ago when a man called up a Rape Crisis Centre in the US. He had been raped by a teacher some years ago, he said. But men can’t possibly be raped, replied the people at the centre, and hung up.

This would be unthinkable today, says Abdulali whose book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is out in October. The fact that men too are victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape is a no-brainer. “Rape is a horrible violation,” she says. “Why would it be any less for a man?” Continue reading “It’s time we recognised that men can get raped too”

Laws by public emotion

In response to public outrage against a spate of reported rapes of children, the government has now brought in an ordinance that imposes death to anyone convicted of raping a girl below 11. Why I think this ordinance won’t work, and what I think will.
The remarkable fact about recent Indian law-making, particularly when it comes to crimes against women, is that it seems to be based entirely on public emotion.

Public anger against the gang-rape of a physiotherapy student in December 2012 led to tough new amendments to the law against sexual violence.

It was public anger again – media folklore had it that the juvenile rapist in that crime was the ‘most violent’ — that led to the lowering of the age of delinquency from 18 to 16. What if the rapist is aged 14, asked one MP, Anu Agha. Notwithstanding that objection, Parliament voted to reduce the age in line with public opinion.

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No country for women

In Hindustan Times: Recent gang-rapes and our reaction to them tell us how far we’ve descended in six years after Nirbhaya.

When we allowed our anger to spill over into the streets following the December 2012 gang-rape of a physiotherapy student, we didn’t ask about her religion. We didn’t put labels on our fellow protesters’ ideology. And we certainly didn’t entertain any of the usual questions about what she was wearing and why she was out after dark.

Our collective anger resulted in a new law and while we believed that mindset change would take longer, we trusted that it would inevitably follow.

Yet, how far we’ve descended in six years became clear as news of the premeditated gang-rape, torture and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua began to gain traction. Continue reading “No country for women”

Over-indulgent parents and brand-conscious schools are failing our kids

There’s a sickness infecting some of our boys caused by a toxic combination of over-indulgent parents, schools obsessed with ‘brand image’ and the normalising of sex and violence by mass media.

On Instagram, the seventh-grader threatens to have his teacher and her daughter raped. The eighth-grader emails two of his ‘very hot’ teachers and invites them to a ‘candle light date’ since “I feel like f***ing you right now.”

These kids are respectively 12 and 13 years old. They study in a posh Gurugram school and it is tempting to see them as aberrations, silly boys with raging hormones.

Yet, how do we continue to ignore a rising graph — all involving young male perpetrators — that includes at its most extreme, the murder of a seven-year-old student in another school allegedly by a senior student of the same school because he wanted the exams postponed? Or a 17-year-old who is allowed to drive his family Mercedes and ends up killing another man? Or the two teenagers who shoot to death an Uber driver? Continue reading “Over-indulgent parents and brand-conscious schools are failing our kids”

Why Preity-Ness case isn’t a mere ‘tiff’

Where does the trajectory of violence begin? Perhaps it begins by grabbing someone’s arm. Perhaps it begins with a slap. Today’s stalking becomes tomorrow’s acid attack. Today’s groping becomes rape. Two common friends emerge key witnesses.

Given the identity of the people involved — a former actor, a high-profile businessman and both co-owners of a cricket team — the media storm over a three-page police complaint should not come as a surprise. What does is the subtext surrounding the chatter on social and mainstream media. Continue reading “Why Preity-Ness case isn’t a mere ‘tiff’”

Lounge Review | Satyamev Jayate Episode 1: The rape roadmap

Redemption really came in the final segment of the show when Aamir Khan interviewed two remarkable rape survivors.

In the two hours that it took to telecast the first episode of Star Plus’ second season of Satyamev Jayate, over five women and girls would have reported rape somewhere in India. In a country where a woman is raped every 22 minutes, over five women would have lived out what Aamir Khan outlined as the ordeal of a rape survivor. Somewhere a girl or woman would have been telling police the details of how she had been raped and by whom; she would be preparing to submit to the humiliation of a medical examination as described in the show though, of course, there would have been no way of her knowing just then that her fight for justice would take her through a long legal battle that could take decades. Continue reading “Lounge Review | Satyamev Jayate Episode 1: The rape roadmap”

Documenting the politics of rape

In just a month’s time, it will be one year to the brutal gangrape of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi. The incidence that shook the collective conscience of the nation has inspired a documentary film, which was screened recently in the Capital.

In just a month’s time, it will be one year to the brutal gangrape of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi. The incidence that shook the collective conscience of the nation has inspired a documentary film, which was screened recently in the Capital. Continue reading “Documenting the politics of rape”

No going back from here

So what changes now? Now that four convicts in the Delhi gang rape case have been sentenced to death will your daughter be able to take a bus from a late evening film show without worrying about making it safely home?

So what changes now? Now that four convicts in the Delhi gang-rape case have been sentenced to death will your daughter be able to take a bus from a late evening film show without worrying about making it safely home?

Can I make eye contact with strange men on the street without a returning leer? Will missing street lights on deserted roads miraculously light up?

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There’s no closure for them

In the small room they call home, the family of the girl known as Delhi’s Brave heart is trying to come to terms with its loss. Already there is no evidence that she lived here only a month ago.

In the small room they call home, the family of the girl known as Delhi’s Braveheart is trying to come to terms with its loss. Already there is no evidence that she lived here only a month ago. Her books and clothes have been packed away, although her brother points to a physiotherapy textbook that somehow got left out. On the front cover, a name has been scribbled in pencil on the top corner. It’s a neat scrawl, as if unwilling to take up more than its necessary space. I can only wonder how a girl with such a big spirit could have had such a tiny handwriting.

The father, his face a stoic mask, doesn’t want to hear the old story repeated. But the mother recounts the events of that night of December 16, how the family began to worry when it began to get late, how they tried her mobile but couldn’t get through, the call that finally came from the police, the autorickshaw ride on a cold night to Safdarjung hospital, the sight of a girl, your girl, so frail on the bed. You don’t know yet what has happened. You don’t know yet the extent of her brutalisation, the iron rod, the man who sat across her chest yelling, “Mar saali.” You only touch her hand, her eyes open, she sees you and she begins to cry.

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