Editorial

THE INDIAN CASE OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE- A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH

Just the term ‘rape’ has innumerable implications on any individual’s subconscious and that too predominantly violent. From the most regressive patriarch to the most radical of all feminists, any among those would declare rape to be the worst kind of violence encountered by few hapless women in their lives. But both the views have huge polarity in general and the reason for arriving to such opinion is diametrically opposite. For patriarchy, rape is evil because it is a crime against the “honor” of the family, whereas feminists denounce rape for it is a crime against the freedom, autonomy and physical integrity of a woman. This difference in understanding leads to totally opposite proposals for fighting this sham of a social curse.

Speaking in a patriarchal perspective, rape indeed is a fate worse than death. Our country believes that no normal life can be ever proposed for the survivor of rape and the best way to avoid this trauma is to lock up women in their “safe” households, within the well guarded family border lines of strict patriarchal control and supervision. According to this widely practiced norm and its futile solution, we can conclude that on these lines the raped woman is majorly responsible for the crime against her as she refuses to follow the normative values assigned by the patriarchy to her because either she crosses the lines drawn by either time (by going out after dark) or by the stupid concepts of pseudo respectability and dress code (Aren’t those jeans too tight and those skirts too short?)

This patriarchal understanding is pervasive not only in politics but also in the realm of the Indian judiciary. For example, Botsa Satyanarayana, the Andhra Pradesh Congress Chef who reacted to the brutal gang rape of a 23 year old student in Delhi by stating , “Just because India has achieved freedom at midnight does not mean women can venture out in the dark” and in 2008, Karnataka’s chief justice Cyriac Joseph said in a public meeting that “nowadays women wear such kind of dresses even in colleges, churches and temples that when we go on mediating of god, we end up on the person mediating before us instead”

Such a misogynistic, anti-feminist and patriarchal understanding of rape leads to the remedy proposed by courts sometimes themselves, of getting the rapist to marry the woman he raped. The marriage is meant to restore the social order. Once the rapist is woman’s husband, the act of sex is retrospectively legitimized as the consent of woman is irrelevant in marriage and out of it (the domestic violence act of 2005 recognizes marital rape but rape laws do not) the morals of Indian society do not permit consensual sex out of wedlock, but ironically if you rape a woman then it’s your moral responsibility to marry her!

Alleged rapists often get routinely acquitted for ‘lack of evidence and the proven ones often get a reduced sentence, sympathetically citing their youth and the promising life ahead of them. Gratuitous reference to ‘western women and their supposed attitudes to sex can be found in formal judgments and in the statements of rape by officials, the 1983 judgment of Gujarat High Court made the progressive argument that a charge of rape is not necessary in general, and that a woman’s complaint of rape should be taken on its own merits. But it justifies this argument on very patriarchal grounds. It held that Indian society-unlike the permissive west-is tradition bound and therefore any woman was unlikely to make a false accusation as she would be ‘reluctant to admit’ that any incident which is likely to reflect on her chastity has occurred. Western women, as it implies, were more capable of these things. The current rape laws thus are extremely problematic from the feminist point of view, there are on-going debates among the feminists and democratic rights group on the kinds of amendment required. One Important suggestion was to remove the narrowly defined ‘rape’ and replace it with a series of degrees of ‘sexual assault, the punishment increasing in severity and physical harm caused. With the new anti-rape bill on the cards now, Gender neutrality regarding the victim is being very strongly proposed so that the rape of boys, men and Transsexuals, too can be taken into account. The perpetrator is generally male but in cases of custodial rape or rape in the context of a clear power situation, gender neutrality with regard to the perpetrator. This suggestion however is very contentious within the feminist perspective though, as there is a fear that gender neutrality with regard to the perpetrator, except in clearly defined situation such as custody/authority, will only further make women the target of the law rather than offer them protection, given in overwhelmingly sexist context.

