Why We Must Watch India’s Daughter (an Indian man’s perspective)

I cried when I watched this documentary.

I did not cry because I was shocked by what the rapists or their lawyers said or from shame, based on their views about women (they did not say anything India and the world does not already know), but because of the dignity and grace of Nirbhaya’s parents and because of the glimpse we get of a truly amazing young woman, who would have made us all proud. The BBC was wrong to market it in the way they did; they decided, like most media institutions today, to pursue a path of cheap publicity to gain views through sensationalism and controversy by focusing on the rapists. This film is not about the rapists.

I cannot even begin to fathom the enormity of her parents’ loss or the depth of their suffering. Yet they have presented themselves with an élan and dignity rarely shown by world leaders or royalty. Their wisdom, stoic demeanour and perspective prove once more that being rich or poor has nothing to do with human dignity and grace. I know a lot of wealthy and well-educated people who have far more medieval and regressive attitudes toward girls. Nirbhaya’s father and mother not only celebrated the birth of their daughter with the same fanfare reserved for boys, but also gave her everything they would have given a boy.

Unlike most of us in India, they realised that their child’s happiness had little to do with what they might want for her or what our society’s minimal and ambitionless expectations are. They decided that the greatest gift they could give her was to nurture the independent spirit with which she was born, and do everything in their power and limited means to help her realise her dreams; not their dreams. So when she asked them to invest the money her father was saving for her marriage into her education, they not only obliged but also sold their ancestral property to help.

Instead of forcing their child down a path of marriage and throttling her ambitions, they lauded and supported her choices. It seems like they gave her a strong value system, taught her to differentiate right from wrong, instilled principles and then let her fly. They allowed her to make her own choices and mistakes, but were there to help and support when she asked for it. I think many parents today feel that they need to protect their children from the world, when they really need to give them the values and skills that will help them take on and face the world.

I was also moved by a story about a boy who tried to steal Nirbhaya’s purse. A policeman caught the boy and started to beat him until she intervened and asked the cop to stop. She told him that beating the child would not help him learn his mistake. She took the boy aside and asked him why he tried to steal her purse. He told her that, like her, he too wanted nice clothes, shoes and to be able to eat hamburgers. She bought the boy everything he asked for but also made him promise never to steal again. Wow. Her actions are again a testament to how her parents brought her up. And it makes me think about how we are busy building statues for Mayawati and temples for Modi – boy, do we have our priorities all wrong.

Yes, the film also interviews one of the rapists and the defence lawyers. But it neither glorifies rape nor gives these men a platform for self-aggrandisement; in fact, it left me feeling the opposite. I felt sorry for these sad and lost men who are clearly trapped by their small minds and their medieval misogyny. But the thing that struck me most about what the rapists and their lawyers said was that it sounded like the same things our politicians and leaders have been saying for years (See: Why India’s Daughter Holds Mirror to our Society”); their attitudes about women’s place in our society and their indifference towards women was no different. This, I believe is the reason, our leaders have had such a violent, vicious and fearful reaction to this film. They cannot bear to look into this mirror…

The reason I believe that every Indian MUST watch this film is two-fold. One, rape is a global problem, not just an Indian one, and monsters exist in every society. Let’s use this as an opportunity to begin an honest and public debate about our demons. This way we can start to change the attitudes of the next generation of men, empower women with self-worth and give them equal rights from birth. If we refuse to confront the ugly truths behind its underlying causes, we will only ever treat the symptoms; much like our government does with hastily passing new laws banning lingerie on shop mannequins or by banning Uber.

The second reason is to honour the memory of Nirbhaya. She wanted to live; even after everything that happened. Nirbhaya wanted to be a doctor, she called it the most honourable profession – being able to heal people and save lives. Let’s use this as an opportunity to make India a place where a “girl can do anything,” as she used to say.

If we do this together, not only can we create a stronger and more powerful India, but we will honour Nirbhaya’s memory and ensure that she lives forever.

WTF Is Consensual Rape?

I recently read an article in DNA Analysis saying there was a 43% rise in rape cases in Bombay, in the first six months of this year. However, this increase in rape is not what made my skin crawl but the fact that it went on to say that the Bombay Police claimed the statistic was misleading because “90% of the acts (or rape) have been purely consensual.” Pardon my French but what the fuck is consensual rape – are they suggesting that there are women and children who ask to be raped? And it begs the question of why such a term even exists or is deemed acceptable in our social and legal lexicon?

I immediately scoured the internet to see if this nonsensical and offensive term actually existed anywhere else in the world. Not surprisingly I could not find a single reference, other than five solitary entries on a site called Urban Dictionary – a place where entries can be created by anyone with internet access. Below were the five entries defining consensual rape; created by some clearly sick people:

  1. Upon a messy break-up, one or both parties of a relationship will wish they never had sex with the other person ever, thereby making each lovemaking session that occurred between them known as “consensual rape”.
  2. When both Parties agree upon a role play situation in which one will try to force coitus with the other person. The rapist will try engage in copulation whilst the rapee must defend against the rape .The rape will end once fornication has begun or the rapist gives up and is unable to to force sex.
  3. When two people are on the ground playfighting in positions that looks more like violent sex to anyone nearby.
  4. When, during the act of being raped, the victim offers to cooperate with the rapist. The impending rape becomes a win-win situation due to: 1) the rapist gets some and 2) the victim doesn’t get the full effects of an actually, violent rape.
  5. This occurs when a person attempts to rape another person, but in a turning of the tables, the other person then attempts to rape the first rapist. Resulting in simply angry sex.

