In the Pallavi Purkayastha case the judge blamed the victim for tempting the accused. A woman shouldn’t be held responsible for a man’s sexual behaviour.
When the gangrape incident in Delhi took place in 2012, one of the key reactionary responses was: ‘Teach your sons not to rape, don’t teach your daughters not to get raped.’ A key message that sought to take on a prevailing mindset, the idea was to question the social tradition of putting the onus on the woman to stay safe, to avoid rape, and to ‘not tempt’ the man.
A few months ago, driven by the need to see how deep this fracture extends in society, I wore my baggiest, long-sleeved clothes and walked the streets. We’re talking about a day in May, in Chennai. I was stared at, men still undressing me with their eyes, some whistling as they walked past, some breaking into song while looking at me. Some sidle up close as if to jostle about as if there’s a crowd – but there’s only the two of us on the pavement.
This experiment of mine proved that no matter what I wore, I was still going to be treated this way – and ‘I’ is a metaphorical reference to women world over. This simmering undercurrent of patriarchy and misogyny feeds into the greater crimes like rape, gender-based hate crimes and sexual violence.
While we might be led to believe that this mentality prevails among perpetrators or their abettors, it might shock you to know that this is the mentality that prevails among some educated people, some legislators, policy makers and even judges.
The Sessions Judge in Pallavi Purkayastha’s case is an example. Pallavi Purkayastha, a young women in Mumbai, was killed by the apartment security guard when she resisted his attempt to rape her.
The judge wrote in her judgment, while rejecting the prosecution’s demand for a death penalty for Pallavi’s killer, saying, “When the accused saw Pallavi in scanty clothes, he was sexually excited… therefore aggravating fact of pre-planning is not there.” The judge reasoned this despite the fact that the witness’ deposition showed that Pallavi wore a half-pant and a half-shirt, in her own house.
In delivering such a judgment with such reasoning, the judge has condoned a man’s gruesome act, literally suggesting that it was not his fault that he got sexually excited. In effect, she has suggested that the responsibility for his sexual excitement was Pallavi’s, and that she had to pay the price for it.
This begs one to ask: How can we say that it is a woman’s duty to ‘not get’ violated, or raped or harassed? Why is a man’s urge unquestionable? It’s not the duty of the woman to be responsible for the man’s ‘urge’. Not questioning the status quo reaffirms that the onus is on a woman to stay safe by not ‘tempting’ the man.
The truth is, NOTHING in a woman’s choices or actions invites objectification. The root cause of any form of violence and discrimination between the genders stems from patriarchal attitudes. India is home to a deeply misogynist culture, and it is high time that we make a change in the way we think.
Image above is from a Slutwalk protest, credits to Charlotte Cooper, used under a CC license