Dear Shenaz Treasurywala, “A Collective Thirst For Blood” Isn’t The Solution, “It’s Our Shame Too”
I woke up yesterday morning to your open letter. It was all over my Facebook feed. As I read through your personal experiences of molestation as also of some of those who are dear to you, I could connect to every single word of those accounts. As I am sure every single woman who read your letter would also have connected with – the frustration of being helpless, the anger of societal indifference and the guilt we are made to feel. You correctly pointed out that the victim has nothing to be ashamed of. It’s the perpetrator’s shame. Your letter will give courage and confidence to a lot of young women like myself, to talk about sexual violence and not be quiet about it. We, as victims, have nothing to be ashamed of.
However, I would disagree that we as women from middle class India have nothing to be ashamed of. I think it’s our shame that the police officer responsible for the rape and brutal sexual torture of tribal activist Soni Sori is today a presidential medal awardee and we kept mum.
I think it’s our shame that people responsible for the rapes of Kauser Bi and Bilkis Bano are today our national political heroes. I think its our shame that while we expect Uber to do background checks for its drivers, we kept quiet when a rapist was given a cabinet berth despite his background check clearly revealing rape charges. I think it’s our shame that we allow for a law that provides impunity for rapes to our army in Kashmir and Manipur. I think it’s our shame that we produce and consume objectification of women in our movies and other forms of media.
Every time we choose to be silent against impunity we contribute to the culture of sexual violence and rapes, which haunts us all. We, the women from middle class India, need to drop that “I could have been that woman” attitude that allows us to raise our voice against rape and sexual violence only when it happens in spaces that our class is likely to occupy.
Our fight against sexual violence has to go beyond our elitism and we need to use our privilege of belonging to a certain class to empathize and not give up until this country develops zero tolerance to sexual violence. We need to stand up against unchecked sexual violence in the bedroom, in areas of conflict in this country, in custody, in the khaps as well as in our community spaces.
I also think that sexual violence cannot be understood in a narrow men vs women dichotomy. Yes, change the laws. Criminalize marital rape, include provisions for punishment of custodial rape and repeal AFSPA. We will be fooling ourselves if we think that the solution lies in hanging a couple of rapists and making an example out of them. I agree that anybody who is responsible for rape should be severely punished and the Uber driver shouldn’t have been out on bail. But I do not think that changing the law and bringing death penalty is the answer. In fact the late Justice Verma Committee that was set up to recommend changes to our rape laws post the December 16 rape in Delhi considered the option of compulsory death penalty for rapes and then decided against it because it was realized that it wasn’t the solution. It is a myopic solution to the grave problems of patriarchy in our society. Rape is only a symptom of that patriarchy.
Castration, which was also on your wish list, on the other hand is a disastrous step in the wrong direction. It reinforces the wrongful notion that rape or sexual violence is only about sexual gratification. Sexual violence needs to be understood in the larger framework of our power structure.
If death penalty would have been the answer, then the suicide of Dec 16th rape accused Ram Singh in jail would have deterred the uber driver who, in fact, even used the reference of that horrific incident to threaten the victim. Rapes and sexual violence in India are highly under-reported. One of the big reasons for it is that in a lot of cases the victim is raped by somebody she is known to. In the wake of a compulsory death penalty, reporting of sexual violence will further be affected. It is a misconception that death penalty will end rapes. I understand your anger.
In fact I empathize with it. Being a woman, a victim of sexual assault and working with various other victims, I feel that rage daily. But is vengeance really the solution, or will we end up doing more damage to our fight against sexual violence by suggesting solutions coming out of knee-jerk reactions? Death penalty makes us more violent as a society. It’s a patriarchal symbol of a collective thirst for blood. How is something that makes us more violent and patriarchal supposed to make the streets of this country safer for its women?
So lets take this debate against sexual violence forward. Ask for changes in law in the right place, work towards gender sensitization, introspect on how we contribute to sexual violence and stand up for zero tolerance against sexual violence. But lets not be governed by our desire for revenge.
Sexual violence needs a much more objective answer.
Thank you again for speaking up.
December 12, 2014 at 7:18 pm
That’s a very well-articulated article, Guneet..I appreciate the fact that you did not belittle her motive or question it, rather picked up the radical and potentially harming views from her article and objectified them. Thank you for undertaking the effort to explain how castration or even death penalty will not put down a stop to rapes, rather how speaking out more often and speeding up the judiciary proceeding, along with bringing a shift from patriarchy could.
December 12, 2014 at 8:28 pm
Even though your article is extremely well articulated but I beg to differ completely with you and totally agree with Shenaz..Kindly explain to me, IF you were the victim in the recent rape case, will you want ” debate against sexual violence & work towards gender sensitization ” OR with immediate effect want the culprit to pay for his heinous act ?? Every such atrociously disgraceful crime needs to be punishable immediately. And Shenaz very well puts forth the need to levy death penalty or even Castration..Once these laws are immediately put to practice, thereafter you can have all the discussions & debates in the world and talk about the changes we want in the society ( because all that takes time ). But first, the person needs to understand the consequences of his actions and not think that he can get away with it coz its this attitude, “that nothing will happen to me” makes them take this disgusting step every time..Once they know their actions will have a strong reaction, they will think twice before even thinking of doing it..
