All of these strike a bitter and personal note with me. As an educated young woman from a middle-class Brahmin family, my parents did the best they could to give me a sheltered and comfortable childhood. Yet, my memories of that childhood are marred with incredibly painful and traumatising incidents of being repeatedly and violently raped. My story is neither unique, nor uncommon.
I had a normal, almost mundane childhood, until I was seven or eight. A close family friend, who often looked after my brother and I, raped me brutally the first time he was alone with me. Over the following five years or so, he continued to rape me repeatedly, at every opportunity he had. This brings me to those trite arguments as to why rapes happen. I was hardly a woman dressed inappropriately; I wasn’t even a woman at the time. So-called Western values had next to no place in my conservative family, or in their chosen circle of friends. My abuser certainly wasn’t of questionable moral character (outwardly), in fact, he went out of his way to be charitable, god-fearing and generous. Neither was he powerful and beyond the law. So why wasn’t he brought to justice?
The answer to this is perhaps worse than the crimes themselves. I was never believed when I tried to tell my parents and other adults. When I started refusing to go to weddings and family gatherings, I was thought of as petulant and unsocial. When I hid in my room every time we had guests, I was dismissed as shy and introverted. There is a culture of blame, disbelief and silence that surrounds rape in our country, in our families. We are quick to highlight the extreme cases, make an example out of them, and deflect attention from what happens in countless households around the country. Rape is not a crime restricted to a single class, age or community.
The debate surrounding rape is farcical at best and outright misogynistic at worst. The National Crime Records Bureau reported that over the past 20 years, the chance of a woman being raped has doubled while the rates of conviction have declined by a third. And the public discourse in response to it? Well, it ranges from suggesting that rapes result from ‘consensual sex’ to child marriage to fix the problem, not to mention the appalling treatment of rape victims by the police. The prevailing social attitude is one where women are expected to be subordinate and ‘know their place’. Women are seen to have little or no social worth. They are expected to suffer, and even deserve domestic violence and rape.
Worst of all, rape is often seen as a one-dimensional issue, attributed to poor policing, victim-blaming, or a criminal psychology. This can hardly be the case with a crime that permeates all classes of society and occurs in varied situations. There are social, criminal, psychological, and most of all, gender discriminatory dimension to rape. We need to talk about all of them, and acknowledge how widespread this problem is.
No one can claim to have all the answers to such a complex issue, and all I have are things that helped me along my own journey. As a victim, the most important thing is to seek help from the right places. Feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem are common following sexual assault and talking to a counsellor or psychiatrist can be valuable in working through these issues. Generally, it becomes harder to trust people, so it is necessary to build a network of supportive people around you in the form of friends and close family. Most importantly, do things that you find meaningful and uplifting; for me it was in the form of travel and reading.
The most important thing of all is to teach women, especially young women, their self-worth. I finally emerged from emotionally and socially crippling teenage years to being an independent, confident and occasionally opinionated woman. I have worked long and hard to have a successful start in my career as a scientist and in having a healthy and loving relationship, but this was not a solitary or easy journey.
The need of the hour is to replace glib rhetoric with real social change.
— The author is a 26-year-old researcher and scientist