Japanese tourist raped: How it highlights our warped perception of sexual consent

A young Japanese tourist arrives in Kolkata by herself and walks into a hell beyond belief.

She is allegedly befriended by cheats who pretend to be tour guides, is tricked and coerced into going to a beach town with them, raped and robbed and then spends two weeks in captivity in a village before managing to escape and tell her story.

In the narrative of India as “no country for the female tourist” this is a particularly horrifying story – a protracted nightmare. The Times of India quotes police as saying there might be others like her who did not go to the police.

What’s strange is this story is not bigger news splashed all over Indian media. Perhaps it’s because despite the onslaught of rape stories all over the media these days, reporting on rape is still a minefield.

In a way it’s easier when it’s an open and shut case like the young woman who boarded that bus on that fateful December night in Delhi in 2012. The rapists were complete strangers to her, she fought fiercely and was brutalised. There was never any question of consent whatsoever. In a way the case was so black and white in its brutality, it was easy to anoint her Nirbhaya and build an entire movement around her.

 Japanese tourist raped: How it highlights our warped perception of sexual consent

The house where the woman was allegedly held captive. AFP

The Japanese tourist story is trickier because it unfolds over days and weeks, not one horrific night. What the police say is the accused – Shabir Khan, Wasim Khan, Shahid Iqbal and brothers Sajid Khan and Javed Khan – are part of a gang that preys on people like this tourist. They use a smattering of Japanese to win their trust and then trick them out of money and worse. One of the accused even had the nickname “Japanese Iqbal.” Kazumi Endo, the Japanese consul general in Kolkata tells The Telegraph this is not the first crime against a Japanese tourist in the city. Tourists who speak little English are particularly vulnerable to conmen.

Questions will immediately crop about why this young woman even went with these strangers to the beach town of Digha. And how she was “persuaded” or “pressured” into going with them to Gaya even after being forced to part with her debit card and its pin in Digha.

According to The New York Times, Javed Khan’s wife, Rahnuma claims the woman slept with her during her stay in the village and Rahnuma even gave her some money, about Rs 10,000 for her travel expenses. While reports have said she was held in a basement at gunpoint near Gaya, other villagers tell the media they saw the young woman several times during her stay.

“I find it difficult to believe that Javed would rape a foreign woman,” said Naresh Manjhi according to the New York Times. “We in the village cannot say whether the woman was confined by force or living there by choice.” Another villager however said Jawed had “boasted” he had sex with the woman though he could not say whether she was being held against her will.

This is all going to get murkier as soon as the question of consent comes in. We struggle to grasp the idea that consent is not some kind of carte blanche to do anything and everything with anyone and everyone.

If a tourist trusts some “tour guides” she has barely met and goes to beach town with them, she can be guilty of naiveté and gullibility. But it does not mean she has consented to being raped, defrauded and robbed. And leaving this particular case aside, even if someone agrees to a consensual sexual encounter or a fling it does not mean she can be raped at will, by some stranger and his friends, and held somewhere against her will for two weeks. And yes, even if someone is a sex worker, she does not surrender her right to consent at the door.

But as is clear from the Tehelka report of candid conversations with policemen about rape, our law enforcement has a very different idea of consent. It basically boils down to “she asked for it.”

Dharamveer Singh, Additional SHO at Indirapuram says “Bahut kum, minimum hota hai. Rare hota hai ki ek ladki ko 10 ladke zabardasti pakad le... car mein bhi koi innocent ladki nahi gayi hai. Wahi gayi jo kisi ladke ke saath sambandhit zaroor hai (It’s very rare that a girl is forcefully picked up by 10 boys. A girl who gets into a car with boys is never innocent. If she does, she definitely has a relationship with at least one of them).”

Sub-inspector Roop Lal in Gurgaon says “Birthday ke sambandh main party do… aur woh akeli ladki hai, un teeno ke saath jaa rahi hai, aur dekh rahi hai ki saale daaru bhi pee rahe hai saath main. To yeh bilkul ladies ko pata hai is baat ka, ki kya hoga. Jab wo khud hi party karne lagi hai, to wo rape nahi keh sakte (If a girl asks for a birthday party and is alone with 2-3 boys and sees they are drinking, she knows what is likely to happen. When she herself goes for such a party, she can’t complain of rape).”

70 percent of rape cases, say two offices at Old Faridabad police station, are “consensual sex” which turns into rape if someone catches them or money is denied.

Given this elastic perception of “consent”, the Japanese tourist is lucky that the police even filed the FIR when she came to them with this long and rambling story of rape and extortion spread across states. “We are very grateful to Calcutta police for the prompt action taken by them after the tourist filed the FIR” says consul-general Endo.

Perhaps it helped that she was a foreign tourist and a consulate could have been involved unlike Suzette Jordan, the Park Street rape survivor whose credibility and character was attacked from the get-go even by ministers for daring to be a mother and having drinks in a nightclub and getting into a car with a man she had just met there. All of those were presented as markers of consent. When she went to collect her FIR she says cops taunted her and joked about beers and discos. Even at that time a politician said there was a "big difference" between the Park Street rape and the Delhi Nirbhaya rape.

Perhaps had the Japanese tourist been more savvy about the media reports on police and rape and the difficulty in filing an FIR, she might not have bothered to go to the station to try and file an FIR. But that she did and it got taken seriously and was acted upon promptly is one sliver of hope in a sordid bleak story.

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Updated Date: Jan 05, 2015 14:10:56 IST