Angiography

Calling India 'Rapeistan' is doing it a favour

Since Nirbhaya mainstreamed our conversations on rape, we have at least started talking about it as a real issue.

 |  Angiography  |  4-minute read |   10-06-2015
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There was a time, not many years ago, when the staple “rape scene” in a 1980s-'90s Bollywood film aired on telly would have girls look away from the screen, and even pretend to have an urgent business that must be attended to that very moment. It would also happen when advertisements showing sanitary napkins, condoms or contraceptive pills came on air. Teenage girls, occasionally younger women, would prefer to leave the room than have the shameful details of their bodily secrets being rolled out for commercial consumption and projected on the television screen, the second most important unifier of the Great Indian Family, right after the dining table.

“Rape scenes” existed, therefore, as the “seen unseen”, or in Donald Rumsfeld’s immortal words, the “known unknown”. While romance on celluloid relied on flowers and frolics in the garden, sex was brought in almost universally as the rape scene; a bit like but not exactly the same as the cabaret then and the item number in the current crop. Rape scenes depicted the non-vamp virtuous female character, preferably a plain Jane sister or poorer acquaintance (though with a voluptuous body neck down) become the victim of an unwarranted tragedy, after she has been shown to be thoroughly ravaged. Curious heaves and sighs mixed with screams and pleas would form the background score, indicating unbridled male (both on and off screen, as well as the camera’s) pleasure in female discomfort.

For the longest, we did not talk about the rape scene. Rapes as sensational news stories were not dinner table conversations in respectable families. Rape was premarital sex, since female consent was still an outlandish idea. The rapist was the bad guy, but how the hell did the woman end up at the wrong time and wrong place? It must be her fault. It’s just tragic, but hush, let’s not taint our perfectly content and sanitised domestic discourse. Pass the rotis, please.

Fast-forward to present times and we find rape talk bursting from the seams, more ubiquitous than any other burning issue. Post Nirbhaya moment, rape discourse has not only been mainstreamed, we are bombarded with rape statistics every day. We squirm but accept and then rage as to how India came to be branded as the “rape capital” of the world, with Delhi taking the cake domestically.

We look at history, politics, sociology to trawl the reservoirs of repressiveness; excavate myths, folk tales, stories to understand gender aggression in language itself. We throw facts and figures at each other, debating efficacy of newly formed legislations, freshly downloaded apps, recently arrested/convicted (alleged) rapists, molesters, harassers, aggressors, brutalisers.

In other words, we talk. We don’t shove it under the carpet.

India is now “Rapeistan”. Is it because “more” rapes are happening now as compared to ten or 20 years ago? Is it because media and entertainment industries have 3D'ed humungous billboards showing women in various stages of undress selling something or the other? Is it because internet pornography, valued at thousands of crores, makes explicit sex both within and outside the reach of millions of sexually repressed men (and women)? Is it because women wear short skirts to college; drive around in the cities late at night; board buses, autos and metros unaccompanied by any male member of the family; go to movies with a boyfriend; have sexual relations before marriage, outside marriage, with more than one partner?

No.

India is Rapeistan because more rapes are “reported” now than any time before. Because there are bolder laws, at least on paper, that help women seek justice when rapes happen. Because it’s less about shame and fear and violation than it’s about justice, equal opportunity, freedom, rights and education. Because sexist comments, including those by top-ranking elected members of Parliament, are ridiculed and lampooned in a theoretical and educated tussle over public discourse. Because advertisements talk about rape survivors, not rape victims (unless it’s an incident involving fatality, which too, is on the rise).

Because we are seeing the beginning of a time when the burden of rape is finally shifting from the victim to the perpetrator.

And while we still have a billion bastilles to bring down before rape ceases to be a tool in the hands of those who hold the reins of power (in both heterosexual and homosexual arrangements), not being afraid of reporting, registering and reprimanding it is a silver lining.

Rapeistan is unfortunate. But it’s better than #WeDon’tTalkAboutRape.

Writer

Angshukanta Chakraborty Angshukanta Chakraborty @angshukanta

Former assistant editor, DailyO

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