By Parul Verma
Since the post-colonial era, India has witnessed a history of sexual assault, molestation, rape and violence against its women. On the rise of any communal riot or national conflict, the body of a woman becomes a semiotic territory, via which a violent sexual narrative is inscribed. This article explores the birth of the political anatomy of a woman, of which hierarchical control and the normalising of the abuse (rape) of the anatomy, is deeply buried in the political and power discourse of rape culture.
India experienced a state of unfathomable auditory stimuli, when the Home Minister of Madhya Pradesh, a BJP politician, Babulal Gaur said, “Rape is a social crime which depends on the man and the woman. It is sometimes right and sometimes wrong”(2014). With the nation already shocked by the compelling power of aberrant tendencies by the centralised power trying to normalise rape, another statement was put forth by the Andhra Pradesh Congress leader Botsa Satyanarayana on the Delhi gang rape, stating “Just because the country attained independence at midnight, is it proper for women moving at midnight?”(2012). These are the views from the government bodies that are involved in formatting the policies that re-structures the society. One cannot ignore how the governing power tacitly sanctions the degree to which society has assimilated the regressive devaluation of women and their sexuality, merging with the idea of submission to the male kingship, which has further had a direct role in shaping women’s selfhood. The bodies of women have become a hegemonic relation via which patriarchy, misogyny and sexism acts and reacts and rape is one of the catalysts that sustain the supremacist essence of the male hegemon community. What imparts rape as “being normal” is the idea that sexual desires are male prerogative that can’t be curbed, the crass exacerbation of display of police apathy in handling rape cases, the idea that a “bad woman” is raped (reinforcing victim blaming) and the fear of stigmatisation suffered by rape victims and their families.
As the article progresses, it will raise crucial questions around rape as a political discourse of declaring supremacy over the Other. How has the political subjection engendered the feminine body to perpetuate the silence and powerlessness, since post-colonial times? How can we deconstruct and understand rape as a product of the patriarchy manufactured “docile body”, without any agency of its own? What are the various techniques of dismantling rape which concentrates on exposing the localised forms that gender power relations take at the micro-political level, in order to determine concrete possibilities for resistance and social change?
Deconstructing the Rape Culture (Political Discourse of Rape)
The normalisation of rape has been practised in India since the post-colonial era where the primary conquest of the Othered community was not through the land, but through its women. In fact, panoptical male connoisseurs, who stood perpetually and gazed at the bodies of women of the Othered community, as a site of victory, have normalised the regressive act of eroticised dysfunctional nationalism. This was witnessed during the partition of India (1947), where the vying religious communities (Hindu and Muslim) and their newly formed nations attempted to overpower each other by marking the women of the other side. Rape and violence on the bodies of the women was the language via with they communicated their political narratives. During the 1947 Partition of India, as the nation was mourning the segregation of the lands and the “once assimilated religious diversity”, as many as 100,000 women were abducted and raped. Muslim women were abducted by Hindu and Sikh men into India, and Hindu and Sikh women were abducted by Muslim men into newly partitioned Pakistan (Veena Das, Critical Events, 59). Women’s bodies were manifested into a political anatomy that communicated the language of nationalism and power. India, also synonymous as “Bharat Maata”, was portrayed as the mother, a woman that needed protection against the outside enemy. The idea of gaining control over the land through conquering the body of this “Bharat Maata” seduced the unconscious psyche of the male aggressive thanatos. The desire to possess it, see it, touch it, conquer it, claim it, wandered within the fantasy of men. Thus, women’s bodies became arenas of violent struggle. Women were humiliated, tortured, brutally raped, and murdered as part of the process that reflected the communal, national and religious conquest by the opponents. The rapes didn’t just lead to the violation of the body but it symbolised the political conquest. D.A. Low argues that while the men of the opposite side were killed, their women were abducted. Literary evidence provides accounts of women’s skin being marked with religious slogans, signing on the skin by the aggressor and imprinting of the patriotic slogans like “Pakistan Zindabad” or “Jai Hind”.
Rape and violence on the bodies of the women was the language via with they communicated their political narratives.
The skin of a woman was not just sexually violated but it became a story via which the aggressor commented on its victory to the Other. The infiltrating of the Othered land through the coercive usage of militarisation was the objective, but the raping of a woman of the Other community had a subjective infiltration. Sexualised violence in wars and conflicts is neither incidental, nor is a question of sex. The state conveniently distanced itself from the depth of moral depravity and entrenched the view of women as semiotic territory, on which the intimate narratives of conflicts were inscribed. The infamous Kunan Poshpora rape happened on the eve of February 23, 1991. 125 Indian soldiers sieged a village, separated the men from the women and sexually assaulted more than 50 women, from ages 13 to 60. The intent was not only to terrorise and traumatise the people under assault, but here the rape (an intimate invasion) of the body transformed into a message of retribution to the Kashmir resistance movement.
