A problem of being

Jul 08, 2012, 10:17 IST | Paromita Vohra

How many ways are there to rape a person? Someone should ask Pinki Pramanik.

How many ways are there to rape a person? Someone should ask Pinki Pramanik. She could tell you that rape — a violent, non-consensual sexual attack — isn’t only an action, but also an experience.

You can experience rape via the state machinery, in which an investigation is punishment enough. Pinki Pramanik is a woman by her declaration, until decided otherwise. Yet, she has been manhandled, by male cops, and image upon image of this plays incessantly in the media. She has been housed with male inmates. And finally, an MMS of her naked, has been released during her time in police custody. The police, who have exhibited a zeal never before displayed in a rape case, say they can’t do anything about this MMS until someone files an FIR. How nice, they’ve suddenly decided to respect procedure.

You can also experience rape via the medical system, which will subject you to test upon sex determination test despite each test being inconclusive. It’s as if by hook or crook there is an obsessive need to define one sex for Ms Pramanik. This, even when doctors know better than anyone that sex and gender are a spectrum with male and female on either end; and that there is such a state as being intersex, i.e., having male and female characteristics, in this spectrum.

You can feel raped by the media, which rams people’s lives just with its blithe ignorance. Television journalists show no respect for the facts of people’s lives by informing themselves of the complexities of identity and the differences between sex and gender. Ms Pramanik’s sex may be male or female or intersex. Gender, one’s social and cultural identity, is something one chooses, although it may be imposed on us partly by entrenched cultural ideas of how a man or woman should be. Even if Ms Pramanik’s family or community imposed a gender on her, she has chosen to identify herself as a woman and that’s her gender.

Police escort former Indian athlete Pinki Pramanik to the Barasat District court on June 15. Asian Games gold medallist woman athlete Pramanik, who won a gold medal at the 2006 Asian Games, appeared in court charged with raping her former lover who has alleged that she is actually a man. Pic/ AFP Photo. Imaging/ Amit Bandre

What is Pinki Pramanik really being ‘investigated’ for? Certainly not the crime she’s accused of. She’s being harassed, humiliated and symbolically assaulted because she does not fit into limited and bigoted imaginations of gender. She has the misfortune of being in a society, which, far from respecting difference, finds the most sadistic ways it can of punishing it through public spectacle.

One need not dismiss and doubt the accusation of rape Ms Pramanik’s partner of many years has made, in order to defend Ms Pramanik’s rights. Questions may arise of what she is calling rape, why now and not earlier, why she’s acting as if she has suddenly discovered Ms Pramanik has a penis and so on. There is a due process to investigate the allegation, which can be followed, with fairness to all.

But who will investigate the constitution, tendencies and crimes of those who collectively attack and dismember the idea of Pinki Pramanik with such savagery? Society is recurrently being asked to confront the reality that oppressive traditional ideas do not represent the truth of people’s existence. When it comes to sex and gender, maleness and femaleness, sexual choice and relationships, more and more people live a truth very different from the advertisements for fairness creams, matrimonial services and cars would have us believe.

Do we find it difficult to accept something we’ve been taught is abnormal? Of course. But that doesn’t mean we can’t grow up and get over it. Otherwise, in our violent responses to other people’s realities, we find ourselves a failed society, future superpower or not.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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