Sexual violence is, thus, the most visible aspect of a general climate for misogyny in which all women are always under the scanner for signs of immoral behavior. Every woman knows that the position marks ‘good woman’ and ‘bad woman’, Madonna and Whore are not stable and fixed. Every woman lives in the constant knowledge of how easy it is for her to fall from the light side into the dark side, and how impossible it is, once fallen, to get back again into the light. An unthinking gesture, a careless physical movement, the wrong kind of dress in a public place or at home, and suddenly, that’s it! You’re exposed as a prostitute! Prostitute becomes and easily available general insult suggesting someone willing to be bought .a woman with no ethics. In this case the insult arises from the comparison to a woman, of her own will, has sex with many men outside the prescribed social rules; as opposed to the non-prostitute woman who has sex only under conditions strictly controlled by patriarchy.

There are many porous borders evident in between the categories of ‘unmarried women’ ,‘Widow’ and ‘prostitute’-each of them unbound by marriage reflects the intense patriarchal anxiety about controlling the female sexuality. For example the idea of sexual desire in widows is still as threatening today as it was in the 19th century. The constant expectation of sexual purity on the part of the widows and the constant fears about their sexual agency is thoroughly valid in our society however the sexual exploitation of widows often by the men of their own families often go unpunished.

As feminists we tend to tightrope on the question of rape. On the one hand we want the recognition of rape is only one end of the spectrum of sexual violence, at the other end of which is a range of male behavior which is endearingly called as ‘eve teasing’. We want recognition that the pervasiveness of such a misogynistic culture severely restricts women’s access in the public spaces. We want recognition that not every woman has to be raped for her to learn to restrict her own movements. The belief that threat of sexual violence is everywhere, that it can happen anytime, that is the worst fate that can be befall women, is enough to make us police our movements and restrict our own mobility. Hence the use of the term survivor rather than victims should be our preference in these cases. Does the real damage of ‘rape’ lie in the web of meanings around it rather than in the act itself? That is a question we need to work upon for decades in this regressive scenario.

Each year the United States State Department comes with a list of nations which has very poor track record of Human Rights, freedom of speech and expression. But, what no one really talks about is the American Evangelicals who are a very powerful force when it comes to influencing domestic policyof American. They have been seriously interfering and promoting Homophobia in Africa.

Rabid Evangelical Pastor Scott Lively a co-author of the book Pink Swastika, which portraits ‘homosexuals as the guiding force behind Nazi atrocities (White Nazi supremacist are also against Homosexuals) and the rainbow flag is a symbol of the ‘end times’. This is also one of a blazing example in the spreading of hatred against gays not only in America but across the world, especially in Africa. This man has his own nonprofit organisation (NGO) - Abiding Truth Ministries- which is into Christian values and a blind loathing for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender (LGBT) and has done exemplary work in Uganda to try and pass “Kill the Gay Bill” which sounds poetically sickening.

Some of his quotes are so inflammatory it can be equated to the hatred the Nazis had for Jews. Scott Lively once wrote this on a letter which he had sent to the Russian people. He said “Homosexuality is a personality disorder that involves various often dangerous sexual addictions and aggressive anti-social impulses.” He is only got away because he has the right to freedom of speech and expression no matter how vile and repugnant.

Now this continent is already home to so many problems like AIDS, Malnutrition, Education, Sanitation, violence against women and the list is endless. So why not add Christian dogma and of its righteous fight against homosexuality in the formally colonial African continent where people kill each other due to tribal difference (Rwanda Massacre).

If anyone outside or even Inside America calls for its destruction and killing of its citizens, the US government has absolutely no problem branding that person as a threat to America and take necessary actions, Which quite frankly is their right because every country on earth has the right to defend itself against “terrorism?”. Then why does it allow a degenerate like Scott Lively to preach hatred who spits venom every time he opens his mouth? And the answer is very simple, Freedom of Speech and Expression guaranteed under the United States Constitution which he clearly enjoys, but just not for Homosexuals.

