Sunday, March 22, 2015

Rape, rape, go away. Little Mina wants to play. (Why rape won’t ever quit India. Or, anywhere else for that matter.)

What is rape? The word derives most likely from the 14th century Middle English rapen out of the Anglo-French raper from the Latin rapere meaning “to seize, carry off by force, plunder”. Culturally viewed, it is an atavistic act harking back to the male chauvinistic, patriarchal, feudalistic past. The Latin word atavus refers to the great-great-great-grandfather or an ancestor. For the victim, rape is existentially disruptive. For the perpetrator, rape is more often than not a crime of opportunity. Ergo, unpredictable and impossible to anticipate and prevent. Equally, it is a crime that requires the existence of a special kind of mindset in the perpetrator who may hail from any caste, class, region and religion, often from among the close acquaintances of the victim. Mind mapping of a potential rapist would reveal, I suspect, the existence of a patriarchal, fedudalistic terrain wherein the power equation is forever set against women. To the rapist, women are vassals in perpetuity. Men are the all-powerful lords and masters entitled to all kinds of privileges as well as access to every conceivable resource including the vassals’ bodies. The by now widely publicized views of many authority figures as well as the rapist in the Nirbhaya case lend credence to this contention. 

This set of core “tenets” is not documented but informally passed on from generation to generation. So strong is their stranglehold on Indians that even some of the womenfolk willingly and readily assist their “betters” in enforcing them. This is abundantly evident by their inclusion in the perpetrators’ line-up in dowry and honour killings. Even village elders, gotra (clan)-inspired khap panchayats and similar formal or informal tribal networks willingly join such woman-hating initiatives. One is often led to wonder if the paternalistic underpinnings of most religions like Vedantism/Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity do not make them the ideal breeding grounds for the rapist as well as the terrorist mindsets.

In the sexually vitiated Indian context, the subtext of dowry reads like this in the warped male mind: I’m taking “the burden” off your hands. So, pay up whatever I ask for and shut up. Of the resistance to widow remarriage: I have no use for “used goods”. (Objectification of women is routinely implicit in all misogynous behaviour and thinking. Even in the “civilized” Occident, only wives are swapped, never husbands, remember?) Of “provocative” dressing and behaviour by women: Take me. I am available.

Have you noticed the oft-recurring visual tableaux in most dances performed by couples? The male dancer supports his female partner with his arm wrapped around her waist, his face looming over hers and she is arching backward as far as she can as if to keep as much distance between the two as possible. Male superiority/male dominance is written all over this image – just as it is in the iconic RK Films logo − even when the choreography is orchestrated by a woman. By so doing, is she (the female dancer): (a) accepting her inferior status in the relationship or (b) repelling the male’s advances (a crypto-rape scenario)?

Then, there is the all-time classic, time-honoured “Krishna Leela” defence and/or ratiocination, based on a myth deeply embedded in the Indian consciousness, which nobody seems to question or object to. Krishna, the legendary lover with reportedly 16108 wives (none of them won by relentless ragging, though), well-known for his playful and innocent antics as a child of hiding the clothes of bathing gopis, teasing them to distraction and taking advantage of their affection to rob them of butter, is heralded as the beacon of how a young man should woo a young woman of his fancy, i.e., the one who currently triggers an upsurge of testosterone in him. The “boys will be boys” justification is used with impunity, time and again, to condone disrespectful treatment of women by “manly” men. In the fifties and sixties, there was a spate of Hindi movies featuring Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor and even Joy Mukerjee – the poor girl’s Shammi Kapoor − emulating this “Krishna” school of how to woo a girl and not compromise your machismo. This sort of depiction of the male-female equation continues to exist in one form or another in movies and on the idiot box even now.

Much as I would like to take an optimistic view of the situation, no way out of this well-entrenched psycho-socio-cultural impasse seems to exist in my opinion. Legal and/or extra-legal (e.g., lynching and, on the milder side, protests march, candle light processions, advertising to persuade the would-be rapist to shed his sinful ways) solutions cannot achieve the desired result. The only way to do it is to change for the better the existing attitude and belief super structure of India. And that, as the dashing, debonair Don would have so eloquently put it, is not only difficult but impossible (= “mushkil hi nahin, namumkin hai”).