What do you do if you have been raped?

Nisha Susan takes a ‘comprehensive look at how Indian women can navigate the first few days after rape’. Read the excerpt below and the full story here (Yahoo India, 2 July 2013).

What do you do if you have been raped?

Despite being warned to expect it all your life, despite all the chatter of the last few months, you probably still don’t know how to deal with sexual assault. A comprehensive look at how Indian women can navigate the first few days after rape.

For many women there comes that odd, jolting moment when you realize you have structured your life around avoiding being raped.

That moment sneaks up on you. Perhaps it’s because you caught yourself thinking twice about sitting down on the footpath. You were tired while waiting for the bus but you thought twice and continued standing, holding your heavy bag. And suddenly it occurred to you that you didn’t want to sit on the footpath because you didn’t want to attract attention, and you didn’t want to attract attention because you didn’t want to be raped. And in that moment the absurdity hit you. It’s as if you had been a man and every sentient particle of your life had been arranged around avoiding being mugged or murdered.

That moment sneaks up on you. The moment passes and you go back to unconsciously arranging your life around avoiding this one crime. Every time you hear footsteps behind you, every time you open your front door, every time you walk through a basement parking lot, every time you turn into a dark street, you wonder – Is this the one? Is this how it’s going to happen? As comedian Ever Mainard says, “The problem is that every woman has that one moment when you think, here’s my rape! This is it. OK, 11:47 pm, how old am I? 25? All right, here’s my rape! It’s like we wait for it, like, what took you so long?”

For some of us – for at least 24,923 documented Indian women in 2012 alone – there has come that other unfortunate, jolting moment when you have been raped.

Three out of four times, you are likely to have been raped by someone familiar, someone familial: your uncle comes to drop off a tiffin box and stays to chase you round the house, breaking everything you try to hide behind, pulling the landline wire out of the wall. Your brother-in-law tries to rape you when you are five months pregnant. Your former husband decides that divorce isn’t quite enough. The sarpanch of your village. Your nephew. Your brother’s friend. Your brother. Your father.

Here is your rape. It has come. And here comes that epiphany. The realization that you have been warned about this moment your whole life but still don’t know what you are supposed to do afterwards.

After December 16, after the gang rape in Delhi, parents across India have clutched harder at their restless daughters. Well-meaning men and women have recited the gruesome details of that gang rape to each other, asking, “Can you imagine anything worse?” Women talk to their friends about how much more scared they are of strangers. A warm fug of paranoia has enveloped us, binding us closer to the homes and neighbourhoods where we apparently need not fear anything.

But here is that moment in that familiar place. You have been raped. Six months of paranoia later – are you kidding me, a lifetime of paranoia later – you still don’t know what you are supposed to do.If you are the kind of person who thinks buying insurance is inviting death or illness, you may not want to read any further. Crippling your life with the fear of rape – you’ve got plenty of that already.

You may choose not to seek justice, to never report the crime, to not discuss it. But if you wish to make a recovery, if you intend to seek justice, if you want to punish the man or men who have raped you, the first 24 hours are the most crucial. Coping with that first day’s procedures will shape the way rape affects your life.

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Full text version of what Kavitha Krishnan said

The YouTube video’s doing the rounds but here’s the full text (translated) version of what Kavitha Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), said while protesting outside the Delhi Chief Minister’s residence:

“Today we protested outside Sheila Dixit’s house…and demanded that she should resign [over the inability of the govt to provide safety for women in Delhi streets]. It is important to understand why we are asking for this in more depth, and also to explain to them [the administration]. Sheila Dixit has said that since the rape happened in a private bus, not on a DTC [public service/Delhi Transport Corporation] bus, how is she responsible? So we have come to educate her, that if there are buses in which iron rods just lie about, where monsters travel around the city in these buses, where there are no rules or regulations for the operation of these buses, where they can do anything, for this you alone are responsible, no one else. Today, if that girl is fighting for her life, you are responsible. Why was that iron rod lying in that bus, this answer only you can give us, no one else. You cannot blame anyone else for this.

