No country for rape victims
I had a friend, let's call her 'B'. She was assaulted outside her home. We were just out of college. Like most assaults, the perpetrators were not strangers. They were two boys she considered friends. I was at work at the time I got the call. I was on the next bus to see her. The following day I accompanied her to the police station. And over the coming days and weeks, I watched her struggle to manage information about the assault, to limit who knew what and when they knew it.
The familiar battle I had heard about, read and even covered was suddenly so close. I watched her struggle to regain control over a situation where control had been violently taken from her. I watched her remember every ugly detail until she became sick of it. As she struggled first to write her statement at the police station, outlining her trauma, I heard her mentally echo so many common reactions: loss of trust, guilt and shame.
I saw her battle an invasion of questions, looks which stared at her and shouted at her, "How did she end up in this situation", "what was she wearing", "why didn't she shout", "why was she out so late", "why did she meet them"?
'B" was then required to go to a government hospital for her medical test. The police took her to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where she waited on a bench surrounded by pregnant women and others. The police informed the man in charge that a test was needed. Within a few moments the compounder came out of the room and shouted at the waiting hallway. "Kiska rape hua hai"
B stood up and followed the police constable who had pointed at her. She was no longer the young woman, strong, smart, funny and beautiful. An amazing friend, sister and daughter, the rape now defined her. A virgin till two days ago, she was now a victim who was forced to face the reality of her horrific experience, each moment, every moment.
B was then asked to remove her clothes and lie down. The doctor was going to examine her, note down the various bruises and marks on her body. But before anything could be done, an insertion was made in her vagina. Two fingers were thrust in and moved around. There was no warning, no explanation, no counseling as to why this was necessary and what part it would play in her case. When she gave out a cry and hid her face, the doctor looked at her dismissively and said, "Ab kya mooh chupana"
Much later, I was to learn that the 2 finger test is used to find out whether a girl is used to sexual activity or not. In 2011 it was banned but I have often wondered in the intervening years how a woman's sexual activity was relevant to her charge of rape. If the girl did not consent to a particular sexual relationship then that amounted to sexual assault, her sexual activity notwithstanding.
When you are a young woman and your body becomes a crime scene, a reminder of violence and brutality, you seldom learn to live with it. You can't.
In India though, you can never forget it, they never let you forget it. A few months before his son's government came to power in Uttar Pradesh Mulayam Singh Yadav's campaign promised government jobs for rape victims. If you thought women politicians were better, well utterances from Mamata Banerjee would only convince you to the contrary. The Bengal Chief Minister has blamed the free mixing around of men and women as the reason for increasing cases of rape. In the past she has blamed a rape victim of political conspiracy and maligning her and the media for glorifying rape. Mamata Banerjee isn't alone. The truth is women politicians like Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee have seldom identified with women's issues, in fact working hard to play down their identities as women. And many would agree why should the safety of women be the responsibility of women's politicians alone. But one would perhaps expect from them a greater level of sensitivity. Sadly that is too much to expect as well. The disconnect goes across age groups of women. One remembers the glamorous young, aspiring Alka Lamba who landed in Guwahati with hair and sari intact, met the Guwahati molestation victim, hugged her, posed for photographs and then in a press conference went on to systematically reveal the victims name and identity. A National Commission for Women, that sadly was a sorry excuse for a woman's organization. No wonder we weren't too surprised when Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi's office sent journalists pictures of the victim. It was a PR moment that the Assam government was so terribly excited about.
From politicians to administrators the aftermath of rape brings with it an, oh so tiring but predictable sequence of events. The Park Street rape case happened post midnight in Kolkata. The solution was obvious to the powers that be, that no drinks should be served after 11:30 and music be turned off by midnight. After the Gurgaon rape case, the city bosses said women should not work after 8 pm. And malls should turn off the electricity if a pub stays open after hours. Similarly in Guwahati since the molestation happened outside a bar, drinks were not to be served after 10. Since Khap leaders now believe that one of the reasons for rape is chowmein or noodles and junk food since that produces heat and pushes men towards women, wonder what would happen to Chinese joints in and around Haryana.
Rape in this country has become a circus of the bizarre. You don't need to look hard. Every few weeks the mockery of the savage reality is reinforced using the most tragic of idioms. The perpetrators come from every section of society from politicians, activists, reporters, ministers and yes women themselves. The name of the victim is slipped through, her family is identified, public narrative vacillates between calling it a small rape or a legitimate rape and if it doesn't end here, then chowmein, women's education, late working hours, a westernized way of dressing all add up.
More about Anubha Bhonsle
Anubha Bhonsle is an anchor and Senior Editor of CNN-IBN. She has been a journalist for over 15 years, starting her career with The Indian Express, then moving to be part of Miditech, the Zee Group, subsequently joining New Delhi Television where she was part of the political bureau and an anchor. Anubha joined CNN-IBN at inception, as prime-time anchor and Senior Editor. She is a graduate in Journalism and a post-graduate in social communication. As a Jefferson fellow she researched on America’s political history and the role of gender and race. Anubha and her team have been part of many award-winning projects. Her documentaries on Irom Sharmila and Children of Conflict won appreciation internationally, at the New York Film Festival and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. Anubha is a cleanliness freak, loves collecting kettles and admires Pearl Buck. She lives in Delhi with her family.