Sexual abuse in Kerala church: NCW asking for ban on 'confessions' shows it is confused about 'causes of rape'

A passive headline turns the rape narrative on its head. It tells us that women get raped, not that it is men who rape women.

 |  4-minute read |   30-07-2018
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The National Commission for Women (NCW) has kicked up a storm by recommending that the practice of 'confessions' in churches should be abolished as it can apparently lead to women being blackmailed into providing sexual favours.

keralachurch690_073018055814.jpgReligion, the argument goes, is just one of the many tools men use to subjugate women. (Source: India Today)

The recommendation comes in the backdrop of a rape case against four priests of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in Kerala, who have been accused of sexually exploiting a married woman belonging to their church.

The commission's suggestion is, however, in keeping with our habit of providing knee-jerk reactions to grave problems — even those as serious as the sexual exploitation of women.

Religion is just one of the many tools at the disposal of our patriarchal world that aims for nothing short of complete subjugation of women.

In recent times, as society's mores about sexual abuse have modernised, reports of women, even toddlers, being raped, sexually and verbally harassed, or molested in temples, in madrasas and in churches have begun to be met with loud denunciations. 

However, to say that women should not participate in certain religious practices, or follow certain customs, or demand a complete ban on them saying they lead to rapes, is not any different from saying that women should not venture out in the dark because that is an invitation to rape.

By recommending the abolition of 'confessions' following the Kerala case coming to light, NCW chief Rekha Sharma has acted just like journalists who write passive headlines such as '10-year-old raped by 20-year-old man', instead of saying '20-year-old man rapes 10-year-old child'.

So, what is the problem with such passive headlines?

A passive headline turns the rape narrative on its head. It tells us that women get raped, not that it is men who rape women.

But don't we all know that already?

Well, if we had known it, the NCW chief wouldn't have said what she did. Women don't get raped because they go to priests to 'confess'. Women get raped because most men, including priests, know no better way of dealing with women or their own mental perversions and their sick misogynist selves. Women get raped because parents forget to tell their sons that women of the world are humans too, individuals in their own right, living, breathing, dreaming, deserving of dignity, just as men.

It doesn't take just 'confessions' to blackmail women. Rising cases of revenge porn tells us that this cannibalism of men feeding on women's bodies won't stop till we say it as it is, "Men, whether you are a priest or pauper, a husband or a father, a boss or a friend, you should not rape."

This is what the NCW should have told the Kerala church, the maulvis in madrasas, and priests in temples.

The NCW is tasked with helping out women, raising their issues and ensuring the voiceless women of India do not feel alone and abandoned in their fight for justice.

The woman, whom four priests blackmailed to draw sexual favours, did not tell anyone about what was happening to her. She, like countless women, in this country chose to suffer in silence. It is this silence that the NCW is tasked with breaking. But what the organisation seems to be telling the women of India is the same script that many conservative teachers read out to students in co-ed schools.

Girls and boys must maintain distance — else there can be 'trouble'.

protest-against-rape_073018064331.jpgFollowing the Nirbhaya event in 2012, there has been a huge shift in social attitudes about rape. (Source: Reuters)

To make women feel safer, India is seeing female cab and auto drivers take to the roads. While it is important that women take up all sorts of jobs hitherto considered the sole preserve of men, the fact that we can't trust men enough to be left alone with women is the problem that needs to be addressed.

This is not a pitch to save a religious practice or custom.

Religion by itself hasn't had much to offer women in terms of gender justice. On the contrary, under the garb of religion, all sorts of injustices are thrust on women. Questioning it amounts to questioning the 'supreme will', which, by some strange design, is always the men's will.

Quite interestingly, the NCW hasn't spared a thought on how it proposes to stop priests from sexually abusing children. Men rape them and blackmail them to stay silent because men have internalised the confidence that they can get away by doing so. It is this entrenched male confidence that the NCW is supposed to shake and strike at.

Several nuns have come out to speak about how they have been raped by priests, it is the NCW's mandate and moral responsibility to stand by them.

The institution should have (there is time, it still can) use the incident to make a pitch that rapists won't be allowed to hide behind the sacred garb of religion. They won't be treated any different from ordinary men raping women elsewhere. Rather, they will also be held to account for breaching the trust of the person concerned.

The person concerned can continue to have her faith.

Also read: How Rahul Gandhi has transformed himself to lead the charge in 2019 general elections


Vandana Vandana @vsinghhere

Author is the former Assistant Editor, DailyO.

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