It seems the Bombay police department has been consulting these definitions because I could find no other mentions of this term it legal references anywhere in the world. Please note the startlingly similarity in definition provided by DCP Mahesh Patil, spokesperson of the Bombay police, (in the DNA article): “Most of the times, the rape case is filed following an affair that went sour.” That apart, as per the law, we have to arrest the person if he ends up having an affair with a minor and the parents file a complaint. “In all these cases, the act is consensual but we have to arrest the accused on charge of rape.” (Source: “43% rise in rape cases in Mumbai but the police claims more than 90% consensual” – DNA Analysis)

Disturbingly, what the DCP describes in his second sentence, totally writing it off, is known as statutory rape in most parts of the world, and is also considered a criminal offence. It involves having consensual sex with a minor who is below the age of consent; which in most countries is 18 years of age. This law was designed to protect children and minors from sexual abuse, which is a major problem in India.

We can never solve India’s sexual assault epidemic if we allow the use of, and are willing to accept the terms like consensual rape. It means that as a society we are signaling that there are acceptable and non-criminal forms of rape. More worryingly it just re-enforces what many male leaders have been saying on the issue of rape; that women are often at fault or were somehow asking for it. The existence of a term like consensual rape is abhorrent. It is one we must all reject and wipe from our societal vocabulary before we can start to change attitudes. Perhaps, it helps explains why marital rape is still not considered a criminal offense by our courts. The bottom line is that rape is a serious crime (as it should be to lie about being raped) and until we can all agree, the women of India will never be safe.

Attitudes on #Rape from India’s Leaders

India Rape Comments

“Badaun Rape Images” by Nikhil Vaish

Like most people, my reaction to the sharing of those horrific images of two young girls hanging from a tree, all over social media, was one of shock. Not because I recoiled at seeing such a gruesome image, but because I felt it once more violated the dignity of the victims. Granted, taste and dignity seem to have fallen by the wayside in a world where every person with a smartphone and social media account is rushing to share breaking news. Of course’ rarely does anyone check the veracity of the items being shared, check the facts or even stop to think about the impact or repercussions it might have on victims or their families.

There are those who argued that it was acceptable, in the Badaun case, to share the image because it gave voice to a desperate cry for help; one that has gone unheard for too long. That is helped focused media attention on all the nameless, faceless Dalit women who face sexual abuse and rape, can never speak of it and will never be able to go to the police or get justice. So perhaps it was not such a bad thing to share to help break our apathy.

I don’t disagree with waking people up and getting them to take action. I also believe that it will take all of us to speaking out, and the whole nation demanding change before the women of India can feel safe on our streets and in their own home. But I still do not condone the sharing of these images. Not because of the discomfort of having to see them, but for the simple fact that we are saying that our being told that a woman has been raped and killed is no longer enough to shake our apathy. Are we so jaded, so over-stimulated with social media, saturated by tweets and Facebook posts that we need to be shocked to take the issue of rape seriously? Did we need to see images of Jyoti Singh Pandey’s mutilated body (Nirbhaya) to take action and raise our voices in protest?

The fact that a woman has been raped should be enough to cause outrage. That we need to see images of the victims of this horror, in order for us to take any action, says something much more worrying about us.

We Are All Tarun Tejpal

As an Indian man, I feel we have let our daughters, sisters, mothers, nieces, aunts, wives and grandmothers down. By staying silent, we have failed to be men. But rather than putting on our burkhas and hiding from this ugly truth, we must fix these medieval attitudes by raising our voices and fighting for the rights of women in our society, and in the workplace.

Sexism, harassment and rape exist in all cultures, as do sexual abuse based on power and position. But in India the problem of inequality is much more deeply rooted in our culture and society. It begins at birth, when boys are considered prized possessions while girls are often discarded and aborted because they are seen as burdens on families. The practice of Sati may have been abolished but the attitudes surrounding the practice are still prevalent today. We are taught that women are inferior to men; that they are weaker and dependent on men for everything. It is almost as if we are not so subtly told that they are our property, particularly if we are married to them or if they work for us. And it is this attitude among men that prevails, even among the most educated, accomplished and erudite amongst us. Think about the basic fact that when you and I walk around the streets of any city in India, board a train or a bus, as men we NEVER feel uncomfortable or fear for our safety. Men do not have to deal with being stared at to the point of feeling uncomfortable or being whistled at or even being physically violated by someone touching our buttocks or grabbing our penis. Men do not have to deal with these personal abuses. As a man we can dress how we want, smoke, drink and curse openly, in public, and without any fear or repercussion – but what happens when a woman does the same thing? We immediately attach a label to her; if she seems drunk we say she is a loose woman. If a woman curses, we think it unladylike behaviour or again associate her with having loose morals. Are we not all guilty of thinking this at one time or another, even if not acting on it?

