Is Only A Dead Rape Victim A ‘Good’ One That Deserves Our Empathy?

Posted: December 9, 2019

Every time a woman is raped and murdered, this is what I desperately hope will happen. And am disappointed every time!

The most exhausting part of the past few days has been dealing with the subtle/not so subtle, intentional/not so intentional gaslighting from various sources, which says that my trauma does not matter.

There eloquent posts on social media, about how “lucky women” like me, can declare from the comfort of their home that the encounter of the four accused in the Hyderabad case was unconstitutional. Others, more blatantly, have stated that even rape survivors who protest capital punishment or encounter killing, can’t know what they are talking about because they haven’t been raped “brutally enough.”

It is amazing how these people, who can dip deep into the well of their empathy for the women who were mercilessly killed, and their loved ones, cannot for a moment extend the same empathy to living, breathing women who speak of their anguish and hopelessness. A woman must truly be tortured and dead to get even an iota of understanding.

And always, always there is the question –“what if this happened to you?”

It’s not just political for me, it’s personal too

What they don’t realize is that, for me, this question is not entirely hypothetical. I haven’t been raped, but I have been in situations where I almost was. Situations where I had lost all hope and resigned myself to be found dead or dying in a ditch somewhere.

The first time it happened, it was in a part of Mumbai considered “safe.” I was walking home, at around 8 pm, when a man, obviously drunk or high on some narcotic, bumped into me and groped me. I let out a “tch” of annoyance as I moved out of his way. That was insult enough to him, and he decided that he had to make me pay. I cowered in fear as he blocked my path, and pulled at me roughly. I don’t know how long I fought with him and tried to escape (it seemed like a lifetime to me!) before a car pulled up near us, and the man driving it put himself forcefully between my potential rapist and me.

The next two times, it happened in Chennai, and the sole reason was the lack of last mile connectivity. During the first of these, I walked down a dark road, weeping, as two men followed me. A rickshaw passing by noticed, and stopped for me. In the latter instance, I missed the last bus home for reasons outside my control. In the throes of panic, I climbed into a share auto full of men, and sat on the very edge of the seat, pretending to talk on the phone, and hoping that none of them would have any ideas.

No, I haven’t been really raped. Yes, I was saved every time. Lucky? I don’t feel so. If anything, the fact that this has happened to me thrice, makes me feel extremely unlucky. It makes me feel that it could just as easily happen a fourth time. And that could be the time when I finally become unlucky enough to be worthy of empathy.

I want rapists to suffer too, but is this justice?

I am told that I am “crying for the rapists.” That I have no empathy for the loved ones of the dead women.

I completely understand the desire to see the rapists suffer. I understand the pain and frustration of dealing with a system that seems to simply not care. I give a flying fuck about the rapists. I don’t care if they live or die. I just want them off the streets, so that they cannot hurt anyone else. But the encounters, no matter how “just” they feel, don’t really fix the problems at the root of the rape problem in India. They are simply not justice enough.

How easily the Hyderabad cops, whose colossal insensitivity and incompetence led to the rape and murder, and deep anguish for the loved ones of the vet in the first place, have become celebrated heroes! And now that they have this wonderful formula to crush protests, what guarantee do we have that the next time, they won’t just pick a random man off the streets, shoot him and claim that they have killed the rapist? How is that justice if there is a chance that the real culprits can get away?

How is it justice, if all the problems that cause women in our country to be tortured, raped and killed, continue to exist? How is it justice if it doesn’t ensure that this never happens to any woman ever again?

It is just a ‘call for violence to counter violence’

I am not surprised at all that the voices that are cheering loudest for this police action, are also the voices that don’t hesitate to send rape and death threats to women who disagree with them. That they are the voices that refuse to take any personal responsibility for, or even recognize, their own toxic masculinity/internalized misogyny. That the same voices suddenly fall silent when the accused are powerful men.

Already the conversation has shifted. Now that the accused are dead, there seems to be nothing to demand. The voices of protest have fallen silent. The momentum that had gathered has run out of air, and her name remains only as a hashtag. No more questions. No more push for change. Everything back to business as usual –including women being raped and killed (so much for the encounter being a “warning” to all such criminals).

And this scares me. If we truly want to build a country that is safe for women, we cannot be reacting to each such incident on a case to case basis. We cannot and should not be using encounters and custodial killings as stop gap measures.

Here is the response I wish everyone would have

Don’t reveal real names

Turn the person’s nickname into a hashtag if you want, but please don’t let it remain just a trend. Use it to rally support and build a movement. The real name should never be revealed. There is a reason doing that is against the law.

Make the insensitive police personnel accountable

Given the situation as it is, we can reasonably bet that the police would have refused to file an FIR, asked a thousand questions and would have been uncooperative and insensitive.

Do not let them off the hook. No matter how soon they catch the culprits, or how soon they “encounter” them. Don’t turn them into heroes. Don’t take the pressure off them, until they fix their systems and procedures.

Don’t sensationalise/ communalise the issue

The media at large would have tried to sensationalize the issue, and if possible communalize it. Resist their storytelling. Ask for accountability and sensitivity.

Don’t tell women who speak out to “stop being depressing”

There will be many women like me, online and offline, who may be deeply affected and venting. Let them. Don’t tell them to “stop being depressing.” Don’t let the bullies push them around. Offer them hope.

We need better (and quicker) judicial process

Continue to push for a robust judiciary that won’t take forever to deliver justice.

Instead of telling women “how to stay safe”, make the world safer for them

Ask for better infrastructure –education, transportation, better lit roads etc., that can help build a society that is safe for women, instead of asking women to contort their lives to make themselves safe.

Governments are responsible, no matter which

Hold the governments, both state and centre, responsible. Governments are for the people and not vice versa. Don’t let your political alliances decide whether or not you hold them responsible.

‘Sanskaari supporters’ of women are an oxymoron

Call out those around you, who while baying for the blood of rapists, continue to indulge in sexist behaviour. Shame them for their sexist jokes, their ogling, their “sanskaar” approved misogyny.

Check inside yourself for biases

Look within yourself and examine your own biases. Learn and grow and be better.

Keep pushing for change

Never stop, never forget. Not until change comes. This will hurt and it will be hard, but please don’t just let the energy of the movement lag because of a lack of response.

It feels hopeless, yet…

I understand and accept that all these changes may not be possible in our lifetime. It is a long battle, and as long as we fight it, we will have achieved something. The lack of change comes because the demands are not sustained and loud enough.

We the people have power. It feels like we don’t. It feels hopeless. But there is always hope.

Finding a bigger purpose and aim is how I have coped with the worst of everything life has thrown at me. In this case too, I believe that is what will truly help me heal. It is what will help the whole country heal.

This is not to throw shade at those who want their abusers punished. I understand that sentiment and respect it. But even as we do the latter, can we also push hard for the former, so that we can build a world in which women are truly safe?

Image source: shutterstock

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