On Rape Culture (and the Peddling of Convenient Theories by Armchair Critics)

As I settled down to write yet another nauseating article on the repeated rapes being reported across India, I decided to dig into some news items about rapes—I can’t vouch for the veracity or wisdom of news published in the Indian media; nevertheless I went ahead, considering that even in the worst-case scenario, the most lop-sided commentary or reporting would betray a kind of leitmotif in this narrative of rape.

To be sure, there have been many commentators before me. They’re all acclaimed public figures, with better access to information and the power corridors, and perhaps better command over the data they’ve tried to interpret and draw conclusions from.

Arundhati Roy, my favourite poster girl, has spoken out about the horrific gang-rape of a 23-year old girl in Delhi in deliciously ambiguous tones. Of course no one would question her condemnation of an act of rape as brutal as that—the youngest of the accused, apparently gouged out the girl’s intestines with his bare hands—but what Roy saw in the rape and the subsequent public protests was a classic rendition of India’s ingrained class inequalities.

Why is this crime creating such a lot of outrage is because it plays into the idea of the criminal poor. The vegetable vendor, the gym instructor, the bus driver, actually assaulting a middle-class girl—whereas when rape is used as a means of domination by upper castes, by the army or the police, it’s not even punished.

Perhaps she has not gotten over the execution of Afzal Guru, for there’s nothing on her blog yet about the recent rape and brutalization of a 5-year old girl from a poor family in (yes, again) Delhi.

Sample another celebrated public figure—Ruchira Gupta—on the rape and murder of the 23-year old.

In an absurd parody of Roy’s position, Gupta claims that the four accused—and she names them, leaving out the crucial fifth—belong to the upper castes. And thence she constructs a psychological map of the economically backward, but upper caste macho men possibly trying to play out their “sense of traditional entitlement based on their caste” by raping a woman.

Both the articles are linked to well-known national dailies. Both the articles completely gloss over the fifth accused—the one that raped the girl twice and tore out her intestines. Both the articles also fail to mention that he also belongs to a minority community—an inconvenient fact that would upset their premise of argument.

I tried to dig up information about the fifth accused, who is also a juvenile—and even though I searched every link that came up till the fourth page of Google search results—I did not find a single instance of his name splashed across with the others. It is reported, however, that the said juvenile does not have an official birth certificate with a government seal—and the document presented in court is based on the date of birth recorded by his school headmaster at the time of admission. And apparently, even his mother isn’t sure about his age! There was some talk of an ossification test to be conducted to ascertain the correct age of the accused—which was first rejected by the Juvenile Justice board—and when carried out, revealed the age of the accused to be around nineteen years.

Of course, rape cases drag on for years—some even extending beyond the 14 years meant for a normal life sentence, and often resulting in commuted sentences.

However, the bright side of things is that India seems to really care about its young people. After all, the country has managed to protect the rights of the juvenile accused in spite of the thousands baying for his blood. The love narrative for its young meets an unfortunate turn though in the case of back-to-back reports of the rape and mutilation of a 4-year old girl in Madhya Pradesh and a 5-year old girl in Delhi. Note that the honourable Home Minister Mr. Shinde explains it away saying “Such incidents happen all over India”.

One doesn’t need to be a Home Minister to know that rapes happen all over the country, though rubbing that in creates an altogether different effect.

I wonder what commentators seek to achieve by interpreting class anxieties in a criminal act. They would perhaps blithely jump to their defence—in seeking to first identify and ameliorate the inequities and problems that riddle India’s social structure.

However, I find little meaning in the range and absurdity of the fictional re-constructions that these theories smack of.

What I find more believable though is something that is so close—right under the nose so to say—that many would prefer to leave the matter alone. I see the rape narrative as part of the complex web that forms the rest of India’s establishment narrative.

Rape is a tool of violence—and it is a legacy of much of what we pride ourselves on. Homer describes the fall of Troy and the subsequent killing, raping, and enslavement of women with unapologetic opulence.

The exploits and philosophy of Islamic invaders have been also documented in numerous Persian texts written in the same grand, unapologetic style.

What we somehow fail to accept is that as a country ruled by foreign powers for centuries, we have perhaps inured ourselves to the bestiality of rape—to the point where we grope in the dark about the rapists’ motivations and the victims’ supposed provocations.

The Manu Samhita—one of those seminal texts that define the Hindu social hierarchies—denounces rape as a beastly act “pis’acha” in describing “The form in which the bride, when alone, asleep, senseless, intoxicated, or delirious with wine, is ravished by the bridegroom, is called Pis’acha, the eighth and the most sinful form of marriage.”

To me, it is not the clothes; or the consequence of a night-out in a bar; or for that matter an effect of sexual arousal owing to drinking—as some people may want to believe. To me, it’s a case of an externally administered stupour, magnified by the lack of education, that furthers the interests of anyone but the people of the country.

They say a country of sheep will beget a government of wolves. And nowhere is it better displayed than in the pervasiveness of the rape culture. As a cruel afterthought, I wonder if such brutality will ultimately do us some good by shaking up our moral foundations to the point where the comfortably-clucking middle classes boil over in protest after protest against this collective pusillanimity in punishing the criminals.


Hi, I'm Sampurna and I'm from India. I love to write, paint, and play with my dogs. Catch up with me at Halfastory's Blog. Happy reading!

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8 comments on “On Rape Culture (and the Peddling of Convenient Theories by Armchair Critics)
  1. Tatsat says:

    Makes so much sense. Though, I have nothing more to add to what you have said, I want to congratulate you on taking time out for writing this around here. Keep it up !

  2. rainy says:

    Very well written and to the point. The mindset needs to change at every level.

  3. Excellent , i wanted to add something.After the incidence, many people asked for PM’s resignation, top cops resignation. These resignations are not going to change things. Every human has a animal inside him. But the problem is there is no ring master. You either have a ring master inside you. Or have someone outside to control you.

    Do visit my blog.



  4. Well done! ‘Ambiguous’ would not be what I would write to describe Arundhati Roy and her ilk. They know exactly what they are doing, after all they are pandering to an ‘international’ market and not a domestic one. Wonder why she doesn’t move to Pakistan/Afganistan and try to write about the ‘atrocities’ taking place there. And the desperate need of the left liberals in the country to protect the ‘minority’ community is getting to grate more and more on my nerves. And the rape wasn’t about religion after all, it was about a psychopath being allowed back on the streets. I think their ( read media and so-called left liberals) blatant refusal to be fair and honest is leading to more communal polarization than outright hate speeches would do.

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