The recent gang rape of a 19-year old in Haryana is a reminder that rapes do not happen in a vacuum, they are a result of patriarchy and the rape culture it has built.
In Haryana, a state where crimes against women are only rising with impunity, three cases of rape are reported everyday. And in every two days, a gang rape is reported. While these figures are appalling by themselves, it would do us good to remember that crimes against women are also some of the least reported crimes.
Most recently, the rape of a 19-year-old woman from Rewari hit the national headlines. The case drew particular attention because the survivor is a former board exam topper. This descriptor made it to almost all news reports, not only increasing the risks of her identity being revealed but also taking the focus away from the fact that it was a rape, no matter whom it was perpetrated against. It is time the media stopped adding qualifiers about a woman or a girl every time a case of sexual violence surfaces. A woman being subjected to sexual violence should be newsworthy by itself.
The crime was evidently premeditated by the perpetrators, they abducted the woman in broad daylight from a public place, raped her several times in a place they had especially gotten access to beforehand and even called in a medical practitioner to assess her condition after they raped her. Despite all of this, the Sub-Inspector at the Kanina police station refused to register the case. Insensitive police personnel, both women and men, are neither new nor unheard of. Women and girls subjected to domestic and sexual violence are often told to not get involved in long-winding legal battles, arrive at a settlement, give in to sexual demands from partners and more. The Sub-Inspector in question, Hiramani, has now been suspended and the case is being handled by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) led by Superintendent of Police Nazneen Bhasin.
The other angle of the case that is making news is that one of the perpetrators is a jawan in the Indian Army. The involvement of army personnel in rape cases has always made news because of the impunity that many of them enjoy, officially and unofficially. In this case, the army has assured their help to the police in apprehending the accused and said that “the armed forces do not shelter criminals.”
In the wake of the incident, a mahapanchayat (group of village councils) that convened in a nearby town issued a notice that no practising lawyer should appear for any of the accused. Although a notice like this might run into a legal roadblock, it is a step forward compared to the regressive diktats panchayats in Haryana have issued in the past. The accused jawan’s sister has also asked him to surrender saying that the incident is creating trouble for their family.
Meanwhile, the survivor’s family reportedly returned the two lakh rupees offered to them under the Haryana Victim Compensation Scheme because they felt that instead of justice, a price was being offered for their daughter’s honour.
The survivor from Rewari was boarding a bus for her coaching class when she was abducted and raped. After the incident, many parents in the town are likely to discourage their daughters from using public transport, especially at odd hours, many may discourage their daughters from going out altogether. It is unlikely that sons will be told anything at all. And although the Sub-Inspector has been suspended, is it enough to inculcate sensitivity in the police cadres?
India’s rape culture does not exist in a vacuum, although it makes news only when there is an incident ‘brutal’ enough. It exists in our attitudes towards gender, caste and power, in the media that we consume and in the everyday patriarchy in our homes and workspaces.
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