Mulayam Singh Yadav, once a possible candidate for the Prime Minister’s post, has basically said of rape what you or I might say of the pulling of pigtails on a playground. He wants to abolish the death penalty for rape–but not because he thinks the death penalty is unconscionable. He also wants to, and this is more important, punish women who ‘falsely’ claim rape (footnote 1). If it comes to pass, what this might do to the prevention and punishment of crimes that are rarely reported, and even more rarely prosecuted successfully is anybody’s guess.
Mulayam Singh Yadav is a patriarchal insensitive ignorant asshole. Unsurprisingly, lots of people have said this in the two days since his statement (footnote 2). To stop there, however, is to vilify one man while letting the rest of us off the hook. The culture of abetting rape does not begin and end with one clueless politician.
We live in a culture that normalises the objectification of women but shames them if they revel in their sexuality; a culture that will call a woman a prude for not accepting the objectification of women in public, but will call the same woman a slut for being in charge of her own sex life; so much so that victims of rape are told they “brought it upon themselves.” Mulayam Yadav’s is only the latest (and not necessarily the worst) restatement of this sentiment. And the culture of rape is only the worst symptom of the underlying misogyny that women endure every day. (footnote 3)
This misogyny is also inherent in the way we legally define rape. Indian law defines sexual violence in terms of whether the “modesty” of a woman has been “outraged”. Why every woman must be “modest” is something nobody writing the law seems to have bothered to ask. The worst manifestation of this lunacy was the two-finger test to determine whether a woman reporting that she’s been raped is ‘habituated to sex’. I say was; it was standard procedure until about a month ago; I have no doubt that there are doctors who haven’t got the memo.
All this may have something to do with the fact that the laws we’re talking about were written in 1861. The IPC criminalises adultery (and treats women as if they were their husbands’ property), but–and this is still true, in 2014–has no punishment for marital rape. (footnote 4)
Is it surprising that men who’ve grown up in such a culture treat women like crap? Or talk flippantly about rape in political speeches?
fn1: I am not saying here that “he promised to marry me” should make somebody guilty of rape. The ‘reneging on a promise to marry is tantamount to rape’ doctrine comes from the law’s attempt to define sexual abuse in terms of the damage to the ‘modesty’ of the woman. The sooner we do away with this the better.
fn2: Mulayam Singh Yadav is by no means the only ignorant asshole. His partyman Abu Azmi wants to hang women who get raped. I would point out that he wants us to become one step worse than Saudi Arabia where rape victims are lashed publicly. A parliamentarian from the BJP has called for women to not be allowed to use mobile phones or wear jeans.
fn3: This paragraph is an excerpt from something I wrote with a friend about Steven Pinker’s AMA on reddit. Pinker’s position, we thought, was short-sighted. We didn’t get it published anywhere, but some of you may have seen it.
fn4: If a married man sleeps with an unmarried woman, it isn’t punishable; but it is punishable for a single man to sleep with a married woman, because he would be infringing on another man’s property rights.