by Piyasree Dasgupta Nov 13, 2013


If you had thought that the unnecessary use of misplaced metaphors is the special talent of politicians in India,  think again. Speaking at a CBI conference on corruption, the director of the investigative agency, Ranjit Sinha, said that the micro-industry of betting that the IPL has spawned should be legalised, if it cannot be reined in probably. So that no one was left with doubts about the necessity of legalising betting, he found it apt to refer to another plague in India for what he must have thought would be an analogy with impact – rape. “If you cannot enforce the ban on betting, it is like saying ‘if you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it’”, Sinha said.

“If we can have lottery in states, if we can have casinos at holiday resorts. If the government can declare schemes of voluntary disclosure for black money, so what’s the harm in legalising betting? Besides you’ll have enforcement agencies to look into it,” he said, adding that its easy to call for ban than to enforce it. Later, a CBI spokesperson clarified that the context in which the statement was made by Sinha was an opinion on legalising betting. Ranjit Sinha at the CBI conference yesterday.

“A voice vote was taken from RM Sawani and cricketer Rahul Dravid and the Director, CBI, made a point if a law cannot be enforced, that does not mean that law should not be there,” the spokesperson said. Without rushing to send Sinha to the intellectual gallows for bringing up ‘rape’ to allude to ‘betting’, one has to say, at least from how he framed his comment, Sinha was trying to underline the futility of having a law on betting and not implementing it.

He did it by likening it with the absurdity of saying something like sexual assault should be enjoyed, if it cannot be resisted. Even if we ignore the clarification offered by the CBI, even from the sentence alone, it doesn’t seem as if Sinha was suggesting that rape be enjoyed if it can’t be fought off. It’s not a malaise typical to India either. In 2010, English boxer David Haye kicked up a storm by when he said in an TV show that in a particular boxing match he was to appear in he would decisively defeat his adversary and to underline how he would trammel his opponent he said that the match would be as ‘one-sided as a gang rape’.

Despite stinging criticism, Haye refused to apologise for his comment. Closer home, Chetan Bhagat who likened to the fall of the rupee to it being ‘raped’ questioned why we bristle at the mention of ‘rape’ when words like murder are used generously to describe everything from a bad film to a badly cooked pasta. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the heedless use of analogies of sexual assault to deepen the impact of comments on issues trivial in comparison to the actual incident of rape, is something that greatly alters the discourse around gender violence in any culture. The thoughtless use of rape as a metaphor for other forms of wrongdoing works insidiously in normalizing a grievous offence like rape in the subconscious of a nation, especially a patriarchal one like India.

Following the Haye incident, Kira Cochrane explained in The Guardian why rape – as a joke, as a metaphor, or as an explainer to something else is not remotely acceptable. She writes: “Aside from suggesting rape isn’t all that serious, these jokes also underplay its prevalence. Estimations of the number of women raped or sexually assaulted in the UK every year are necessarily imprecise, but they range from 47,000 to 100,000.

It is thought that around one in four women are victims of sexual violence in their lifetimes. In telling rape jokes, or throwing the word casually into conversation, there is an assumption that the person you are talking to won’t have experienced this – or that, if they have, you just don’t care about the memories you might provoke, the anxiety you might trigger.”

In a country like India, where we are still struggling to accept and acknowledge the existence of extensions of the traditional definition of rape, in the form of marital rape, child rape and incidents of rape faced by men and transgenders, making light of the incident makes the battle with sexual assault difficult and frustrating. Arguing that it is as legitimate to include ‘rape’ in colloquial vocabulary as it is to include ‘murder’ is wrong at many levels. The absolute nature of people’s perception of ‘murder’ as a crime doesn’t risk fluctuating with the word’s usage in completely different contexts.

On the other hand, an incident of rape, especially in India, is treated with everything from suspicion to condescension directed solely at the victim. In fact, notions about rape in India is riddled with patriarchal prejudices, misgivings about the circumstances that led to the crime and a strong resistance to an open debate on it in both personal and public spaces in the country. Nobody balks at talking about a gruesome murder, children aren’t shooed off when actors are seen beating each other to pulp on the big screen to chopping limbs off on television. But as a rule nobody brings up the issue of rape in front of family or children – given they are as much a risk group as any grown up.

Murder is an universally acknowledged ‘crime’, ‘rape’ maybe not yet. In fact, there are very few popular references to ‘murder’ in the form of jokes, but when it comes to ‘rape’ there are many and at times, they come from the most followed, most eulogised quarters of India’s cultural horizon. Say for example the ‘balatkar’ speech in the roaring success of a film that was Rajkumar Hirani’s Three Idiots.   A speech is tweaked to replace the word ‘chamatkar’ with ‘balatkar’ and a boy, not familiar with Hindi, reads it out to a full auditorium. The character, Silencer, refers to a minister and says ‘usne balatkar pe balatkar kiya‘, ‘umeed hai age bhi karte rahenge’, as the audience cheers lustily.

A comedy of errors? Not so much for a country where ‘balatkar’ is a monster all women are threatened with and many women are brutalised with. The reason why Sinha’s comment is even more misplaced is the fact that he represents one of the country’s highest and most respected guardians of law. Then again, he was speaking in a panel discussion on ‘ethics’ – the discussion he was a part of was titled ‘Ethics and integrity in sports — need for a law and role of CBI.” The use of rape in common parlance ranges from references to everything from a boss’ dressing down of his/her junior to a badly-written math paper.

India is also a country that nurses as many myths about sexual assault as it harbours taboos. In fact, the knee-jerk mass reaction to rape typifies the rut in which India’s moral conundrum is still stuck in – a rape victim is subject to shame, ostracism and often blamed for bringing the assault upon herself. In a moral atmosphere like that, any reference to rape shouldn’t be made in a way to make it seem like a reality of an unfortunate few, or worse still, make it seem like a hyperbole with no extension in real life. It just pushes back the baby steps the country is taking to deal with sexual assault.

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