The raw brutality and shocking heinousness of the gang rape and murderous assault on the 23-year-old physiology student in Delhi and her male friend who accompanied her, has rightly generated a spontaneous outpouring of rage from the nation. Thanks to inadequate and inane responses from the UPA and Delhi governments — rightly interpreted as mere lip-sympathy — we saw an escalation in violence that left hundreds injured. But more than the combined assault of water canons and teargas shells, what has really wounded the psyche of the nation, particularly young Indian women who find themselves vulnerable to such attacks, is the direction the entire dialogue on rape has taken.

Hang the rapists, nothing short of death penalty, incarceration of rapists, are the most common slogans/sentiments we hear. Of course, these were to be expected. When in casual conversations and serious discussions, Delhi is referred to as the “rape capital of India”, it is certainly cause for national shame. But while blaming the Government, Home Ministry, police for the growing attacks on women, let us also ask how safe are our girls, young women, widows, within our own homes?

Or even in the womb? Why should the child sex ratio (0-6 years) of our national capital in 2011 be only 866 to 1000 against the national average, skewed too at 914 (927 in 2001). Gujarat, lauded for great development brought about by Narenda Modi, has a child sex ratio of 886, lower than the national average of 914. In 1991, the State had 928 girls for every 1,000 boys, and in 1901, 954! In urban areas, including Ahmedabad, it is much lower and lowest at 788 in the diamond city of Surat.

Statement of power

For the last few days, listening to TV debates ad nauseam and watching some goons hijacking the Delhi protests, one felt extremely uncomfortable. While the genuine protestors in the crowd talked about a safe environment for women, words such as izzat , outraging a woman’s modesty, and the like also slipped into the discourse. The usual suspects mouthing nonsense such as “women should be careful about how they dress”, or “party at nights”, are now lying low, but it is only a matter of time before they surface.

It’s time to grow up and look at rape for what it is. It is not about one or a group of men’s sexual lust for a woman. It is a statement of power. It is a full scale war launched on one or multiple women’s bodies to establish the power equation. It is about men who cannot accept the fact that today’s women are as, if not more, educated than them, competing with them at the workplace, in the social arena and every probable space that matters. In my discussion with friends, I always maintain that today, in a marriage or any relationship, in many homes, the woman brings a lot more to the table. He brings in the moolah, but so does she. And much more; she can give birth, plays more of a nurturing role in the family, the kitchen is invariably her responsibility and hence in her control. Scientists can split hairs on whether multitasking is good or not, but a woman has always done it, and does it more so today.

Then there is that other thing. In turf wars — whether in the village/panchayat, region, family, caste or community — the Indian sub-continent is famous for men using women’s bodies as battlegrounds to settle scores and take revenge. So whether it is the upper caste men raping lower caste women, parading them naked, or upper classes/castes teaching a lesson to a lower class/caste guy for eloping with their daughter/sister, women are gang raped. Not only to show the woman that she is powerless, shamed and humiliated, but also to defeat and humiliate her man — husband, father, brother.

But in our 17th century psyche, it is firmly entrenched that a woman who is raped loses her izzat , and becomes “ a zindi lash ” (a living corpse), a term used by a woman parliamentarian in the Delhi gangrape case, which was lambasted by women’s rights activist and lawyer Flavia Agnes in an article.

Strong stomach

The sheer toxicity and venom that was expressed by the six men in gang-raping the 23-year-old came out strongly in the way they brutalised her body after raping her. It is a pity that while the “gang rape” portion of the attack is highlighted in our discourse and in the protests, the brutish attack on her body — her intestines being damaged so badly that they had to be surgically removed, has only become the sub-text.

If you have a strong stomach, please read this quote of a doctor at the Safdarjung Hospital where the woman is being treated. “It appears to be that a rod was inserted into her and it was pulled out with so much force that the act brought out her intestines. That is probably the only thing that explains such severe damage to her intestines.”

Surely, this is much more than lust or sexual satiation. It is an expression of ultimate hatred and frustration. Reminds you of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, when a full-term pregnant woman was not only gang-raped by the marauders, but her stomach was slit open with a sword and the foetus pulled out. This is not lust; it is an expression of power, a statement to the men of her community that ‘‘we are superior and all powerful and this is what we can do to your women’’. In most of such cases, rape is only a weapon, it is not the crime. The crime is the assaulter crowning himself as the most powerful and taunting the nearest male relative of the woman of his failure to protect his woman. Can this mindset be corrected by an army of male policemen?

How often do the police refuse to register rape complaints and jeer at women that you asked for it? Or else, why did 200-odd women lynch Akku Yadav in a Nagpur court in 2004? “It took them 15 minutes to hack to death the man they say raped them with impunity for more than a decade. Chilli powder was thrown in his face and stones hurled. As he flailed and fought, one of his alleged victims hacked off his penis with a vegetable knife,” said an article in The Guardian titled “Arrest us all”.

By the way, this was the “most viewed” article in the last 24 hours on the Guardian Web site. Hopefully, lots and lots of Indian women were the readers! The message: If the society and the state will not help us, we’ll help ourselves. Amen!

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