While we judge our politicians for their loose tongue on rape comments, should we be calculating our own actions and words against a gender footprint?

Aravinda Pillalamarri Jun 24, 2014

I had heard about “the rape in UP”, but by the time I searched for news about it there was another one. And in fact, the first one itself was a double rape. And for every one that is reported, how many go unreported?

Even before these crimes made headlines, another friend asked me for evidence to back up the claim that the majority of rapes go unreported. Not merely unreported in the news, unreported period. He was discussing the issue with some friends who doubted this. Perhaps they expressed their doubts politely, earnestly, seeking to understand and not at all to be dismissive. And yet there is an eerie echo of their doubt in the stark statements of politicians (which one, you may rightly ask, so fast and furious do they come) who dismiss the violence and seriousness of rape:
“This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong,” Babulal Gaur, Home Minister, Madhya Pradesh (Reuters) (4 June)
Babulal Gaur’s next sentence merits a line to itself:  “Unless a complaint is filed, nothing happens.”


Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav, the current Chief Minister Pic - images99

Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav, the current Chief Minister. Pic – images99

“Such incidents [rapes] do not happen deliberately. These kind of incidents happen accidentally,” Ramsevak Paikra, Chhattisgarh Home Minister (7 June).
“Rapes are not happening only in UP. If you search on Google, you will find many rape incidents in other states, too.”   Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav (4 June).
In fact, Mr. Yadav actually may find on Google that if you search for “politician rape remark” you will find many incidents in other states too. Perhaps like Stephen Colbert, we should keep a count of politician’s rape mentions:

Pic - signalsinthefog

Pic – signalsinthefog

Pic - signalsinthefog

Pic – signalsinthefog

Happens to whom?

When Home Minister Babulal Gaur says, “Unless a complaint is filed, nothing happens,” it may sound like he is explaining why pleading helplessness in the face of a crime that often goes unreported. (Indeed, he goes a step further to say that the police cannot prevent such crimes as they get no “prior information” of them – does he mean that they get prior information of other crimes? )
Because what we have to understand is that all along he is talking not about rape – which happens to the victim, usually though not always female, but about the “charge of rape” which happens to the perpetrator, nearly always male. Hence Mulayam Singh Yadav’s sympathy for the “boys”.
In their world, if a rape happens and no one files a complaint, nothing happened.

Complaint and Consent

That failure to complain indicating consent and thus ruling out rape, is just a rephrasing of the logic of patriarchy. Unreported violence against women is an indicator of a heavy gender footprint, a measure of sexism, infected with intersecting forms of oppression.
Apart from the reasons of shock, fear of not being believed, being stigmatized, being blamed, dread of revisiting the ordeal while talking to police or prosecutors, and wishing that ignoring it will make it go away, there are other reasons that so many incidents of sexual assault go unreported. The sense of being overpowered which led to the assault in the first place remains to enforce the silence of the victim or to deafen those who might listen. The sense of being entitled which enabled the assaulter, extends not only to the body of the victim, but to the opinion of society and access to the justice system.

Touchable and Untouchable

The power can be blatant, as in the case of the police who asked Mr. Sohan Lal, “What is your caste?” when he reported that his daughter and niece were missing (read “India’s Feudal Rapists” New York Times, 4 June 2014).
With respect to the rape that took place on June 1 in Katra Sahadatganj, while some have been quick to bring up the toilet angle, we cannot isolate this from land rights, which which are unequal along lines of gender as well as caste, another issue that is loudly doubted. The proportion of land owned by scheduled caste households remains much lower than their share in total population, in spite ofland reforms initiated after Independence but poorly implemented and almost forgotten in most states.
To raise the question of caste is to step on the rights of another, to remind them that their rights aren’t as rightful, their bodies aren’t as human, and their voices are not of the frequency heard by those in charge.

Pic - Wikimedia Commons

Pic – Wikimedia Commons

It’s been so many days since I started this article that I almost gave up on it – till yet another right-wing rape comment surfaced from old school conservative and Tea Party enthusiast George F. Will. Like Mulayam Singh Yadav, he finds the concept of consent confusing. One the one hand, we have a woman who has said, “No.” On the other hand we have information about her history, what she wore, and where she was. What do we believe?  If we recognize the power of a woman to say no, doesn’t it make it easy for someone to complain of rape just to attain the “privileged status” of victimhood?
It certainly makes it easy for Will to blame “progressive” university education for the rise in complaints. If only women would be conservative and focus on the MRS degree. Such sentiments too emanate from the same “progressive universities” so it is not education or higher socio-economic status or even toilets that will bring about respect for women, equality or justice in society.

Gender Footprint

The question we have to address is what gives people the sense of entitlement to the bodies, lands and labour of others?  And what entitles people not to hear the voices of others?  As we speak of an ecological footprint, we also have to look at our human footprint and specifically our gender footprint.  How much of others’ humanity do we overstep, and how much gender bias do we accept in order to get ahead? Even when we recognize that our ecological footprint is higher than our share, we do little more than shrug wistfully. What then will we do about our gender footprint?
When assessing our ecological footprint, we grant ourselves a share of the earth’s resources in order to live and see how our lifestyle measures up to that. Could we devise a way to calculate our gender footprint, assessing our lifestyle for subtle as well as blatant practices and beliefs that contribute to injustice and violence? I believe this would be a way to connect the aggregate impact of everyday sexism, such as remarks of politicians, “jokes” by the boss, media stereotypes, and division of labour to the incidents that raise alarms in the media. Because we need to speak up not only about rapes and murders but about every trespass on the humanity of another. If, crushed under the enormity of this, we fail to speak and act, we are left to face the possibility that we are no better than the crass politicians whose quotes so outraged us.
Read more here — http://www.thealternative.in/society/need-gender-footprint-curb-violence-women/