One day a few years ago, I was walking along the Reeperbahn in Hamburg when I spotted a wall covered with deeply disturbing graffiti. The text in the art was in German, so I asked my father to translate it. “Horror,” he said, “does not occur in isolation. From it spring other horrors.”
That message from anonymous street-corner wall art has been coming back to me repeatedly for a month, as I follow the developments in the country after the gang rape of a young girl in a moving bus and the nation-wide fury and protests it triggered. The images of relentless protests at Raisina Hill are interrupted in my head by the words of a faceless German graffiti artist. The words make me wonder every time I click on a news report link on the internet and am bombarded with a slew of related links telling me where else in the country women have been raped. The young girl who set herself on fire after being gang raped in Rayagada in Odisha died at a hospital in Vishakhapatnam. Six men have been arrested for allegedly raping a woman in a bus in Gurdaspur in Punjab. Another woman who got off a train in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district was gang raped, murdered and hung from a tree. I find myself not wanting to click on the next few links — there is only so much about sexual violence that one can read before saturation sets in and revulsion turns into fatigue. The anger one feels and the sheer weight of the realization of what one is up against — Asaram Bapu, Mohanrao Bhagwat and Abhijeet Mukherjee are just a few of the many people who represent prevalent mindsets — can be exhausting. But the trends that have emerged in one month are too disturbing to ignore.
That sexual crimes against women have been occurring regularly, daily, and — contrary to what Bhagwat said — in all corners of the country does not require reiteration. What, then, is one to make of the fresh spate of violence in the wake of the nation’s outrage? If these are crimes in defiance of the clamour for amended rape laws and severe punishment for sex offenders, then it could be said that they reflect a deeper, more sinister malaise plaguing society. But one already knows that. One also knows that the rape in Rayagada cannot possibly have been the first to occur in the district. Why, then, have the stories of its other sexual crimes not made news? Delhi is notorious for how unsafe its women are. But not every case of gang rape that occurs in the capital has made news until now.
The country’s anger and the media’s frenzy to stay on top of it all create a few niggling worries. It is as though a nation’s collective outrage in the wake of a rape is what it takes for similar crimes to be vigorously reported. If the media are suddenly reporting on rape in far- flung corners of the country with a new-found sense of justice, then questions of their credibility might arise. It has always been important to report on rape in a manner that does not suggest that any sexual offence is more deserving of news space than another. One wonders why it took so long for this realization to sink in — or if it has sunk in at all.