Monday, April 5, 2010

Oh Woman! Be forever vigilant thou!

The other day I received the following chain mail: [Trigger warning]

Woman Arrest Law:

An incident took place in Pune - a young girl was attacked by a man posing as a plain clothes officer; he asked her 2 come 2 the police station when she & her male friend didn't have a driver's license 2 show. He sent the boy off 2 get his license and asked the girl to accompany him to the police station. Took her instead to an isolated area where the horrendous crime was committed.

The law [which most of us are not aware of] clearly states that between 6 pm and 6 am, a woman has the right to REFUSE to go to the Police Station, even if an arrest warrant has been issued against her. It is a procedural issue that a woman can be arrested between 6am and 6pm, ONLY if she is arrested by a woman officer & taken to an ALL WOMEN police station. And if she is arrested by a male officer, it has to be proven that a woman officer was on duty at the time of arrest.

Please fwd this 2 as many girls you know. Also 2 boy's coz this can help them protect their wife, sisters and mother. It is good for us to know our rights.

Do not neglect, fwd to your entire buddy list.

Gee, what an informative mail! Now that I’ve been informed, any time a police officer assaults me I can simply banish hir with a simple shout of “Thou shalt not ravage me! Thou canst not touch me whilst I am protected by the mighty hand of the law!” Pity, all those women who’ve been raped at night by police officers weren’t able to read this mail in time. How easy it would’ve been to stop the rapists by simply exclaiming that arresting women at night/raping is illegal. Of course, rape being illegal and women being aware of their right to not be raped (what a revolutionary idea!) hasn’t stopped the countless rapes that happen daily from happening.

Using euphemisms like ‘horrendous crime’ for words like rape only makes rape more of a taboo subject in the society. We need to speak more and speak openly about rape and our wonderful rape culture[2], not zip our lips and ears up and look away each time someone mentions the r-word.

The law (if such a law exists) is problematic itself. Segregating women in women-only prisons cannot be a long term solution. It accepts men raping women as inevitable; something normal. Men are better than that. Segregating women also makes female officers and female participation in law enforcement a minority, a special category to be called for only when dealing with female criminals. The male police force becomes the default. Both female and male criminals should be arrested at any time and by anyone without a risk to their basic rights.

I also don’t see how having a female officer present would help the situation. This kind of thinking completely ignores the various power dynamics involved. The female officer could be unable to protect the victim if there are multiple assailants and she is alone. Or she could be unwilling to report/bullied into not reporting the assailants, especially if there are senior officers involved, due to the effect it may have on her career. She could also be a wilful accomplice for a variety of reasons such as gaining money, intimidating and establishing authority over the victim or career advancement due to the involvement of senior officers. I don’t think I need to expand on the level of corruption in our police force to explain these motives.

The law also buys into the absurd rape myth of people being raped only at night. There is no data to suggest that this is true.

The law also assumes that only women can be raped and raped only by men. It ignores the possibility of women raping/assaulting women or women being accomplices, of men being raped/assaulted by men or of men being raped/assaulted by women.

Lastly, when I saw the mail asking to be forwarded to men as well as women, I thought that finally some part of the mail is asking men to take responsibility for their actions, to respect women’s rights. I sometimes forget how na├»ve my assumptions are. Of course, the mail wanted men to warn their female friends/relatives to be aware of their rights i.e. take proper precautions for their safety i.e. not get themselves raped i.e. if they’re now raped it’s their own fault as they’ve been informed about their rights and it all happens simply because they aren’t assertive enough. Not once does it ask men to not do the raping. We need to focus our time and energy on asking men to not do the raping. We need to focus our time and energy on putting an end to the horrible rape culture[1] we live in that considers women’s bodies as basic community property. We do not need to focus our time and energy on asking women to be more careful and aware. Women in urban India plan their lives around not getting assaulted; plan how to dress, what/whether to drink, how much to drink/not drink, whom to talk to/not talk to, when to go out/not go out, where to go/not go, where to go/not go at night, where to go/not go alone, how/whether to travel, where to live, whom to meet/not meet, whether to take/not take defence classes and countless other things keeping in mind their safety. But guess what? It. Does. Not. Work. Would there be so many rapes and assaults if it did? But still the onus falls on women to not get themselves raped. Believe me, if there was a solution to enable women to stop rape there’d be billions of women in line to buy it. But there isn’t. The only solution is to consider men responsible for their actions. Teaching women to be aware of their rights won’t be enough if men are not taught to respect those rights.

And even if these tactics did work, expecting women to keep on curtailing their freedoms and take responsibility for something that is always the perpetrator’s fault is unreasonable and unfair. Till what extent are you going to have women cut back on their rights and allow men more and more leeways and excuses? Till the time women have chained and bolted their doors and spend their time shivering under blankets? Till the time men roam all over the Earth doing as they please as if they own the place? The simple morality of it all comes down to consent, and nothing else. An enthusiastic ‘yes’ and an equal participation of both the sexual partners are the only things that can count for consent. If a man feels titillated by the sight of a woman in a short skirt, then that’s his problem. Interpreting that as a sign of sexual consent is his problem. Any ‘signs’ of consent that may have been made can all be overridden with two things: a ‘no’ and a reluctance to participate. Men are not creatures who have no control over themselves and who can thus take no responsibility for their actions. They are thinking, rational beings who can make choices. And even if we accept for a moment that men have no self-control, then the logical conclusion that follows is that men should be the ones to be locked up to protect the society, not women. A great surprise that we never hear about that solution, isn’t it?

Disclaimer: Since the mail was about women being raped by men and since statistics show women being raped by men as the general trend; I’ve focused on that kind of rape. This is not denying that women rape/assault women, men rape/assault men or women rape/assault men. I am also not saying that all men are rapists, rather I’m focusing on the fact that most rapes are committed by men.

[1] For more information on rape culture see this article.

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