The recent rape and murders of minor girls across the country tell a larger story, a story we have heard repeatedly and as loud as it gets, the more we become deaf as a nation. On Wednesday, two sisters, aged 15 and 17, were found hanging from a tree in the Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh. The police have now arrested six accused in the case for rape and murder. Two years back, exactly this day, the Hathras gang rape and murder took place. Cases of rape and abuse like these thrive in this fearful environment because we live in complete denial of the deep-rooted rape culture. With the difficulties of combating sexual assault in this country growing each year; how long will it take before we wake up?
The UP Deputy Chief Minister Brajesh Pathak has vowed to take action against the six accused. “The government will take such an action that the souls of their coming generations will also shiver. Justice will be given,” he told the media. We hope justice is delivered, and at the soonest. But what now? How will we tackle the issue which is not just one case, but a repetitive account in the country that we cannot stop? How can we prevent acts of sexual violence from happening in the first place?
Minor Dalit Sisters Raped and Murdered: The complete denial of the deep-rooted rape culture
Unfortunately, it has become the norm for any woman reporting an episode of sexual harassment to be intimidated and shamed, and that is why we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to registered cases of sexual assault. Several women who share their accounts of abuse also mention how they are first confronted with vague questions when they share their stories within their circle, leave alone the authorities and system they approach later. The complete denial of this deep-rooted rape culture in our country, for that matter across the world, is why women fear coming forward, it’s why assault happens in the first place. Several well-meaning people close to the survivors question them: “What were you wearing?”, “but were you drinking?”, “but you went with them with your consent, right?”
These questions about survivors’ decisions before their assault, as opposed to those made by their rapists, are horrible. This is why talking about rape culture and finding ways to abolish it from its roots is necessary, now more than ever.
Rape culture occurs when we teach women how to avoid being raped rather than teaching men not to rape. Rape culture occurs when women who come forward are questioned about their clothing. Rape culture is when cyberbullies photograph sexual assaults and harass their survivors online after the event, which sadly results in suicides. It surfaces when people say things like, “she asked for it.” Rape culture occurs when people selectively outrage issues involving sexual violence. Rape culture gets stronger when college campus advisers, who are responsible for helping the student body, ridicule survivors who report rapes. Rape culture occurs when we find fault with the victim and not the perpetrator.
It’s hardly surprising that we refuse to acknowledge that rape and sexual assault are more common than not. Whatever the outcome, the case needs to be used as a starting point for an open dialogue about the absence of safeguards in place in the nation to protect women and children from sexual abuse. According to several studies, many survivors remain silent out of concern that speaking up about their terrible experiences will cause them to be stigmatised and risk losing their loved ones. This holds for people who have experienced abuse in their institutions, families, workplaces or neighbourhoods.
Challenges of eradicating sexual violence
The challenges around sexual violence get bigger with time because even when crimes are reported, the basic facts are distorted and altered by perpetrators. Survivors of sexual violence face wild and destructive charges, so much so that they are treated as the accused rather than the victim. The consequences, thereafter, can be terrifying.
The grave issue isn’t what we talk about rape, it’s what we don’t. “It is always about power. It’s just not always only about power,” said Sohaila Abdulali when we interviewed her sometime back. Abdulali was gang-raped in Mumbai over three decades ago – she was 17 then. As someone who had publicly shared a first-hand account, three years after the gruesome incident, and was not believed but rather rebuked. Abdulali, drawing on her own experience, and her work with hundreds of survivors from across the world as the head of a rape crisis centre in Boston, shared how even three decades after the gruesome crime, situations and perceptions surrounding rape culture haven’t changed now – that we as a society go wrong in dealing with conversations about consent.
The ongoing struggle against rape culture must continue despite the system’s overall lack of support to raise awareness of women’s rights, the rights of children, and the value of having women speak up on matters that impact them. It’s time we wake up, it’s time we wake up now.
In an ideal world, most of us would prefer to believe that the horrific relationships we hear about daily aren’t genuine, or that even if they are, what can we really do about it? The truth is unpleasant. However, by ignoring the obvious, we continue to allow rapists to go unpunished, survivors to remain silent and shamed, and more crimes of sexual violence to rise by the minute.
The views expressed are the author’s own.