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The recent Pinki Pramanik case making the headlines, brought home to me not only how poorly equipped we are to deal with questions of gender, but also how rape cases in India invariably tend to get focused on facts other than those relating to the crime itself.
What brought this home to me is the headline repeated thoughtlessly on many TV channels, “Pinki Pramanik accused of being a man”. But here’s the thing: being a man, or a woman, or someone not quite fitting the conventionally accepted definition of either category, is not a crime. So, Pinki Pramanik cannot be “accused” of being a man.
Medical tests may ultimately slot her into one category or another; or she could be an “intersex” person, and again, that too may be more a definition created for convenience than anything else. The Intersex society of North America offers a useful analogy in its explanation of what is intersex, saying, “To better explain this, we can liken the sex spectrum to the color spectrum. There’s no question that in nature there are different wavelengths that translate into colors most of us see as red, blue, orange, yellow. But the decision to distinguish, say, between orange and red-orange is made only when we need it—like when we’re asking for a particular paint color.”
Brought up as most of us are to take being ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ for granted, this can be difficult to understand, but the point remains – whatever medical tests declare Pinki to be, that is not a crime. No kind of biology is a crime, merely a fact of nature and no kind of sexuality is a crime either, so long as it is based on consent.
Brought up as most of us are to jeer at anyone not quite fitting the conventional definition of man or woman, the way Pinki Pramanik has been treated is not surprising. While she defines herself as a woman, she is already being escorted by policemen rather than women, and it is believed that while she has a cell to herself, it may be in the men’s ward of the jail.
What Pinki Pramanik is accused of is rape, not of being a man, but this fact is getting lost in the brouhaha over her sex. Ultimately, if medical tests declare her a man, that may have a bearing on the case, especially since rape in India is narrowly defined as forcible penetration by a man, never mind that women are also raped in other ways (and so are men). Still, the case to investigate is whether the rape occurred or not.
This is similar to how most rape cases get dealt with in India, focusing on externalities such as the victim’s character or clothing, rather than on the evidence or investigation of the crime. The only difference is that in this case, all the attention is going to the alleged culprit rather than the victim.
That doesn’t make it right either. The point about rape cases being investigated fairly is not to launch a character assassination or trial by media of the alleged rapist either; the point is that investigating agencies need to be able to focus on the actual crime.
The question is, when will they get around to doing that with anything approaching professionalism?
Pinki Pramanik deserves to be treated with dignity not because she won India an Asiad gold medal, or because she is woman, or a man, or anything else the doctors choose to come up with – she deserves it simply for being human.
Pic credit: kristin_a (Used under a Creative Commons license)
Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas
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