What living in Dubai taught me about why rape culture thrives in India

I live in a society where safety and security is intrinsically woven in its fabric.

 |  6-minute read |   02-05-2018
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I have been thinking of justice for some days now, mainly in the context of the unmentionable incidents and their reverberations rocking the country of late.

I have been watching from the sidelines, partly guilty of not plunging into the fray demanding justice for the victims from my living room. I have been quietly noticing how the justice hashtag has remained a constant with only the names changing - from Jessica to Asifa, and how the public sentiment has risen and fallen, risen and fallen, and how rape headlines are flashing and fading on TV screens these days with only the place and age changing. Here today, there tomorrow. Don't know where next.

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I have also been asking myself why I haven't responded to this clarion call anywhere in my domain, neither in private conversations nor on social platforms. Why haven't I, even if tacitly, been part of this justice seeking movement, as a woman and as a human being with a conscience in place?

The answer is, I am still confounded with the enormity and absurdity of all that I am seeing unfold. I am yet to fully understand what this demand for justice is all about. I am trying to think how many times in the past we have sought justice, how many more times we will do it in the future and what did we actually achieve each time we went out en masse with the battle cry. What have we gained in tangible terms in all these years of demanding justice? Quantifiably, what we have achieved are some convictions, especially in cases that were propped up by the media and nothing more. And these random verdicts aren't what justice means to me.

Let us get this straight. Rules of law haven't stemmed the levels of debauchery in our country. They haven't stopped men from indulging in the most heinous of acts, be it rape, incest, murder or any other act of barbarism. And that baffles me.

I live in a society outside India where safety and security is intrinsically woven into its fabric. Men here have to be either utterly foolish or inconceivably rash to commit crimes of the sort that are now becoming a horrendous routine in our country. There is something unyielding about this place that doesn't allow people to even imagine that they can get away easily should they have a wrong outing with the law. This has insulated us from harm in a way unthinkable anywhere else. Rapes are rare, rarer are the murders. Even the stray ones that happen aren't spared loosely.

I don't think it is the prospect of death penalty or other brutal punitive methods that these places are known to hand out that secures us from atrocities of the kind we hear in India. These forms of severe punishment are not as common as they are made out to be in popular imagination. They are less factual and more fabled, and happen in only the extreme cases.

But people in general are cognisant of what any wrongdoing here can do to their sustenance. They value their lives immensely. There is a lot at stake for them. That they don't lose sight of these facts is incredible. Man's propensity to indulge in vice and wantonness is universal and it would be naïve to think that men here are virtuous to a fault. Yet, whatever malevolence they may harbour loses its vigour when they are making a hard living here. The deterrent is both internal and external. Which makes me think that it is possible for men to exercise restraint and for the laws to pin them down, if there is a grave intent to do so.

As I deliberate aimlessly about all these, back home the spiral continues. There is a new incident somewhere. I catch snatches of some high-octane reporting and political posturing. There is more din. More promises.

More rhetoric. Some arrests. And a hastily passed resolution to assuage our feelings and douse our rage.

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I realise that the likelihood of conviction and punishment in each of these incidents is directly proportional only to the outrage it evokes. Some cases catch attention, some get drowned even as the stalkers, psychopaths, rapists and radicals roam around zeroing in on their prey. And we women, despite our doggedness and deep-throated protests, continue to look over our shoulders when we walk out in the open.

The truth is fear becomes more and more real with every reported incident, contrary to what we proclaim. Our purported courage and defiance is only as strong as the safety we experience. Beyond that, each step is wary, each day is spent in anxiety. To me, this overarching sense of insecurity and paranoia is injustice. In these circumstances, I cannot flash hashtags in the names of individual victims alone and imagine that justice will be done to all. Personally, it will be a travesty.

Justice to me isn't merely a legal dispensation. It is creating and establishing an atmosphere of freedom from fear. It is being able to take our daughters in a train without the risk of exposing them to a gross midnight episode. It is being able to travel alone without having to worry if the male housekeeping staff in the hotel comprises predators on the prowl. It is the comfort of knowing that I can crisscross the city in a taxi without worrying if the driver will flash and masturbate in his seat or if I will be waylaid in an unfamiliar territory.

It is about having the liberty to say "no" to a suitor without the fear of getting hacked in the middle of the road. It is not having to compromise our honour to safeguard our jobs. To be open about our gender as per our natural sexual orientation. To be ourselves without being intimidated by incorrigible mindsets. It is being able to go about our everyday existence without having to worry if there is a bully around the corner waiting to wreck our lives in the name of sex, gender, power, caste, religion and all else that divides and corrupts.

It is this freedom that I will seek if and when I pin a justice hashtag. A right to live without fear of subjugation for every innocent, fair human being there is. We must want #JusticeForAll and not just for one or another hapless victim that the headlines highlight. The legal modalities that lead to individual sentencing are perhaps only a means to this end.

Also read: From calling it a 'minor' issue to awarding minister who defended Kathua rape accused: Is this BJP's beti bachao?

Writer

Asha Iyer Kumar Asha Iyer Kumar @iyerashakumar

Author is a freelance writer based in Dubai.

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