What describing a stalker-murderer as a ‘jilted lover’ says about India's rape malaise

Despite death penalty in Nirbhaya case, there has been no end to the romanticisation of ghastly gendered crimes.

 |  5-minute read |   15-05-2017
  • ---
    Total Shares

Yesterday, a headline in one of the largest English-language daily in India said: “Jilted lover rapes woman with friend, beats her to death with bricks in Rohtak”.

This was with reference to the unimaginably terrifying, Nirbhaya-like tale of stalking, rape, brutalisation, murder and maiming of a 20-year-old woman from Sonepat, Rohtak in Haryana, and yet the chief accused was being described in a strangely familial fashion: “jilted lover”.

The screenshot of the web story that in fact can be still accessed with that cringe-fest of a headline is given below.

rhotak-2_051517074604.jpgPhoto: Screengrab

Justifiably, this led many observers, particularly women journalists, to criticise the continued use of a vocabulary that has long normalised and indeed romanticised ghastly gendered crimes. 

There lies the irony. Barely days after the judgement came from the top court in the country, upholding death penalty for the four adult convicts in the gruesome Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case, comes the Rohtak gang rape and grisly murder of a young woman who only had the temerity to expressly say no to a stalker-harasser.

The grisly details of the crime notwithstanding – the girl was abducted from Sonepat, drugged, gang raped and then mutilated, her head crushed with bricks and then under a running car – nothing justifies that terrible headline which seeks a lopsided rationale in the alleged perpetrator of the crime being a “jilted lover” of the victim.

It is mind-boggling as to how crime reportage and the procedural exigencies of criminal investigation continue to be couched in a language that’s not just ridiculously sexist, but in fact, becomes an extension of the criminal assault on women’s minds, bodies, liberties and fundamental rights.

Why is a harasser-stalker-rapist-murderer described as a “jilted lover” in one of the most prominent English-language newspaper in the country that nevertheless prides itself in being an establishment in print journalism? Why is the “relationship” presumed even though both the cops and the victim’s mother are on record saying that she didn’t want to do anything with the assaulter-harasser?

The description “jilted lover” not only turns a deranged act of unthinkable and the most depraved form of criminality into a “crime of passion”, it, in fact, finds legitimation of the crime committed in the hazy interpersonal equations and societal biases that indulge in disgusting victim-shaming in such situations.

rhotak_051517074623.jpgPhoto: Reuters

Not only in the case of reporting the Rohtak gang rape and murder, even in the instance of reporting the gang rape of a woman in a moving car in Gurugram, the headlines screamed Sikkim woman as if from where she hailed had anything to do with the crime itself. Not only does this go on to show that crime reportage links women from Sikkim and India’s northeast in general to being liable for the sexual crimes committed against them, they also add to the reprehensible stereotype that the women from the northeast are “fast, loose” and therefore responsible for any sexual assault against them.

Enough ink has been spilled debating the demerits of Bollywood’s fascination with stalking as a romantic gesture, its absolute inability to comprehend consent, or the lack of it, the pervasive rape culture and the “taming of the shrew” kind of punitive urge in rejected males, actively encouraged by our canonical literature, movies, festivals, occasions, language and general pathological obsession with framing the female body.

And the continued presence of the phrase “jilted lover” to describe a sex criminal serves only to further embolden patriarchy’s sickening hold on even the notion of justice for the victimised women. Even as special investigation teams are formed and fast-track courts hear such cases, until we strike at the root of language to eliminate the pervasive rape culture, we will neither have a society that’s more gender-sensitive, not will we see a real decrease in the number of heinous crimes committed against women in the country.

Indian crime reportage needs to delink the language of desire from the language of sexual crimes. Rape has nothing to do with sex and desire, or even being “jilted”. Even in the instance of the heinous killing of a physiotherapy student in Kottayam, Kerala by a stalker who doused her and himself in kerosene and chased her down a road to set her ablaze, the language used was of a spurned lover, as if that makes for allowances for psychotically criminal behaviour.

Laws alone cannot bring down sexual crimes against women, even though post December 16, 2012 gang rape and murder, India got a much-bolstered anti-rape law framed in the wake of the Justice Verma panel report. Nevertheless, we have had way too many instances of brutal gang rapes and murder of women, especially those from lower caste and class backgrounds, or those belonging to religious minorities.

The toleration of abhorrent, sexually predatory and downright murderous behaviour of men, whether spurned or not, in India as expression of passionate “love” is exactly what promotes such ghastliness in public discourse. Instead of teaching the overarching issue of consent, prior claims on women’s bodies by their assaulters are presumed under the garb of imagined relationships, which are then used as tools of rationalisation of the crimes committed against women.

It’s a shame that even the so-called liberal media outlets are party to such entrenched bias against gender equality, and refuse to address the issue as a matter of unflinching editorial principles.

Also read - How does a Kashmiri woman tell the world her story of rape and sexual violence by security forces?

Writer

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.
Comment