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West Bengal gangrape: When women defend brutality

As is the tradition with reporting incidents of sexual violence in the mainstream media, one gruesome detail after other of the gangrape of a 20-year-old tribal girl in Birbhum has been steadily tumbling out on newspapers, TV channels and social media. After the village headman was arrested alongside the 13 rape accused, some villagers agreed to talk to reporters, recounting a horrific incident piece by piece where a village stood aside and watched as a 20-year-old got brutalized all night.

A village comprising as many women as men. None of whom, presumably, uttered a single word in protest when the proceedings were ordered and then carried out. While you might want to jump in the defence of these women - any woman in such a set up must be horrified enough to not speak up - there are only as many redeeming qualities about them as the men in the village, who saw no problem in what was happening.

According to a report on The Times of India, the women in the village boycotted the media, sparred with the police and even told reporters and authorities that the victim needed to be reprimanded for her conduct. Many of them even tried to stop the police from arresting the men and fronted a strong protest, declaring that the men were innocent and were being framed.

TOI quotes a woman in the village as saying:

While women worldwide are trying to mitigate sexual violence, there are others who help perpetuate it. Agencies.

While women worldwide are trying to mitigate sexual violence, there are others who help perpetuate it. Agencies.

"We know that she lived elsewhere with that mason. She made a lot of money. How can we allow the family back? Nothing happened. She made false allegations against our family members because we opposed her illicit relationship," said Panmuni Tudu, a villager. 

While we routinely hold men responsible for atrocities on women, the social narrative doesn't always bring up the issue of the Indian woman's participation in perpetuating the tradition of sexual violence against other women. Misogyny, in fact, is as much a disease with women as it is with men in India.

A recent debate, led by CNN IBN deputy editor Sagarika Ghose, televised at Khirkee extension saw women in the neighborhood enthusiastically defending Somnath Bharti's actions. In fact, a lady even ran towards a guest wagging her finger violently, while reiterating the fact that the women who were hauled up were indeed on the wrong side of law.

In another incident, reported by a single mother living in Kolkata, a whole middle class neighbourhood, women included verbally assaulted her and threatened her when she dared to scold a gang of teenage boys for continuously harassing her introverted, shy teenaged son. One of the boys she scolded had even pulled her son's shorts down in public, which led the single mother to intervene. Alongside the men, she said in her account, the women in the neighbour questioned her character, her choice of clothes and branded her a careless, loose woman.

In 2011, a lesbian couple committed suicide in Bengal after they were forcibly separated by the villagers. Most women in the village scathingly criticised the victims, where as the men came up with more diplomatic explanations for having them separated.

Across class, caste and religion, violence against women have been perpetuated and has thrived with support and participation from the women themselves. It is maybe time to make women accountable for the crimes they commit against their brethren when they zealously defend violence against other women.

Institutions like the National Commission for Women and the State Commissions for Women should take up charge of designing intervention programmes and if needed put in processes of strongly pointing out that these women are wrong and will be reprimanded if needed.