Netflix's 'Unbelievable' Reminded Us Of the Many Rape Cases in India that No One Cared About
It was hard to watch Netflix's latest show 'Unbelievable' especially because there was nothing unbelievable about it.
The show, based on the story of a teenager whose rape was discounted by the male detectives investigating her case, could have happened anywhere. In Washington, Colorado, Delhi, Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh, or Kashmir-- anywhere. The 'slut-shaming', the doubt, the apathy of investigating officials and the harrowing experiences of victims are all too real, so much so that you have to keep looking away.
In the opening scene, teenager Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever) is sitting in a clump on her apartment floor, a blanket covering her like a tent. She tells a police officer and her former foster mother that in the middle of the night an intruder woke her up and sexually assaulted her. Through flashbacks, we can see what Marie could see through her blindfold. But her trauma doesn't end here. This is, in fact, the beginning.
The 16-year-old woman from Washington is made to relive her experiences multiple times in her statements to the authorities during the investigation. And then, begins the questions, "Was he wearing a hoodie or a sweater?" "Are you sure?"
What Marie needed at that point of time was someone to believe her. In fact, that's pretty much what every sexual assault victim needs. Too often, that's not the case.
After a round of questions, Marie is sent for a medical examination. After the long and clinical procedure, a nurse hands Marie a bag of pills (the morning-after pill and an antibiotic for potential exposure to STIs) and a number to call in case of any side effects — among them 'excessive bleeding' and 'thoughts of suicide.' The coldness in the nurse's voice makes you want to scream, "But what the hell?" and it is this moment that you begin to think of the innumerable rape survivors who go through this.
Last year, when the #MeToo movement in India shook a few patriarchal structures, multiple women started coming out (some of them after years) to talk about sexual harassment, and often rape. One after one the heroes fell. But more importantly, women were finally feeling confident enough to talk about it, even if it meant just on social media. There was one common thread that connected all these harrowing stories: Women felt they will be believed. And that could only happen because the movement went about the way it did, filled with rage.
But the Internet is not a kind place. While largely there was a sense of empathy, the questions started coming around. "But why did you not report it?" Marie Adler's story perfectly summarises why women are often scared to go through the ordeal as if being violated once isn't enough.
The brutal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in 2012 caught public attention. It became a global outrage and it even led to a change in the laws. But why are some rape cases more important than others? On most days, Indian newspapers will be filled with headlines like this-- Maternal uncle arrested for minor girl's rape in Hyderabad, 14-year-old gang-raped in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra men rape Class 2 girl, Haryana woman commits suicide over police 'inaction'. But these are just headlines and statistics. India is a country where a rape is reported every 21 minutes, and even the most horrific of crimes get brushed aside, forgotten. But they are remembered by the victims and their families, whose wait for justice is long and lonely. Marie's journey captures exactly that.
Remember Aruna Shanbaug? The 25-year-old Mumbai nurse was sodomised by a cleaner in the hospital where she worked. She was strangled with metal chains and left to die by her attacker, Sohanlal Bharta Walmiki, on 27 November 1973. She survived, lying in a hospital bed in a vegetative state, brain dead. She remained like that for 42 years before she died. Sohanlal was caught and convicted for assault and robbery; he served two concurrent seven-year sentences. But he was never convicted of rape.
In 2009, bodies of two young women were found – deeply wounded, their clothes in tatters-- in Shopian town of Kashmir. The locals alleged that they were raped and murdered by the security forces. Despite the forensic reports, the CBI concluded that the women had died from drowning and denied the possibility of rape. The family is still waiting for justice, ten years later.
In its latest episode, the alleged victim in the case of sexual abuse against BJP leader Swami Chinmayanand was arrested from Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh in a counter case of extortion and sent to jail for 14 days by a court a day before it could hear her anticipatory bail plea. Last week Chinamayanand was arrested and booked under IPC sections 354 D (stalking), 342 (wrongful confinement) and 506 (criminal intimidation).
There are so many stories, and none of them end on a happy note. But the show did.
On one side it showed the manipulative, gaslighting and intimidation by detectives, and on the other, it showed empathetic female detectives played by Toni Collette, Merritt Wever, and Kaitlyn Dever who followed through the case that resulted in the arrest of the serial rapist.
Justice, however, is different for everyone. Marie gets compensation and most importantly, an apology. For Amber, it was her not being forced to testify or confront her assaulter. For Doris, justice was when she was able to ask him face-to-face why he chose her. “It’s made my world very small," she said, echoing the feeling of many, many women.
But the thing is that the world does feel very small for women. We don't walk around at night, or even in daylight in some neighbourhoods. We are warned constantly. We warn our female friends too. We hold our keys between our fingers even on a short distance of getting off from a cab to entering our home, fearing we may have to use it to wield off attackers. We can't travel, at whim. We fake phone calls, we fake having boyfriends just to get away from strangers who won't take 'no' for an answer. We text our friends when we get home. We send our 'live location's to someone we trust so they can keep an eye on where the car is going. We carry pepper-sprays. We only go to public places for a Tinder date.
We look at that expensive dress that reveals a bit of our cleavage, multiple times before we decide to keep it for a 'safer' occasion. We don't go out running in the evening. We don't wear headphones while running. We are scared of renting ground-floored apartments. We keep windows shut even on a hot summer night. We feel exhausted, and yet, we continue following the unwritten rules. And 'Unbelievable' summarises all our feelings.