So if someone calls the US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan unlawful and wants revenge for the killing of its citizens, is that not freedom of speech! when a man preaches, violent reprisal against America which is ok under the dogma of their respective religion, why they are branded as hate mongers and terrorist but then why Scott Lively a hater who clearly has influence and more importantly money donated by right wing businessman and politicians is nothing but a citizen with rights to spread systematic hatred persecution of homosexuals in Africa be allowed to walk freely. Is he not a terrorist for preaching and taking extreme stand against LGBT?

Dogma

Already a lot of money is being spent by not only evangelical missionaries to spread Christianity in Africa which by the way is their right. But in this process have also created lot of problems by influencing government policies. America has been a major player in combating the spread of AIDS in Africa and has spent a lot of dollars, but under the presidency of George W Bush who was accused by a United Nation senior official Stephen Lewis while talking to reporter from The Guardian Newspaper   of cutting funds for condoms was “doing damage to Africa" which is seriously affecting the fight against HIV/Aids in Uganda.

Mr. Lewis the UN secretary general's special envoy for HIV/Aids in Africa, said US cuts in funding for condoms and an emphasis on promoting abstinence had contributed to a shortage of condoms in Uganda, one of the few African countries which has succeeded in reducing its infection rate. He also said "There is no doubt in my mind that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven by [US policies],"

Mr Lewis in August 2005 article published in The Guardian said "To impose a dogma-driven policy that is fundamentally flawed is doing damage to Africa." And this was back in 2005. What damage could this have caused in the last 9 years is unimaginable, because the spread of AIDS virus is still crippling Africa and to add to this homophobia is reaching “fever pitch” in Africa due to these religiously driven practices. Even after President Obama a liberal who took office in 2009, not much have changed about views on homosexuality in Africa.

Funding

A lot of funding given by the US to fight Aids is given to evangelical Christian religious groups which are against the use of condoms and money which could be used by organizations who have the right social and scientific know how are left in the lurch.  The Vatican for all the good things which it does to help communities is still against homosexuality and the use of Condoms and they use their considerable donations to teach abstinence from sex, instead abstinence from violence against people who have different sexual orientation. This does not mean the Vatican supports violence, but it does become very counterproductive.

On the other hand there are people who may still think homosexuality is wrong, but do not go about bashing them, instead try to save lives of people who were infected with the Ebola Virus and in the process almost die saving lives. It is a very paradoxical situation, on the one hand many Conscientiousness and Compassionate Missionaries have help people fight decease, promote education and fight social injustice and on the other hand in the guise of promoting the teachings of Jesus and Christianity there are people like Scott Lively who spread hatred and try to change local customs and traditions which leave many people confused.

Epilogue

It is very refreshing to see a Judge has ruled for Scott Lively to stand trial for his efforts to promote the very controversial Uganda 'Kill The Gays bill’. This case will pave way for the protection of LGBT people under international law. It must have been very difficult to openly challenge this man in a US court by this Ugandan advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda, or SMUG to raise funds and fight this case in US.

It is the step in the right direction when US Federal Judge Michael Ponsor of Springfield, Massachusetts ruled, persecution of LGBT people is a crime against humanity and he said “Widespread, systematic persecution of LGBTI people constitutes a crime against humanity that unquestionably violates international norms.”In other words Scott Lively is a man who spreads hatred. Now what the eventual outcome of this trial will remain to be seen and it is quite possible Scott Lively might even win, but what this case has done is to set precedence for future.

Scott Lively travelled to Russia, a country not known for its worm feelings towards human rights and has within its law have taken several draconian steps which persecute homosexuals. And he wants the very same laws to be implemented in the US never mind other parts of the world which is contrary to the fundamental value of the US constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and expression and the “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” for every individual. But it seems Scott Lively has spent his entire life perusing his happiness to bring pain and misery into the lives of Homosexuals.