Two days ago, I woke up to the news of Dr. Priyanka Reddy’s charred body being found on the outskirts of Hyderabad, a victim of possible rape and murder. It is a macabre thing for a woman to be reminded first thing in the morning of how fickle her safety is. I made a disturbing observation that this case comes a mere two weeks before the seventh anniversary of the Nirbhaya rape case that shook the nation. As I scanned Twitter, I saw people had already made that connection. That’s how swift our reactions are over cases of violence and crimes against women, especially rape. We’ve had enough practice. What’s the statistic on the frequency of rapes in India, again?
It has been reported that Priyanka Reddy was a 27-year-old veterinary doctor from . Shamshabad. Was. What she is about to become now is just another statistic of crime against women. We’ll let her be a victim, a Twitter trend, a name on a placard during a protest march, and the picture in the frame next to those candles. But what she will never become in India, not ever, is the catalyst that brought an end to India’s rape culture. We promised Nirbhaya would be it. We failed miserably with Unnao, Kathua, Ranchi, and all the others that we probably don’t even know about.
Oh wait, scratch that. We didn’t fail. We never even tried. It’s like a relay race where each shocking case passes on the baton to another, hoping that this time, they’ll win. Alas, tag, you’re not it. How to win a race when the country’s rape culture keeps recruiting more and more people to its team
Did the term ‘rape culture’ hurt some feelings? Should I fear retribution from those who think this comment is anti-national or absolute? Rest assured, I already feel it. Fear is a familiar emotion when you’re a woman, especially in India. Like an undergarment, we wear it hidden underneath all the other emotions. When #FreeTheNipple trends, we laugh at it because we cannot imagine walking out without some protection for our privates. Why? Fear. We cannot walk the streets without fear too. It protects us; keeps our instincts sharp. It’s a jungle out there, and the predators are lurking as we go about our daily routines, waiting to pounce.
How else do you explain what happened to Dr. Reddy? After returning from work, Priyanka had to step out again to visit a doctor for personal reasons, On the way back, the tyre of her two-wheeler was punctured, and was offered help by two strangers who took advantage of her situation. She had called her sister, expressing concern over her safety. But soon, her phone number was unreachable, and the morning came bearing the horrific tidings. The distraught family identified the remains of their loved one from a partially burnt scarf and a gold pendant around her neck.
The cops suspect rape, which means they aren’t sure yet. But Telangana Home Minister Mohammad Mahmood Ali is pretty sure how this could have been avoided. “Why didn’t she dial 100 first? Had she called the police instead of her sister, she might have been saved.”
As a woman, I can think of a 100 reasons why she didn’t call the police. These are the same reasons why we call a friend or family member when we get into a cab or autorickshaw, late in the night, and the driver sets our instinct off. There might be nothing wrong with him, and we might be mistaken, but we still do it. It’s the reason we are wary of every touch in a crowded bus or metro train, but then relax when the man apologises and “doesn’t look like a creep”. We have misgivings because we’ve been made to feel that most often, we’re overthinking or misreading the situation. #NotAllMen
I mean, I could also hit below the belt by stating how cops are also often harassers or perpetrators. So are politicians, with rape cases on their records yet election tickets in their hands. But where would that discussion get us? Will it help this nation that we ironically personify with a female pronoun get rid of its pest problem? It gnaws at us, stunting the potential of almost half of our population. While we shout slogans of ‘mulgi shikli, pragati zhaalii’, has anyone thought how this girl is going to venture out in the world when she is bound by more rules than a slave?
How do I convince my parents to let me pursue an excellent career opportunity in Delhi when the most popular description of the city is ‘rape capital’ (second only to the current topper, ‘gas chamber’)? How do I tell them their worries about me are unfounded, when I am scared within inches of my life every time I take an Uber home late in the night from work or a party?
Ah, no but these are #FirstWorldProblens. The real questions are, is there a religion I can follow that doesn’t make me a target of sexual violence fuelled by communalism? What caste do I have to belong to so that I don’t offend anyone with my sheer existence? I was made to believe that changing my relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘married’ would protect me. But what if the predator happens to be in my own home? What clothes repel lecherous thoughts and glances? What age is the safest from sexual assault? I’m supposedly not safe even in my mother’s womb!
India’s skewered sex ratio is one of the biggest reasons for the rise in crimes against women. The biggest reason? Our Victorian attitude towards sex, where everything is taboo and unmentionable. We cannot talk about sexual intercourse freely, the very thing that brought us into this world. Our beginning itself is flawed. Both the above reasons combined turn women into these rare, coveted prizes that must be seized and devoured or conquests that must be won whenever a man got the opportunity.
Everything has to be kept under wraps. Questions about sex, about the anatomy of the opposite sex, libidinous needs and feelings, everything is repressed. Whispered in hushed tones. Bra straps are intrudingly hidden. Faces are covered. Cleavages are frowned upon. Women are treated as sin personified. Sin. And if are tempted to men partake in this sin wrongly, they’ve made a mere ‘mistake’. Boys will be boys. Not monsters. Just men staking their claim, taking what’s theirs forcefully.
You think Indians were never conquerors? Well, they sure as hell conquered women using sex, consensual and non-consensual, to dominate them, manipulate them, and keep them in line. They were never taught to treat women equally, or at the very least, as humans. Men were given the freedom to educate themselves, and they choose to attend the Oppressive Patriarchy School of thought that taught them women are property and violence and rape are encouraged as means to ‘conquer’ these properties.
Mark these words, anything that we have designated as female, we have ravaged and plundered and left bleeding: women, Mother India, Mother Nature. And as much as we promise to take action to improve their situation, we will never be able to. Because while protecting women feels like a duty to men, subjugating them is considered a right. And we all know that everyone exercises their Fundamental Rights more than Fundamental duties.
I read somewhere that after Nirbhaya, there was actually an increase in the number of crimes against women. You don’t need a Criminal Minds episode to tell you why. The crimes were always there. It’s just that we’re now paying attention as more and more of them are being reported.
But will anything come out of these? Are these reports and FiRs and fast-track courts enough to met out justice to the victim and their families? No. To all those arguing that we need to follow procedure in the spirit of our law, it isn’t about justice anymore. Justice now feels like a tiny bandaid that can no longer patch up the gaping wound, only increasing in size. It’s getting bloodier and more ghastly. We women aren’t seeking justice; we now demand vengeance.
The laws we currently have persecute just the rapists, the pestilence. But the root cause of this pestilence , the breeding ground of this bacteria, is the garbage littered in our society, in our own minds. That’s where the real Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan needs to happen. The abovementioned social practices are the foundation of India’s rape culture which levies the blame on the victim instead of the perpetrator. It stoops further low when it brings communalism in it, by pointing out the religion of the victim and thr perp And therefore, these practices are the ones that need to face the noose first.
Alas, that is easier said than done. Centuries of rigidity cannot be willed away in just a few years. Especially, if everyone thinks there is nothing wrong with it. The change needs to be as enthusiastically effected as if it were a direct sanction from God. And as long as patriarchy and religion overrule humanity, India’s rape culture will only worsen.