I woke up in Paris last weekend to the news of the Delhi protests. I felt relieved. People are not just watching or suffering quietly anymore, I thought to myself. I wanted to be there too, out in the streets of Delhi. For all those times I had to suffer sexual harassment in Delhi, I want to be part of this churning for change now.
My Parisian friends asked me what was going on. And I told them about the new “national outrage” and the stories that had been stoking the anger. That’s when I realised I needed to make a list. What was informing my idea of what’s going on? These stories making it to the headlines, do they have something in common?
Yes, they do have one very obvious thing in common. They are all “sensational” news items. They are either:
-cases with voyeuristic descriptions of how women are stripped or paraded naked;
-rapes that involving a celebrity;
-rapes ending in suicide, murder or mutilation.
By highlighting only these sensational stories, we are making only these rapes seem “real” and making other, more common forms of rape, such as acquaintance rape or marital rape, seem “unreal” or not serious enough to require strict action. Let’s not forget the crimes against women that are being committed every day but not making it to headlines. The suffering of those women also deserves outrage. The Indian media has made a huge effort to break a common rape myth: that women “invite” sexual assault or harassment and that their life is “ruined” if they are raped. This has made a difference to the way in which we talk about victims and survivors. We slam the Khap leaders for saying rapes happen because women fail to do enough to shield themselves from uncontrollable male desire. We make Sheila Dikshit eat her words for saying a woman who is out very late at night is being too adventurous. We give room to “survivors” on television rather than feel sorry for “wrecked victims”. That’s perfect. But we still haven’t realised that the way we talk about the perpetrators of sexual crimes remains seriously flawed.