- Castrate him? Spit in his face? Report him to the police? Would I have the courage and the presence of mind to do any of these when he has trampled on my body and my self-worth?
I am regurgitating these questions because they must be, especially if you read the letter I got in response (reproduced at the end). No one will sit in protest for an 18-year-old who was raped in Delhi and then when she cried for help was again raped by those helping her.
I am always a bit wary about how the media reports rape. Some cases do gather momentum, but the TV channels use them to project themselves as ‘saviours’. And it is always about big guys. The small people and crimes against them don’t make us sit up and think.
But can rape, an intensely personal crime, be adequately covered? That is the reason for the queries at the beginning from a piece I had written on August 20, 2004.
I can only reproduce it with the same headline to express how I feel even today:
Castrate him? Spit in his face? Report him to the police? Would I have the courage and the presence of mind to do any of these when he has trampled on my body and my self-worth?
Would I kill him? Would I want to see him killed? These are cold questions confronting me because in one week I have had to contend with two faces of such brute behaviour.
Were I a slum-woman in a small town in India, would I have lynched a rapist? This is precisely what happened in the Indian city of Nagpur on August 13 (2004). 400 women stomped into the courtroom where dacoit Akku Yadav was being tried for murder and extortion; they knew he would be let out on bail. Such was life in their locality – he would walk into houses, drag women out and rape them. This was not lust. It was an assertion of his clout.
Why did these women take ten years to get rid of him? I do not know what snapped. That day they walked into the courtroom, threw chilli-powder at him and, as he was rubbing his eyes, they stoned him and stabbed him to death. Can I see myself as part of such a group? Does bonding in a sisterhood lessen one’s personal pain? Does every woman react to rape in the same manner?
We all have emotional scars which we bear in the silence of our hearts. What we lay bare are the tombstones that pronounce the demise of a part of ourselves. A lone woman speaking out becomes a chaalu cheez (loose woman). The fact that this was a group has given it a different dimension altogether. The public display will at some point ghettoise them. What will happen to the young girls who would want to go to school, find jobs, get married?
Activists have applauded these “incarnations of Durga”, the goddess of redemption. I am scared that this could set a precedent. The courts in small towns may start believing that they do not have to play a vigilant role and the women can fend for themselves. Should every woman carry chilli-powder now? After she has been overpowered and humiliated, will she have to forget about the pain and the shame, and fumble to find that mirchi? And then gather the strength to kill her molester?
I would not be able to do that. I remember this vignette from an Indian play: the intended rape victim takes out a gun from her bag and makes her tormentor cut off his penis. Then she throws some money for his taxi fare and hands him her handkerchief to staunch the blood, mocking him with a “Thank you, I liked it”. I’ve never shied from calling myself a feminist, but I just could not connect with this.
Then, do I think it appropriate for a rapist to be hanged? Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was the first person in nearly a decade to face the death penalty in India, refused to accept his crime. As his end drew near he listened to bhajans and read religious texts.
People are saying that capital punishment does not act as a deterrent, and as if to prove this, there has been a spurt of reported rape cases. Far worse, re-enactment of the hanging episode has become a new pastime; in one such case, a 12-year-old girl died while playing with a noose round her neck. So, has the punishment served its purpose or has it become some kind of melodrama that will spawn dialogue- baazi and amateur mimicry?
If I were the mother of Hetal, Chatterjee’s 16 year-old victim, I would have wanted the creep to live and suffer. Instead, today in his village he is seen as a martyr. Before he was taken to the gallows his family had threatened to commit mass suicide and had to be provided with police protection.
There are many such potential “heroes” roaming the streets. I was once at a beach resort in South India and a group of very young men kept passing crude comments. I got up from my deckchair and went up to the worst of the lot and tried to lecture him a bit; he started blowing cigarette smoke in my direction. That is when I lost my cool and punched him in the face. The rings on my fingers left red blotches on his cheek. But he held on to his ciggy, his machismo. Although I did leave some money, in case he needed first aid, I returned to my hotel room and cried. For a few months I even gave up wearing those rings. All I felt was remorse and guilt; at no point did I feel elated.
And that was, in comparison with the enormity of rape, a minor incident. We tolerate many such little offences in our subcontinental bazaars – elbows nudging breasts, bottoms being pinched. I begin to wonder whether our bodies are really our own. And just as I feel desperately low, I hear news of a young Muslim woman living near Kolkata being forced to marry her rapist, when the judge made that the condition of his release.
What would I do to a rapist?
- - -
This is the letter I had received in response. It sucks...
- "Dear Versey: This is in regard to your article you wrote. You were raped!!! whoa! and the rapist is about to be released. At the end you wrote that "What would i do to a rapist?". So i sujest that you should try to get over it and don't get confused. If you really like that guy you can always marry him. One of my friends married her rapist 17 years back. Now she has 3 kids and so she is living a happy married life now apart from the routine quarrels of husband and wife."
I find it strange that people cannot understand even the most straightforward writing. Worse, this guy had the audacity to expect a reply to let him know if I found his letter pathetic.