“The Cherry-Picking Has to Stop”

Rape is not an exotic crime, but an extension of the oppression that women bear daily. The media must take it seriously
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Tagged Under | media | crime | rape
DISCOURSE
LOUDER STILL  We must be willing to fight for the autonomy of women, not just justice (Photo: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP)

At this time, I am faced with the glaring contrast between the Asaram Bapu case—in which a minor accused him of rape—and the Mumbai gangrape case. In the former, the Jodhpur Police are dropping the charges against Asaram and the minor girl is being pressured into withdrawing her testimony. In the latter, the accused have been arrested and the police are investigating the case.

It is this selective treatment of rape that makes it a problem. It is not taken as seriously as it is supposed to be. The focus is always on ‘big stories’; even the media picks and chooses its topics based on what they deem sexy enough.

Every case is important, because when there is media attention, the police are forced to act; otherwise, there is no moral accountability for anything.

Also, this is not only about rape, but about the daily autonomy that is denied to women and the victimisation they are subjected to. These are all relevant subjects when one talks of rape. Society would have us believe that rape is some exotic crime women face. For me, it is an outcome of the same oppression they bear daily. Rape is accorded a certain amount of ‘sexiness’, which is unnecessary—especially when the victim blaming starts.

There are certain similarities that one can draw between the 16 December case and the Mumbai case. Every time there is such an incident, there are kneejerk reactions such as ‘hang the rapists’, but there are also statements made by politicians that aid rape culture.

For instance, when Maharashtra’s Home Minister RR Patil says women journalists should take the police along if they are going to a deserted place, or Samajwadi Party leaders compare women to gold, they wittingly aid such a culture.

It must be noted that these consolidated statements are not merely loose remarks but statements made to clearly cater to the largely patriarchal constituencies that they come from and those who endorse such an ideology. This will continue to be a trend until and unless this becomes a political issue.

In the US, during the last elections, the politicians who made such remarks were beaten by a large margin by those who created a parallel constituency opposing the values they endorsed. We need to do something along the same lines.

We also need responsible coverage and critique of such a culture. The media coverage, for both the 16 December case and the current one, has been largely irresponsible. One must remember that the victim always has the right to privacy; not because of shame, but because of the simple fact of needing to move on.

What we saw during the December outburst is very relevant now because we as a society must be willing to fight for the idea of the autonomy of women in a mature responsible manner, devoid of the victimisation that they are subjected to when they attempt to do so.

The protests that are currently going on in Mumbai have been largely thoughtful and very different from the ones in Delhi. There have been some kneejerk reactions, but largely it’s been a thoughtful and provocative discourse. People have been thinking about the idea of freedom, and not primarily focusing on the justice element of the case. This shows a clear shift in thought and agenda, which is very different from the last time. The only good that has come out of it has been that it has forced a certain part of society to sit and take notice and be part of a dialogue that forces them to be open to ideas and to talk about women’s issues, which have been ignored for so long.

Finally, I would just like to re-iterate my point that rape is not taken seriously in the country—because even on such a problematic subject, we pick and choose our cases and treat them differently. For example, if the Mumbai rapists had been held accountable for the rape of lower-caste women in the area, maybe this unfortunate incident could have been avoided. Why should there be less outrage over that? The cherry-picking has to stop in order to take the subject seriously and confront the menace.

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As told to Gunjeet Sra