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NO HARM IF THE SLIP SHOWS

It is good to know that the president’s son has been a student. That means India has at least one (of course, there must be more) educated member of parliament, and that too, from West Bengal. And not only has he been a student, but he has also taken part in student movements. It is no surprise that with such a broad education he should graduate to the kind of contemptuous confidence many Indian males share when talking about women. It was not a hideous rape that concerned this Congress MP from Jangipur, but his belief that the various ‘beautiful’ women with ‘painted faces’ joining the protests were definitely not students. They were just out there for the fun of it.

Indians have a lot of options in the approach to rape. They can choose. One is to insult and belittle the protestors of violence against women — it is, after all, the birthright of the man to violate, hurt, humiliate and discard women. Another — and this may be the most common approach in terms of numbers, for it is gender-neutral — is to label rape ‘a fate worse than death’. For the raped woman, not for the criminal raping her. Famous for her oratory, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, passionately made known her empathy for the girl raped on a Delhi bus by calling her a ‘living corpse’ — if she managed to survive, that is. Not a salute to a survivor but a condemnation of a human being who can only be seen evermore as a sexually ‘sullied’ victim. Given that this is the former six-term Bharatiya Janata Party MP’s emotion bursting forth (the president’s son is only a first-term MP), together with the unavoidable observation that this is a woman speaking, Indian citizens would be free to infer that all approaches to rape converge, institutionally, on an instinctive devaluation of women, reflecting the inherited, structurally determining, violence-inducing, crude, ignorant and shameless inequality of the sexes in society.

Because the attitude is institutionalized, comments about rape, ranging from the apparently concerned to the apparently casual, reck no boundaries of region or political party. Rape is a joke, a passing insult, a recurring fantasy, a dream of ultimate virile power, a political weapon, a tip-of-the-tongue witticism. A former minister of West Bengal from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) just aimed such a witticism at the chief minister of his state, meaning to insult her while, maybe unconsciously, putting himself in the rapist’s role. The thought of rape is so close to the surface of the mind in cross-gender interactions in all spheres, so ‘naturalized’ in the preferred male child that no education can weaken or erase it. So far. The words come tripping out as the act spreads and becomes more frequent. The ‘off the cuff’ remarks are exactly that, unhesitating expressions of attitudes to male violence against women that are coeval with the Indian consciousness. No wonder the apologies, when they are made, sound like inept lies.