December 12, 2014 at 9:37 pm
Dear Reshha, your anger is not misplaced. It is in fact quite natural to assume castration or death penalty would resolve the issue. However, do you think men grope women walking on the street because there is no castration penalty implemented yet? I agree that the judiciary process has to be sped up and the culprits should be punished as soon as possible. However, implementing castration or even death penalty have a horrible potential aftermath. The culprit would want to hurt the victim badly, or even kill her in order to prevent the possibility of her reporting the incident. Few psychologists link the rise in violence during rape to the greater likelihood of the victim being able to raise an outcry of a greater magnitude, thanks to the heightened awareness due to social media.
I agree with millions of other women that physical abuse or rape should never go unreported or unpunished. However, implementing punishment by castration, as the writer pointed out, would leave a severely misled example. Groping and rape happen largely due to misled patriarchal values. While I know it isn’t easy to change the value system that has been in-bred for decades now, bringing a steady shift in one’s thought process and speedy justice for victims is what might help towards preventing rape – castration wouldn’t.
December 12, 2014 at 11:52 pm
Dear Guneet and Sonia,
I understand your point of view. But I too agree with Shenaz. We need to put a stop to such violent acts on a priority basis. And its not only a question of Anger/Revenge/Justice. It is to safeguard and protect 50% of our country’s population.
There needs to be a grave fear in the mind’s of such viscious men. They MUST be afraid even at the thought of commiting such a crime.
If some serious measures aren’t taken up on this matter, then it’s just haunting, the thought of where our country is headed.
December 13, 2014 at 12:49 am
let there be justice to at lest one crime death or castration then we can discuss about the reaction … if rape has happened so has the punishment to it then.. we will talk about reaction… here only rapes are committed an greusome ones and we are still meandearing over the possible punishment … I haven’t heard about the justice done at all… where is this sympathy toward the rapist coming from… and why.. .. is my country so lame to give justice to the real criminal and still try to.find a mid way towards changing its structure.. We are depleting in our own values and trying to be humanist after a crime is committed.. put the laws straight.give justice to the ones who have suffered… dont give hollow feeling of a broader sick society… let thete be an example set then other who would be in line of an endeavour with the thought of committing the greavious crime rape be brought under the perview of improvement be considered. at lest once give a judgement and not a predicament.
December 13, 2014 at 9:41 pm
A thoughtful response by Guneet Kaur to a more visceral statement by Shenaz Treasurywala.
There is one aspect that seems to be untouched and to my mind seems to contribute in no small measure to the behaviour of the average Indian male today. The access to provocative information. More simply put we have a large Indian male population accessing the internet – and by extension, pornography – in various forms on a device that is almost always at hand (remember the members of parliament caught in the act some years back in the treasury benches?) Or they are being surrounded by provocative imagery thanks to our popular avenues of entertainment and information. To see huge displays of women tantalisingly advertising undergarments in every other city and small town today is common. The change has been massive and over an inordinately short time frame and directed towards a population that is culturally extremely unprepared to deal with it. Just imagine a village deep in the hinterland being assaulted by access to pornography over the net or watching the obscene inviting gyrations of their skimpily clad favourite actress in an item number in a film. What would the average male in an Indian village make of this onslaught? Unable to process the information I imagine he would feel entitled to a similar privilage as what he sees there on the net or screen or hoarding. And the ensuing effects have few natural channels of dissipation within the cultural framework that he would be existing in. The social mores or the gender imbalance don’t help either. It would probably lead to an infringement or assault at some point.
It might therefore make sense to begin addressing the core problem of who, how much and what kind of access should be allowed on such streams of information.
In the UK for instance it is almost impossible to access a porn website on a public internet gateway. Many other countries – even the more progressive ones – have put or have started to put in place filters to stop this malice from pervading the hearts and minds of the less discerning and more vulnerable. We on the other hand are still busy celebrating our new found unrestricted access to such imagery. We pride ourselves as a nuclear capable nation but fail to address the more immediate, common place problems like proliferation of sexually explicit material and bad roads.
Laws that severely penalise any manner of infringement and assault on women are present but need to be made far more efficient. Severe punishment is the key – Indians respond very well to the heavy lathi!!
December 14, 2014 at 12:29 pm
having strong laws is of no use; it is the IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LAWS which is required.
December 15, 2014 at 4:09 am
Very nice article/response. When I read comments, I read some disturbing thoughts. I will try to put some points as vaguely as I can and hope it reaches some who are still blind to see what the real issue and and what should be done to solve it.
Disclaimer: I am pretty sure, just like this author, everyone acknowledges the issues Shenaz points out in her letter. And even sympathize with her and several other victims of such filth in our society. I am also sure that, just like this author, the “solution” to the problem she states in her letter is half baked.
The original letter written by Shenaz could be about one of two things; 1. To fix the problem. and 2. Retribution against the sexual offenders.
I think her article is about 2. and not 1. So most people read it, show some empathy and forget it. If you think putting few guys on death row will magically fix this issue, you couldn’t be more wrong. Because, frankly, put five guys on death bed, there is always a sixth one who is ready to rape her and kill her. I could be wrong but I wouldn’t be willing to stake my life on it.
Let me ask you this. Why won’t YOU get the urge to rape someone? What sets you apart from rapists? Was it the way you were brought up? What has kept you on the other side of line? Well, I know for sure that no one is a born rapists. Somewhere while growing up, they take a wrong turn. Let me also ask you this – The tribal folks pretty much are naked all the time. Why aren’t plagued by this thought of a rape?
Instead of just punishing someone who committed the offense, its more important to find the cause for it and try to solve it. Sure its not your job to do it. Its the job of someone who will eventually fix the problem. But if you are instructing someone to fix it by doing something, if you are not reaching for all the sections of the spectrum as far as the issue/solution is considered, then you are just another voice who will be lost pretty soon.