Why saying no to boys won't end rapes in India

Consent culture is lovely in theory. Much like Santa Claus and unicorns. But can it work? Not so soon.

 |  3-minute read |   04-07-2015
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Instead of teaching women how to avoid rape, we should teach men not to rape. This is the crux of “consent culture”, a concept popularised by American writer Zerlina Maxwell, which has been met with equal trepidation and regard in our stumped-for-solutions India. 

Consent culture is a subtle relocation of society’s mental compass till it points in the right direction. It is a way for society to address male behaviour rather than female behaviour. It shifts the onus on to the perpetrator rather than the victim. 

I get the concept in theory. We should teach boys the fundamental maxim of “no means no”. We should redefine masculinity for them. We should stop blaming the victim and start shaming the perpetrator. We should unplug the cultural messaging that make women a repository of shame in the matter of sexual violence. 

After all, the best protection against rape is to raise men who understand that women are different and who would never take advantage of this difference.

Consent culture is lovely in theory. Much like Santa Claus and unicorns. But can it work in India? Can we end rape in India if we evolve our consent culture?

No. 

Why not? 

Because we’re talking of consent. 

Consent. Like, “Excuse me ma’am, can I shove a rod up your intestines?” 

Because this is no country for the guilty.

You have seen his face. Unrepentant. You have looked into those eyes. Unremorseful. Soulless. Stating that girls are more responsible for rape than boys. 

Because we are not dealing with men. We are dealing with men without a conscience. We are dealing with animals.

In a country where a woman will be raped by the time you finish reading and sharing this article, how can consent save her? 

Ask your mother, your sister, your wife. Ask yourself. Most Indian women have suffered isolated incidents of sexual molestation. Do men ask for our consent before they touch us in buses, touch themselves in trains, grope us on the road, spit on us and squeeze our breasts? 

No. They start with a touch. No consent. No reproach. They get bolder. They rub up against us. No consent. No reproach. They squeeze the next time. No consent. No reproach. 

Then he sees her. She is distracted. Alone. Vulnerable. Why should he stop himself? 

He will be granted impunity, he knows. Men are always granted impunity, because, you see, boys will be boys. 

We cannot talk about consent because our rape cases are often brutal and horrific. They highlight the sense of entitlement that men have over women’s bodies. They show us that men use rape as a way of establishing power and control over women. All over the world, rape is a way of objectifying and dehumanising women. In our country, more often than not, it is a way of objectifying, dehumanising, shaming and mutilating women.

So you understand when I say that consent has nothing to do with rape? It implies premeditation, an act too subtle for these animals. We cannot saddle animals with the misplaced righteousness and misguided responsibility of consent. 

We cannot change our men, our boys. We women can only change ourselves. Because the only consent we have is of danger, of knowing that we will never be safe. 

We will never be able to walk where we want, wear what we want, do what we want. We will carry folders in front of our chest, think twice before going out at night, cover ourselves in the forty degrees heat, carry pepper spray, learn Krav Maga, avoid confrontations with men, educate ourselves about our rights, watch another actress in a woman empowerment video. We will act responsibility so as not to tempt men. We will cloak our short dresses from the penetrating gaze of men, just as we cloak with silence our shame of being inappropriately touched, pay the price for being our gender. 

Till our cultural and patriarchal periscope shifts drastically, society will have to continue teaching our women how not to get raped, instead of telling our men not to rape. 

Till then, India’s daughters and mothers remain vulnerable and unsafe.

And that’s the only thing we can consent to. 

Writer

Meghna Pant Meghna Pant @meghnapant

The writer is an author, columnist and former news anchor.

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