It takes a special kind of crazy to utter a public rape threat, particularly in a country which has some spine-chilling rape figures. Nonetheless, it happened. Indian MP Tapas Pal threatened to “let loose his boys” who will then go and rape the women of some political party whose male members did something he didn’t quite take a fancy to. No idea what. The ‘statesman’ — if he merits being called thus at all — later retracted, saying that he threatened not to rape but “raid” the women. That makes for some awkward grammar. But okay, sure.
After being properly fried by a number of journalists, Pal made a sorry attempt to furnish an apology, insisting that the comment was made in the “heat and dust” of an election campaign. So are we to understand that words auguring such unthinkable horrors were lurking so loosely on the lips of a well-statured politician? That he publicly made jest out of a barbarity which some would deem worse than death? If such goat-droppings of wisdom manage to see the light of the day, what monstrosities would be at play in the dark privacies of the mind? Little solace can be derived from that fact that in the past couple of weeks, both India and Pakistan have witnessed some of the most sickening rape incidents. In Layyah, Vehari, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. As public sensitivities stumbled to regain composure, a few politicians made the blood writhe and coil all over again; rape is right in some cases, insisted Babulal Gaur, the home minister of Madhya Pradesh while a certain Mulayam Singh Yadav’s two dastardly cents on the subject were that “boys will be boys”.
So a murderer will be a murderer and a robber will be a robber and a suicide bomber will be a suicide bomber? And we can just laugh off these dear little oddities that people have and go home and shiver in bed with fright and stow all our women away from sight? What utter nonsense is that? And what, if you please, are the auspicious instances when rape is the morally correct choice? Does a ‘hot and dusty’ scuffle in the streets with some of the ‘boys’ of a rival political party qualify as such an instance? Do such statements not promise a sympathetic leverage to rapists? How many more men will continue to make victims of women owing to their own half-wittedness? The politicians’ statements aren’t words that will be forgotten; they are the nods of approval for tomorrow’s culprits. God knows how much more will have to be written and spoken to undo such depravity.
Rape apologists are a problem that we are constantly understating. In a region where sex crime seems to be rooted in people’s consciousness, statements that trivialise rape are not a trivial affair. Be it property disagreements, a love marriage, clan rivalry or whatever other business, somehow crimes against women are always the answer, always on the lips of men, always on their minds. The most popular of cuss words in Urdu and Hindi wreak havoc on a woman’s honour. On traffic signals, in the markets, at banks, in offices, during casual conversations with friends, it seems as if no scores can be settled unless an X-rated, particularly brazen image of the female body is not conjured.
Even for spells when rape incidents do not occur, women in not just India or Pakistan but all over the world, continuously live in the shadows of what is called a ‘rape culture’, nurtured by this very attitude that sympathises with the culprit but puts the victim through the wringer. Some of our women scale the highest mountains and fight the bloodiest wars, all in the wake of a stifling psychological pressure that comes with being constantly vulnerable to someone else’s demons. While she goes through the usual professional grind, it is an added chore for her that all responsibilities must be carried out within the confines of a fussy, maidenly scruple — a ‘rape proof’ lifestyle. Don’t work late, don’t wear that, don’t walk like that, don’t sit like that, don’t talk like that, don’t meet him alone, don’t go in the streets in the dark. Young girls are taught to internalise a solemn resign, to be cowered, to be ashamed of their bodies. Don’t sprawl your legs, don’t play with boys, don’t smile at strangers. The message is never ‘don’t rape’, it’s always ‘don’t get raped’.
But no matter how many rape cases occur in the country or anywhere else in the world, the information space in Pakistan will continue to be monopolised by selective issues. There is no discourse to address the rape culture — largely because this kind of ‘culture’ does not have a defined material manifestation and we refuse to be sensitive to what we can’t see; or because rape, on account of being a ‘social issue’, rests low on the editorial hierarchy, a flippant filler for the inside pages on a slow news day maybe; or because we generally like to lie by silence, as we do on a number of other issues which beg our ears and words.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2014.