A five-year-old went out to play. She didn’t come home for two days. She’s now in a hospital, after having spent the past two days suffering the kind of agony and trauma that we can’t even begin to imagine. It doesn't matter how old you are, there are no words to describe the horror of being trapped with a man who was once a familiar face and is now your kidnapper. The uncle who lived downstairs is transformed into a creature that not only rapes you, but shoves objects like candles and a bottle of oil into your body and tries to strangle you.
It seems as though every other day, a report of a sexual assault comes in that tests our limits. How much more cruelty will we as a society absorb? How much more will it take before we are numbed into depressed and despairing inertia? It’s already a struggle to find even the energy to protest, lament, be outraged. Some of us will be angrier than we were a few days ago when the most recent case of rape was reported; many will become even more afraid for themselves and the safety of the women in their lives.
The truth that we’re being forced to confront is that there’s no restraining those inclined towards rape and sexual abuse in India. As is obvious from the number of cases that have been reported in the last few months, even the death penalty doesn’t act as a deterrent. Clearly, what strikes a rapist when he spots prey is how easily he can get away with the crime; not what could happen to him if he were caught. The reason for this is something that we toss around in jest and conversation all the time: men can get away with anything.
We can amend laws, try to close loopholes, formulate training programmes, but all of this is futile because those who commit these and ‘lesser’ crimes feel little to no fear of censure. When a man stares at a woman’s cleavage or gropes a woman in a public place; when he takes a seemingly innocuous photograph of an unknown woman, crops it and puts it up on an online pornography forum; when a man kidnaps a child or a toddler or a woman and rapes her brutally, his first thought isn’t what will happen to him if he’s found out. Because it’s never his fault.
When a crime is committed against a man—petty or serious—we look to place the blame and responsibility on the accused. The man is the victim and there is a concerted effort from all arms of society to restore his dignity and stature. Whether it’s a case of pickpocket or murder, our first reaction is to establish someone other than the victim as the one responsible. Unlike when a woman is the victim of a crime, it’s never his fault. He doesn’t ask for it. Crimes happen to him because there’s something wrong with the person who targeted him.
When a woman is the victim, however, it’s mostly her fault. If we don’t blame her, then either we focus all our energies in trying to find a sympathetic perspective upon the ones who commit the crime – remember all those reports about the backgrounds of the men involved in the Delhi gang-rape? – or we try to dismiss the problem. Those of a more patriarchal mindset react like the Delhi police did. They have been accused of not taking the case of a missing little girl seriously. There are allegations that the police offered the family money in exchange for not creating a fuss. The rest of us tend to focus our energies upon according a martyr-like status upon the victim. It's the only option, it seems, when we can't change the mindset of an entire society, right?
We’re justifiably furious with the Delhi police but let’s not delude ourselves. The Delhi police isn’t alone. Either actively or passively, we’ve all contributed to this bizarre social mindset in which men are the only ones against whom crimes are committed. What happens to women is either her fault or a hellish misfortune. The blame isn’t pinned upon a person. There are forces larger than an individual at play, we’re told. There’s some truth in that, but perhaps we’d do better to emphasise the guilty are the villains, rather than those whose horrific actions can be justified or explained by past experiences or socialisation or psychological jargon.
Let those who commit crimes like rape feel hunted, feel the burden of guilt and censure. Until we’ve matured as a society to the stage where we can actually appreciate the strength of those who survive brutality, perhaps we should start pinning blame and not forgetting the names of those who commit these inhuman acts. Name the man who kidnapped and raped the little girl fighting for her life. Don't forget his name the way most of us have forgotten the names of the men found guilty of the gang-rape in December last year. Plaster his face on every surface, physical and virtual. Let him and those like him know that it doesn’t matter who you are or how well you know your victim or the family, there are consequences—legal and social—for being monsters.