#Opinion

Girls With Or Without Mobile Phones Are Raped. When Will We Stop Victim-Blaming?

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Meena Kumari rape remark: If possession of mobile phones and rape crimes were tethered, then newborns and toddlers would be entirely fortified against sexual violence. But the hard, tragic, outrageous fact is, they are not. And so aren’t millions of girls and women across India, regardless of whether they keep a cellular device in their pockets or not. What does that tell us about the state of women’s safety in the country if not that it is, even after years of laws and empty speech, still fundamentally flawed?

Just as one proceeds to hold the patriarchal ecosystem accountable for the unsafe culture it has cultivated for India’s women, people like Meena Kumari stand up and with alarming self-assurance point fingers back at the victims and survivors, saying that the accountability lies with them. And their darned mobile phones.

A member of Uttar Pradesh Women’s Commission, Meena Kumari said Thursday in conversation about women’s safety, “Girls should not be given mobile phones. Girls talk with boys on phones for hours and later run away with them.

She urged parents, especially mothers, to distance their daughters from mobiles if they wanted to secure them from gender crimes.

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After wide backlash, Kumari issued a clarification on the matter saying her statement was “misinterpreted… I never said that if girls use phones they run away with boys.” Whether or not Kumari intended what she said or how she meant it, there are a thousand others like her echoing her words, which is where the worry lies.

Among people sitting in public offices, family at home, professors at institutions, colleagues at workplaces, strangers on the streets, victim-blaming still thrives as a real, valid justification of sexual crimes and violence against women.

‘What was she wearing at the time of rape?’ ‘She shouldn’t have behaved so candidly.’ ‘Shouldn’t she have spotted the red flags beforehand?’ ‘Why didn’t she raise the alarm? Call for help?’ ‘Why didn’t she speak up earlier?’ ‘She was asking for it, she got it.’

A barrage of attacks awaits a woman who complains of rape or assault. Because society still holds the warped idea that to prevent or altogether curb crime, the responsibility for reform is for the one being abused to initiate. Not the one abusing.

Meena Kumari Rape Remark: How Society Pins Accountability On Anyone Else But Perpetrators

The page would run out trying to recall every instance of a public figure taking the conversation of women’s safety back several years, but let’s name some. Last year, as the horrific Hathras incident unfolded, BJP’s Ranjeet Bahadur Srivastava from UP said of the deceased Dalit girl, “The victim must have called the boy to the field because they were having an affair.” His colleague Surendra Singh further seemed to think instilling good values in the country’s daughters would prevent such crime. Read the full story here.

Earlier this year in January, National Commission for Women (NCW) member Chandramukhi Devi remarked that the Badaun gangrape and murder victim should not have stepped out of the house alone in the evening. She later withdrew her statement for “anyone that was hurt.”

Hurt is too small a word to describe what rape survivors – those still fortunate to live – feel when people in power like Devi suggest the crime they faced is theirs and theirs alone to shoulder. The problem is that society perceives rape as a reaction, not an action. A reaction to women’s behaviours, a reaction to watching porn, a reaction to external stimulus – anything else but action spurred on by the perpetrator’s own choices.

And hence, when safety measures or regulations are devised, the angle our legislators are looking at crime from is contorted. Taking away a girl’s phone is domestic control, but similar action is being platformed even nationally. In January this year, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan suggested for women in his state to be “tracked” on the streets for safety, using surveillance. Similar ideas were proposed in Uttar Pradesh.

Girls talking to boys and then running to where territories are unsafe is as arbitrary a correlation as the juvenile myth that holding a boy’s hand gets the girl pregnant.

In 2018, a Harvard Kennedy School study showed a glaring gender gap in the use of mobile phones in India – only 38 percent women as against 71 percent men. Where tech data is in disfavour of women, crime data is largely inverse. The latest NCRB data for crime rate registered per lakh women is an alarming 62.4 and research suggests one rape is reported every 15 minutes. Something beyond mobile phones is at play here. Perhaps our deeply-rooted patriarchal mindset?

Where then should actionable measures lie? By monitoring the ones being harassed or taking an accused-first approach? Will devoiding girls of technology and switching them to state watch guarantee safety?

Views expressed are the author’s own.