The Blame Game: India's Rape Culture
"My name is Suzette Jordan and not the 'Park Street rape victim'. I was raped. But, I am alive and I want to fight."
On the night of 5th Feb, 2012, 37-year-old Suzette went to meet few of her friends for a drink, in one of Kolkata's most popular nightclubs in Park Street. When she returned home, she accepted the offer of a lift from a man she had got talking to inside the club. In the car, she was surprised to find 4 other men from his group, suddenly enter. By the time she realized something was wrong, the doors were auto-locked and the car was moving.
She was beaten, gang-raped and thrown out of the car onto the street, her clothes torn and tattered.
For Suzette, Kolkata had always been the "safe city" where she grew up. But, after that night, things changed dramatically for her. Mustering all the courage she had, she reported the crime both to the police and the local media.
The rape sparked uproar.
Rape in Bengal has always been an event of political significance. Politicization of crimes or any attempt to ignore them has only managed to bolster the perpetrators. But this is not the only way the State responds to incidents of rape. When the Park Street rape was highlighted, the first reaction from the Government was to deny the event took place, calling it a "concocted incident" whose aim was to malign the government. One minister went even further and called the entire incident as a "deal gone wrong between a prostitute and her client". This remark, in addition to demeaning the victim, also implied that a prostitute cannot be raped.
The State's responses to sex crimes have ranged from denial to misinformed outbursts. From accusing the media of "glorifying rape", through to putting the blame on an overly "open and permissive culture", the State, in an attempt to escape the dubious distinction of being the 'most unsafe place for women', has done its utmost to overlook a deeper malaise in the society. And this goes beyond the convenient ritual of demonizing modernity and targeting the victim for criticism.
The National Crime Records Bureau put West Bengal as the state with the highest number of crimes against women in 2012, with 2046 registered rapes. It is a society steeped in misogynist culture, where women who dare to speak out are subjected to a process of silence, threat and blame.In order to create awareness of our own set of complicities with regards to this 'culture of rape', we therefore need as a society to internalize and utilize the legal reforms that have already been introduced.
The new Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, brought in the aftermath of the nationwide outrage over the Delhi gang-rape, aimed to provide a strong deterrent against rape. And yet sex crimes against women continue unabated. Why? The answer lies in the fact that law alone cannot safeguard the security of India’s women. At some point, society has to take greater responsibility for reforming itself. Misogynist social attitudes towards sex crimes play a big part in the reluctance of women to come forward. Our legal system, police and the general public, all of whom engage in the pervasive practice of victim-blaming, need to change their understanding of rape from -"don't get raped" to "don't rape".
Until that happens, it is pointless to question why the law fails or why police reforms are not adequately addressing this issue.
Being a Bengali myself and having lived in Kolkata for many years, I understand Suzette's predicament when she tells me that she no longer feels safe in the city.
The day she realized she wanted to reveal her identity, she says, was when she saw a 74-year-old lady, out on the street, protesting against the increasing number of crimes in the city. Her strength emboldened Suzette to come forward and fight her battle - not behind a veil but as herself.
She tells me that she waits for the day for all her rapists to be convicted. But, until then, she wants the State to stop demonizing victims. "Until then, no woman is safe either in Bengal or in our country.” I agree.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital empowerment and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.