OPINION | Why is Women's Battle Cry for Justice Always a Secondary Voice That Needs Validation?
A report by Livemint in 2018 claimed about 99% cases of sexual violence go unreported, while the National Crime Records Bureau report of 2006 mentioned that about 71% rape crimes go unreported.
Representative image: Reuters
A male reader mailed me an online piece a few hours ago. Authored by actress Pooja Bedi, it was a rather verbose argument where she defends her close friend, TV actor Karan Oberoi, who has been arrested for allegedly raping and blackmailing a woman and sent to police custody till May 9.
During a press meet, Bedi read out one of the messages that the victim sent to Karan, though I cannot help but question how she was allowed to do so, considering the case is now sub-judice. “Karan, I am being open and upfront. Can we have sex, without thinking about future, emotions and anything else just for now, as my body needs it? And I do not feel comfortable to indulge with anyone else, so let me know what you think about it.” The members of his music band ‘Band of Boys’ also maintained at the same press gathering that the claims were false.
In her passionate piece that is pegged as a clarion call for justice, Bedi adds: “We cannot have an equal society if we are so focused on protecting what we consider a ‘weaker sex’ that we refuse to openly acknowledge a rising number of women as tyrants. Being a ‘rape or abuse complainant’ gives women almost ‘holy cow’ status. It’s almost sacrilegious to challenge a woman’s claim or to stand up for a man you consider a victim. Women have rights, but women are not above the law and that needs to be made very clear by prosecuting women who file fake cases.
“We need to have equally stringent punishment for women who baselessly use provisions of law to subject men to tough laws and procedures. Most important in the quest for equal rights is the need to protect the identity of men until they are proven guilty. Why is only a woman's reputation sacred and not a man’s? Does he not have a career? Social respect? Family? If a woman is found guilty of a fake case, she should also be publicly named and shamed, like what happens to men. Let's focus on equal laws to protect, equal laws to punish, and a fight for an equal society. It’s time for #MenToo.”
Sexual violence, emotional harassment and mental and physical trauma are serious allegations that come with equally serious legal ramifications. But to allege that a woman charging a man of rape lends her a ‘holy cow’ status is, in my view, taking an extremely flimsy and to some extent dangerous view of a dastardly crime such as rape, mental harassment and blackmailing, which accounts for practically 12% of all crimes against women.
Even India’s average rate of 6.3, which is not very high when compared with the rest of the world, suffers from under-reporting. A report by Livemint in 2018 claimed about 99% of cases of sexual violence go unreported. The National Crime Records Bureau report of 2006 mentioned that about 71% rape crimes go unreported. And for those armchair activists who assuage that justice isn’t meted out to victims or their families as is also true — have we ever highlighted why? And where we as a system fail?
And by system, I shall first point fingers at the family structure. The power structures that patriarchy enforces. What seems to be largely missing from this debate is the gross under-reporting of such violence. One reason for this is the lack of accurate data on the extent of under-reporting.
The Livemint report showed that only a minuscule portion of incidents of sexual violence is actually reported to the police. An estimated 99.1% of sexual violence cases are not reported, and in most such instances, the perpetrator is the husband of the victim. The average Indian woman is 17 times more likely to face sexual violence from her husband than from others, the analysis shows.
Now, back to Bedi.
Yes, women do take advantage of Section 498 (A) and I have seen this in my own family and the havoc it wreaks in terms of family, work place reputation and emotional scarring. But does that mean every woman who is reporting marital rape or a dowry harassment case is exploiting the law and putting her trauma out there just to shame the perpetrator and gain publicity in the form of a book deal, TV bytes or status upgrade?
And today, if a celebrity like Alok Nath back to acting, did that mean that the complaints against him were untrue? Does the same apply to tainted actor Shiney Ahuja or BJP minister and noted journalist MJ Akbar?
Were women like Vinta Nanda and Priya Ramani simply eyeball grabbers, instead of being the voice of an entire sex, an entire generation and those before it?
Has the character of all those editors/male bosses, who were quietly and conveniently transferred instead of being sacked with immediate effect, suddenly reformed? Or were the allegations against them just for a bunch of women to gain some extra media footage? To become social media stars and win some kind of petty rat race?
The #Metoo campaign for me is about human rights above all else; the same way feminism is about equal rights. And that includes not just equal pay at work and maternity leave, important as they are, but primarily respect for a woman’s body, her mind, values and consent in every space, every relationship, every dialogue, street corner and workplace.
And, while surely the law will take its own course, can we we all claim to be blind fans of the legal system in India, given that there is a glaring accusation against the honourable CJI himself?
As the blatantly illegal detention of peaceful protesters in Delhi on Wednesday revealed, the entire system of the State was utilised to suppress any demand for accountability and due process. Even the report was not provided to the complainant.
I ask now why women complainants should be set to impossible standards with their motives questioned whatever the manner of raising a complaint? I ask why every violent act against my own sex be evaluated by weighing it against the same on men?
Must our battle cry for justice and respect always be a secondary voice, needing validation and more so from women?
Why every woman who has been molested, manhandled, eve-teased, harassed for dowry, raped/forced/threatened into sex/ill-treated on a street/bus/hotel room/on a date, threatened/blackmailed by a boss/lover/spouse, every child who is sodomised in the privacy of a home/school bus/relative's home/holiday/public transport, every woman who is treated less than she deserves — needs to prove her innocence first before accusing the guilty?
Why does Bedi read out a statement where the woman wants to have sex initially and then claims she was raped — as if the two situations cannot happen to a man and a woman?
I ask for justice for Karan Oberoi, yes. But, in the same way I demand justice for the Junior Court Assistant. In the same way I wished me and so many of my sisters had the voice ourselves.
The many occasions when I wished I had won. Processed my feelings of hurt, physical discomfort, being led along, exploited. Put up a fight. Expressed dissent, strongly. Complained. Gone to the cops. Fought harder with my own family. Had the courage to speak about emotional abuse and deep-seated trauma instead of feeling ashamed.
Instead of feeling responsible for inviting male lust/ire. Instead of staying silent. Crying into a pillow. Suppressing my own self-worth. Instead of walking away…
(The author is a noted columnist on gender and sexuality. She lives between Delhi and Kolkata and is the author of five novels. Views expressed are personal.)
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