Mar 2013 05


Posted In Blog

By Noble Varghese and Swetha Shekar


 “Rape is horrible”, says Sohaila Abdulali who was gang-raped when she was 17. “But not for the reasons that have been drilled into our heads. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way.”  

Somewhere amongst the loud protests, the water cannons, the demands for castration, the death penalty and justice, and ‘dented and painted’ remarks, we forgot what rape does to a person. The person is left to deal with the stigma of her ‘honour’ being taken from her. Why are we like this? Why do we treat our rape victims like they deserved what was coming to them? Most importantly, how do we change this attitude towards victims that threatens to keep us locked in fear and shame?

Let us, for a moment, track back to the time when the six youths who brutally gang-raped Jyothi on December 16th; were growing up in their hometowns. Let us imagine that they had all lived and played and studied in an environment where women were respected; where their mothers were given the same say in decisions as their fathers; where women were not beaten up or treated as second class citizens in their own homes; where a father would not hang himself to death in shame if his daughter was raped, but instead support her, and make sure her perpetrators were punished; where the state made sure the perpetrators were punished; where they were given spaces where they were allowed to speak openly, along with girls, about their sexuality; their questions given importance and answered truthfully and openly; and where their women were allowed to, and felt safe to, go out in public whenever they wanted to, wearing whatever they wanted to, and not be termed a slut who was inviting rape. Let us imagine these six youths, growing up – mingling, playing, fighting, and then making up with girls, just like they did with their other male friends. Where they were allowed to do so and not told that it was taboo to mingle with girls as soon as they turned 13. Would Jyothi still be alive? Would that ordinary December night for the couple, that turned into the most brutal they could ever imagine, have been something different?

Now let us imagine our politicians, public figures, spiritual gurus and policemen also having grown up in such an environment? Would they make statements like blaming the victim for eating fast food, using cell phones, wearing western clothes, going out at night with a man or of not being married? We live in a society that “…believes the worst aspect of rape is the defilement of the victim, who will no longer be able to find a man to marry her –”. Take for example the case of Aruna Shaunbag who was brutally raped and choked with a dog chain in Nov 1973 and has been lying in a persistent vegetative state since. The Dean of the hospital where she was working concealed the event of rape during her autopsy fearing social rejection. As a result, her culprit was never charged for the rape, only assault and robbery. Or take the case of the 16-year old in Dabra, Haryana whose father drank pesticide and killed himself when he came to know that his daughter had been gang raped. Or of Sohaila Abdulali herself, who, when she went to report her rape to the police, was instead asked what she was wearing and what she was doing out with a boy alone?

Where does it all stop? Perhaps we should be asking where it all starts. For it is easy for the loud noises and the protests to die down and for the horrible gang rape to become just another headline that we read years ago. It is not the past we need to look at but our future; not at what has happened but at what can be changed. The youth that is growing up, formed by the hands of their environment like a potter moulds his clay. That is where the work lies. To educate them, teach them and give them freedom to talk about sexuality and their rights. To make them understand that a woman’s virtue “does not lie in her vagina” but in her mind. This is where it all starts. The mind. Attitude. Perception. That is what we need to change.

Young people play a pivotal role in initiating conversations which have the potential to lead to behavioural and attitudinal change. A good way to do this is to actively question established norms. Another way to do this would be to provide the young person access to unbiased scientific information pertaining to their Sexual Health and Rights.

We, at the Know Your Body, Know Your Rights branch at The YP Foundation believe in open and participatory conversations around sexuality and thus, have peer education programmes where young people from diverse backgrounds are trained. These young people have initiated community level campaigns to intitate conversations about the issues they feel strongly about including sexual violence.

This is our story. Write to us to see how you can get involved in combating sexual violence and attacking the problem at its root.

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