But there is a further, more important issue here, that we came here to protest today but have also been doing [for the past few days]. When journalist Soumya [Viswanathan] was killed, Sheila Dixit had said that she was out and about at 3 in the morning, she was too ‘adventurous’. So we have come here to say that women have every right to be adventurous. We will be adventurous. We will be reckless. We will be rash. We will not do anything to secure our ‘safety.’ Don’t tell us what to wear. What time at night we should be out, how we should be out during the day, how many people we should have with us – don’t tell us any of that. When Neeraj Kumar had just become Police Commissioner, he held a press conference in which he said, what can the police do in cases of rape? First he said that most often it is people who are well known to the woman who rape her. He is right, this is a fact. But then, shouldn’t this make it easier for them to be caught? After all, if she knows who has raped her, then it should make it all the easier to catch him. We are not asking the police, why didn’t you stop it. But we are asking them this: the conviction rate, which has gone from 46% in 1971 to 26% now, who is responsible for that? This tells us that there is a frightening gap, a lack in the police’s investigations…there is no procedure on how you must proceed in cases of rape. There is only one procedure that I think all women and girls standing here are familiar with. If you go to a police station and say that you have been the target of sexual violence, the first thing they will tell you is not to file an FIR [First Information Report]. People will come from all over, even from outside the police station to explain to you, “don’t file a complaint.” Until you go up the chain of command and say that you are from a students’ group, or a women’s group, nothing happens. This is so ordinary, there can hardly be a woman in all of Delhi who doesn’t know that this is the normal procedure that the police follow, not written in any rule book, it’s regular practice.

There is yet another thing that Neeraj Kumar had said in that press conference – that women shouldn’t travel alone at night, they should have someone with them. If you are out at 2 in the morning, how can you expect that we [the police] will come to save you? Now in this rape that has occurred, it is clear – it was neither 2 at night, and there was someone with her. Now if a woman wants to be out and about at night, there should not be the need to justify that she has to be out because she is working, she is returning from work. If she wants to be out, if she wants to go get a cigarette, if she wants to take a stroll, this desire should not be made into her crime. We don’t want to hear this defensive argument – that women only leave their houses for jobs, poor things, what can they do, they are compelled to leave their homes. We believe that women’s freedom – whether it is within the home or outside it, at night or in the daytime, whatever she is wearing – is an important matter and this freedom to be, a freedom from fear, must be protected. That is what we are asking for. I am saying this also because I feel that the word(s) security and protection in relation to women are thrown about a lot – because this word security, and all of us women have heard it from our families, our communities, from the principal, the warden, we all know what it means. Security means – you behave yourself. You get back into the house. You don’t dress in a particular way. Don’t live on your terms of independence, that is what they mean by being safe. All the patriarchal norms and rules of society are gathered up and given to women as ‘protection’ and we reject this entirely, we are saying this is not what we want.

The Delhi Police has been running a campaign against violence against women. You might have seen the hoardings up near ITO…in an ad campaign regarding violence against women, there is not a single woman! There is a male film actor, Farhaan Akhtar, who is saying, Be a Man, join me in protecting women. So I want to ask, the brother who cuts his sister’s head off because she marries into another community, is he not fulfilling his duty of being a man, of being a brother? Is evoking masculinity part of the solution of violence against women, or is it the very root of it? It is very important to think about this. In the entire country, this is what we see outside the women’s movement, whether it is in government, police organisations, political parties, the judiciary…whenever they talk about the protection of women, they are talking specifically of a patriarchal protection of women. They are not talking about a freedom without fear, an unqualified freedom for women. Our work is this – the work of these agitations on the street which have been going on and I hope they continue – that the answer to such events does not lie in CCTV cameras, in the death penalty, in chemical castration. Our anger is legitimate, but I am fearful of “solutions” like this. If the problem is the conviction rate, how will the death penalty help? The conviction rate is low because in your entire procedure relating to rape, you don’t take the complainant seriously. It is another matter that the rape legislation is bad, it’s weak – rape by objects used to penetrate the woman’s body does not even feature in the definition of rape. A significant part of what happened on that bus in Munirka, which was so deadly, so dangerous for the girl, does not even qualify as rape under the law.

