Rape is never just about sex. A high degree of violence frequently takes it from a physical and emotional offence straight to homicide.
After the initial tch-tch and feelings of helplessness, there is a human tendency to justify such crimes. Rapes bring out the inner rapist in most people. When Nirbhaya suffered that brutal attack in the back of a bus, the kitchen consensus was on the lateness of the hour, the boyfriend aspect, the dependence on public transport, on pre-marital permissiveness.
Yes, it is wrong, all sanctimoniously agreed, but. And in that ‘but’ is the second rape. Jisha, the law student in Kerala that was raped and killed last week by a stalker in a yellow shirt (according to witnesses) is being raped over and over again on social media, in small talk, by vested interests.
The 30-year-old was butchered to death in her own home at Vattolippidi Canal Bund near Perumbavoor in Kerala’s Ernakulam district. Her body had at least 30 injuries, including in the genitals. Gory details are doing routine rounds. Everyone knows where she was stabbed and how many times, and that her small intestine had spilled out.
There is a peculiar tone and facial expression reserved for sharing such information. A mixture of ‘how sad’ and ‘did she have it coming, you think?’
Her house, apparently, has turned into a museum with people going in and out, posting pictures of it on social media. A tourist spot if you please. Mementos and souvenirs are probably in the offing. In the aftermath of grievous personal attacks like these, the absence of taste is more keenly felt.
First comes the naming and shaming; we are informed of the identity straight away in an act of insta-reporting. Then come the insinuations. No one says ‘RIP rape victim, we will pull out the intestines of your rapist, too, we promise’. Instead, there are the whispers, the gossip, and the character assassination.
There is a thin line between drawing public attention to an injustice and salacious reference.
Talk now revolves around the number of times the victim was stabbed – 30 times – the exact spots where she was stabbed and, oh, how her back was covered with bite marks.
Confusing semantics follow. The victim is called ‘survivor’ to bestow posthumous honour, as if that was what was really at stake and in doubt – her angle on the whole issue.
Rape itself was included in the FIR as an afterthought. Emerging details go into the ‘unsoundness’ of her mother’s mind. And the incident seems to have flushed out ‘neighbours’ with lots to say and nothing to do.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) blames the Congress-led UDF government and the state police of a cover-up. Perhaps, ahead of state polls on May 16, no one wants an awkward silence. But now that the Centre is asking for a report and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice to the state government, Kerala is reluctantly pulling up its socks, or tying up its mundu.
Kerala was never a safe place for women. The staring alone makes women cover up more than they normally would. Incest, suicides, domestic abuse – the state is in the running when it comes to statistics. But when Kerala, in the wake of Nirbhaya gang-rape, murmured how they can’t send their daughters to an unsafe Delhi anymore, it was presumed that they were keeping their own women secure. That particular mask has come off. Now the South, like the North before it, has to admit that their men, too, rape.
Perhaps the saddest detail in the case is that the police have preserved the victim’s tooth for DNA analysis. It is difficult to remember that beyond the scandal, beyond the word ‘rape’, beyond the gruesome details that shocked the nation is a person who lived her life like you and me and who is now just a tooth. Teeth are for smiling, not to be preserved in a lab somewhere.
Rape is rampant all over the world. It remains a political act, a terrorist act, an inhuman act. But rape doesn’t always happen like this – with cymbals and cacophony and news cameras. It happens in bedrooms, silently, by ‘loved’ ones; a kiss in the end doesn’t make it something else. In Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, the rapist says ‘I love you’ just before he kills his victim. Like that was what she really wanted to hear.
Rape doesn’t happen because women are promiscuous or preoccupied. Rape happens because of rapists. No one wants to remember to carry her pepper spray. Most women – like most men – prefer to die from old age.