Tarun Tejpal was a crusader for the little people. He fought for those who had been wronged in our society, from taking down corrupt politicians to championing women’s rights. This is a man who preached moral values and claimed to hold himself to higher principles and beliefs. Yet, it is now very clear that when it really comes down to understanding what women’s rights encompasses and true equality among the sexes, he is really no better than the men on that Delhi bus that raped and killed Jyoti Singh Pandey. We can no longer pretend that rape and sexual harassment are confined to poor slum dwellers or the non-educated. Tarun Tejpal is not only considered a well-educated, society intellectual but part of the wealthy elite of our country. People will argue that I am being harsh to equate Tejpal with the animals on that Delhi bus, but the truth is that his attitude and lack of respect for a woman is no different from the uneducated man on the street. Granted men like him do not stand on street corners eve teasing every woman that walks by but his actions in the end lead to exactly the same outcome; that of humiliating, disrespecting, disempowering and abusing a woman. Perhaps, his actions are worse because at least on the streets women know to have their guard up, as opposed to the perceived safety of their workplace.

What Mr. Tejpal did was violate a sacred trust between an employer and employee. Mr. Tejpal has already admitted to as much in his email correspondences with the woman. An innocent man does not say things like; “My punishment has already been upon me, and will probably last till my last day.” Or “I must do the penance that lacerates me.” That he is guilty of sexually assaulting this woman is not in doubt, but I suspect he has done the same or worse to many other women, who have yet to speak out. It is their silence that has emboldened him and deluded him into believing that he has done nothing wrong. Mr. Tejpal, like Moishe Katsav and many other men with great power, begin to delude themselves into thinking that they can define their on their own moral code. If you read the victim’s letter to Shoma Chaudhury (source: “The complete email trail of the Tarun Tejpal sexual assault case” – IBN Live), and then read Mr. Tejpal’s response to her saying things like – “I had no idea that you were upset, or felt I had been even remotely non-consensual” – you will begin to see how deluded men like him can become. Powerful men are used to getting their way, all the time, and not accustomed to hearing the word NO. I think men like Tejpal begin to believe that because of the great good they have done in society, it somehow forgives them their trespasses, and that they can conduct themselves in a way that does not apply to the rest of us mere mortals (or perhaps they are just sociopaths).

What should trouble us more in this instance is that there are still many people (including a number of women) who are trying to argue Mr. Tejpal’s defense by questioning the victim’s motivations. Even after it is clear that this is not some attempt to malign his reputation or a political smear campaign, as Mr. Tejpal now claims. Are we all programmed to automatically give the benefit of the doubt to the rich and powerful and mistrust the word of a nobody? Perhaps this is what predators like Mr. Tejpal count on. They pick on victims they believe are weak and who will not fight back or speak out. And if the victim does say something, then people like Mr. Tejpal believe it will be easy to discredit them because his word will hold more sway over a nameless, faceless person. However, this time both victim and her predator have acknowledged the events transpired and Mr. Tejpal even admits to “twice attempting “a sexual liaison” despite the reporter’s “clear reluctance.” (source: “Tarun Tejpal’s informal apology” – NDTV). This issue also goes back to the root of the problem of inequality in India. What can we expect when the President of India’s son calls anti-rape protestors “dented and painted.” We are trained to vilify victims by ostracizing and further humiliating them in a very public way. Instead of supporting them we question their motivations, this after the woman has just experienced not only a traumatic event but been the victim of a serious crime. Also, consider that recently in response to a legal intern writing a blog about a Supreme Court judge sexually harassing her (she is still too scared to file a formal complaint), judges have announced that they will stop hiring female interns as the solution to this allegation. And people are asking why she took so long to report the incident; why she continued to party after he attacked her and still fulfill her job duties?

Rape and sexual assault is the most under reported crime in the world. There is a sense of humiliation, a loss of dignity, powerlessness and severe physical and mental trauma and shock associated with such a violation of a person’s body. Additionally, as in this case, there is also a real fear of retaliation by a powerful and wealthy perpetrator. The victim would likely lose her job and fear for her future financial security. She had to consider that Mr. Tejpal might decide to ruin her life with his power, money and connections in order to protect himself. He has already shown willingness to smear the victim’s character. So it is not surprising that she waited a week to formally file a complaint but laudable that she actually found the courage to do it. We must now support and protect her, and in doing so encourage all the women who have been abused by Mr. Tejpal to also come forward.

This is not about being holier than thou or about fighting for feminism and women’s liberation; I am simply talking about ensuring that women have the same rights in society as men and can walk down the street or wander their office halls without any fear of humiliation or physical molestation. We must give the thousands of women who have suffered these crimes, in silence, a voice. We need to create an environment where women can come forward and report these offenses, without fear of reprisal or retaliation. If this happened to your daughter, sister or wife – would you be questioning their timing, their motives or doubting what they say? We can no longer afford to stay silent. If we remain silent and let men like him get away with these crimes, then we will all be equally complicit and no different from Mr. Tejpal.