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Right Wing Trolling Of BJP’s Sushma Swaraj Betrays India’s Culture Of Rape

Rape thrives in a culture where fear looms eternally upon the horizon of possibility.

To call it filth is to dress it up. To call it disgrace is to lend it grace. Let us call it what it is. It is the manifestation of minds so steeped in rape that it is rape that drips from the tips of their fingers onto the screens of their smartphones.

The meaning of rape is a not-yes. It is not waiting, not listening, not looking for a shade of nuance between yes and no, or I’m-feeling-trapped, or what-might-be-the-consequences-of-this-decision?

The meaning of rape is forcing people to do things they do not want to do.

Anyone can do it. Sometimes it is done by mobs, sometimes by friends, sometimes strangers ganging up on one who is not able to protect himself. Or herself.

An unsavoury, undemocratic political culture builds upon rape culture and vice versa. It preys upon the vulnerable and seeks to attach blame to its victims. Just as rape or sexual harassment are assaults upon a person’s physical and emotional autonomy, attacks are launched upon citizens who demonstrate an independent spirit, or exercise the smallest vestige of power, as our minister for external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, has regretfully had to discover.

Rape thrives in a culture where fear looms eternally upon the horizon of possibility. It seeks to plant fear and shame into the bodies of chosen victims and their beloveds, who are horrified at their own helplessness, and will thus experience their own self-respect being eaten up by invisible jaws.

Rape means establishing a power dynamic: who is not going to be punished for damaging other people? Thus, the more people believe that they cannot trust their rulers and their systems to protect them, the more they strive to turn into that creature who cannot be punished, come what may. Consent and dialogue are ever shrinking in such a culture. Above all, rape loves silence.

It loves women who shut up about what their husbands do to hurt them. It loves children who never ask questions about their own bodies. It loves prisoners in jails. It loves broken jaws. It loves people who need salary cheques so badly, they don’t tell the truth in court.

Above all, it loves leaders who claim to speak for millions of people but who end up only listening to power.

There is a school of thought that says: one does what one can as an individual. Swaraj has been doing what she could as an individual in a position of power. She did not make hate speeches herself.

Certainly, she wasn’t running about the streets cheering on mobs. She has instead shown grace and dignity in her office. If she was not permitted to try and build peace with neighbours or to strengthen India’s autonomy against other global powers, she could at least respond to citizens who are in trouble. This is more than what can be said of many other ministers.

The trouble is, it is never enough to not be abusive yourself. Just as you can send security guards with your children to school but will not be able to prevent those guards from abusing your children, you will also not be able to pull away from the consequences of your colleagues’ speeches and actions.

To participate in a political culture that’s built upon a denial of consent, to remain silent while vulnerable groups grow more fearful, to do nothing to punish perpetrators, is to inhabit a rape culture. To strike a dissenting note is to step outside of that culture, to say: I’m sorry, but I’m not supporting this; I’m not going to defend the indefensible.

Some people step out and speak up, and are often seen as more vulnerable than before. Perhaps they are older, or politically isolated, or single. Perhaps they are Adivasis, or from a religious or sexual minority, or just non-conformists. They have as much to lose as anyone else: a body, a life, a career. Still, they set their shoulders against breaches in the dam of justice. They say: you can elevate to power the men who seek to confine and break the citizenry, but I must register my protest.

If a nation wants to dismantle rape culture, it needs politicians who think about whether their words are fanning the flames of justice and consent, or whether their silence is helping the venal and the corrupt. For, to remain silent about the violation of the “other” by one of your own is to participate in the rape of a city, a culture and finally, the motherland.

 

Bio: Writer of various things. Maker of short-ish films. Burner of rotis.

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