Here there is one more thing I would like to stress – Sushma Swaraj gave a speech in parliament in which she said something that I found utterly disgusting. Highly condemnable. She said, even if this girl lives, she will be a living corpse. Why? If this girl lives, I believe she will live with her head held high. She has fought. She fought, and that’s why, to teach her a lesson, the rapists beat and raped her. There can hardly be a woman here who hasn’t fought in Delhi’s buses, who hasn’t stood alone in her fight against this violence. Who hasn’t felt utterly alone in these situations. I read in the papers, I don’t know if it’s true, but I read that when she gained consciousness, she asked whether the rapists had been caught. Her desire to fight is still strong, it is not over. We salute that desire to fight, those who survive rape are not living corpses. They are fully alive, fighting, striving women and we salute all such women.

The last thing I would like to say is this: There are plenty of people who say in times like this – let’s not politicise the matter. But there is a need to talk about it, and politics is not cheapened by it. The culture of rape, the justification by people from up high – like KPS Gill who said that rape occurs because women wear tight clothes – the vast number of people who say these kinds of things…if we want to change this then we must make rape a political issue. We have to talk more about what women are saying about the violence that is done to them. And the government will have to listen. Shedding some crocodile tears in parliament isn’t going to be enough. By shouting about the death penalty you won’t be able to solve this problem. I find it ironic that the BJP is the loudest when it comes to asking for the death penalty, but states where they are in power, their own goons run about harassing girls wearing jeans, girls who have Muslim or Christian boyfriends, and warn them that girls have to be the carriers of Hindu culture and values, or else. We have to respond to these thugs with a counter-culture, a counter-politics of our own. One that demands women’s rights to full freedom, fearless living. We have been attacked by water cannons here by the police, and I have to say I have been really surprised by that. There are demonstrations all over the city, and surely the government should have some sense that this anger that people have is not going to be beaten back by water cannons and lathis. It is shameful that the government and police are ever-ready to attack those who fight for women’s rights, while presenting arguments oh behalf of the rapists.”

English Translation by Amrita Ibrahim (sourced via Facebook)

Everyone’s take on women, clothes, rape

Postscript:

Two wonderfully nuanced and sensible responses to this whole furor:

Kalpana Sharma, ‘On wearing ‘obscene’ clothes‘  in The Hindu, 8 January 2012

Harini Calamur, ‘Lulling women into false sense of security‘, DNA, 9 January 2012

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Sometimes I search for tactful ways to describe people’s stupidity. In this case, it isn’t really possible.

The story so far:

First, the Director General of Police of Andhra Pradesh said this.

Top quote:

“When you are taking food which gives good josh, you tend to be more naughty as time passes. I am giving you down-to-earth facts. Rapes are not in the control of the police … Even the villagers from coastal Andhra are wearing salwar-kameez (as against traditional dress). All these things provoke”.

Next, the Minister for Women and Child Welfare in Karnataka had this comment, when asked about what the AP DGP had said.

Third, and absolutely unforgivably, KK Seethama, former Head of Dept. of Women’s Studies at Bangalore University and head of the committee against sexual harassment had this to say:

I’m against women wearing obscene clothes. With such clothes, they tempt men and that’s why they get raped. Even when one wears saris , long-sleeve blouses must be worn. I tell my students they must wear long kurtas when they wear jeans,” she said.

“I advocate a dress code for women for their own good. What’s the use of wearing short tops and showing off their tummy? Women look pretty when they are well covered. Many women lecturers in BU wear salwars and jeans. What respect can they expect from boys?

Finally, voices of sanity:

Read Shilpa Phadke And Sameera Khan on ‘The 21st Century Politics of College Clothing’ here on Infochange India

Samar Halarnkar in today’s Hindustan Times on the ‘rash of stupid comments from officials about clothes, rape’ that ‘reveals why indian women struggle to advance’. Read his response here.