Naming Delhi gangrape victim: Why it's not our choice

Minister of State for Human Resources Development, Shashi Tharoor has sparked off another controversy on Twitter, by stating that the government should 'honour' the Delhi gangrape victim by naming the new anti-rape law after her, if her parents don't object to it. He wrote, "Wondering what interest is served by continuing anonymity of #DelhGangRape victim. Why not name & honour her as a real person w/own identity?."

Former IPS officer, Kiran Bedi has also come out in support of this and tweeted out that the victim's name should be made public.

Bedi and Tharoor's argument while noble is highly problematic. Yes, we all need to fight the stigma that is attached to rape but is naming the victim the only way to do this? Especially a victim who has died and thus cannot speak for herself?  There's no doubt that the shame needs to be located on the perpetrators of the attack and not the victim herself but the truth is that in Indian society, for many women rape remains a matter of shame, less of their own choice and more because as a society we are ill-equipped to deal with rape.

For instance, this report in the Indian Express highlights how a former rape victim regrets going public with the case. Note her name was never revealed but she still faces stigma from her own relatives and this despite the fact that the culprit was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Protestors  at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

She says, “I lost out on life. I think I should not have complained against the rape. The incident left me and my father isolated. Since then, not a single relative has visited us. Their attitude has ensured that I am stuck with the stigma of being a rape victim.”

For rape victims, the trauma doesn't just end with the conviction of the guilty party, it goes beyond that.  To argue that naming rape victims will help fight stigma, is naivete at its best.

In the case of the Delhi gangrape victim, there's a bigger problem with revealing her name. First and foremost, nearly every other personal detail about this girl has been splashed out in the papers. From her village to how much her parents spent to educate her, what course she was doing, where she studied, we even have pictures of her cremation and of her ashes.

So yes, we might not know the name of this girl, but her community probably knows the victim now, something the law says should not happen. In fact the Delhi Police, has registered a case against an English daily, for publishing material which could lead to the identification of the 23-year-old gangrape victim.

There's another problem with naming her and this one goes beyond what she symbolises or the fact that her particular case has sparked citizen outrage all across India. The question about naming the victim should not even arise, simply because in this case we are overlooking the agency of the victim and her family.

The victim herself has succumbed to the attack, and yes while it's true that she wanted to live and indeed fought very hard to do that, the right to reveal her identity lies firmly with her. Asking her parents to reveal their daughter's name would just be a cruel, cruel thing to do, a constant reminder of the horror and trauma they suffered. It's time we stop pretending that this family's daughter sacrificed herself for our nation's awakening as some believe. She was assaulted and murdered, that is the harsh truth.

When it comes to how important agency is, I'd like to give an example of the Central Park Jogger case, where a woman was raped and nearly beaten to death in New York's Central Park. The woman lost her memory due to severe brain damage and her chances for survival were very low. But no one in the media or her family chose to reveal her identity and for years she was known as the Central Park Jogger. Once she made her recovery, she came out and spoke about the attack. The point to note is she did it on her own terms, when she felt she was ready for it.

Personally, I don't need to know anything about the Delhi gangrape victim, other than the fact that she suffered a brutal assault due to which she lost her life. For me that is enough to want to make a change, name or no name.

Updated Date: Jan 02, 2013 11:20 AM

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