When historicising rape culture, one can witness the birth of the political anatomy of a woman, of which hierarchical control and normalising of the abuse of the anatomy, is deeply buried in the political and power discourse of this phenomenon. This political anatomy of a woman produces conversations, in particular the mode of violence and establishes hegemony between the opposing forces in power.
In another conflict, similar imprinting of violence was witnessed. Reports presented by the Citizen’s Initiative and the Human Rights Watch stated that out of the 36 women killed in the Naroda Patiya massacre (February, 2002), most were sexually assaulted before their deaths; surviving women also reported being assaulted. According to Human Rights Watch, women and girls were “brutally raped before being killed”. Most of the rapes took place in public, and the victims were then killed and their bodies burnt. Among the women surviving in the relief camp, many suffered the most bestial forms of sexual violence – including rape, gang rape, mass rape, stripping, insertion of objects into their bodies and molestation. The fantasy of taming the opposing community starts with disciplining the anatomy of the Othered woman. The insertion of objects into the bodies during rape, is symbolic of the fantasy of penetrating and marking the culture of the Other. Since the political anatomy of the women is also the site of biological reproduction, the ideal fantasy of controlling and claiming victory over the Other, becomes accessible through mass rape and impregnating the women. Thus, rape culture in India has been normalised as an essential mechanism, through which the victimisers communicate, while stripping the victimised of their agency.
Dismantling the Rape Culture (Socio-Legal Discourse of Rape)
Due to the undocumented increase of rape during the partition, laws were introduced for the women who were impregnated by the rivals. The worst-case scenario was encountered when the victim was impregnated by her rapist. Dr. Kirpal Singh explains “though the Military Evacuee Organisation (M.E.O.) and Liaison Agencies had been established in Punjab in September, 1947, nothing was done at government level to alleviate the sufferings of the abducted women until 6th December, 1947, when the following agreement was made between the governments of India and Pakistan regarding the recovery of abducted women. The following decisions reached at the conference between the governments of India and Pakistan held on the 6th of December, 1947, were brought to the notice of all concerned for early compliance. Every effort was made to recover and restore abducted women and children within the shortest time possible. Conversion by persons abducted after 1st March, 1947, was not to be recognised, and all such persons were to be restored to their respective dominions. The wishes of the persons concerned were irrelevant”.(Singh, “Partition and Women” Abstracts of Sikh Studies, June 1999).
What is worth noting in the above agreement is that the state policies were only introduced to address the recovery of the abducted women and the rape victims, it did not include any repercussions for committing violence against women. According to Kesic (Ibid, 273), “Although sexual violence of women in wartime has been known throughout human history, rape had not been recognised specifically as a war crime. Wartime rapes had not been investigated, prosecuted, or punished because no laws covered them. Like peacetime sexual assaults against women, they remained crimes without a name.” Notable incidents of such crimes are: The Rape of Nanjing in 1937, the exploitation of Japanese “comfort women” used as sexual slaves throughout Asia during WWII, the mass rape of German women at the end of WWII, and the widespread rapes of women during the Bangladesh-Pakistan war in the early 1970s (Ibid, 272).
Violating the body of the women was normalised in the policies formatted to deal with the victims. The normalisation of rape culture has been prevalent since the post-colonial era and is identified as an “inescapable” violation of the object (women’s body), with obsolete stripping of the subjectivity of the object. What can be done to dismantle rape culture? What can be done to uproot the creation of the political anatomy of women, which is subjugated to the mode of violence to establish hegemony, between the two opposing forces in power? First and foremost, the government should format the policy, declaring sexual violence against women a human rights issue. The increase in rape cases around the world, molestation, female foetus killing, child marriage, are the result of the male dominant patriarchy, where its women are marginalised, leading the nation taking on the testosterone-laden culture of normalisation of violence against women. It is not just the genocide of the population, during and post conflict or war, but the “femicide” of the female community, who becomes the semiotic territory via which the violent hegemony is established. This femicide needs to be acknowledged and viewed as a human rights issue. The social awareness of the existing male supremacy within Indian society should be identified as malignant. The “ideal woman” as constructed by the patriarchy, is a woman who merges with the idea of submission to the male kingship, is pure and gentle and is singularly faithful towards the male partner (unconditionally) – this should be dismantled. In the presence of a strong woman a male experiences, what I like to call a “conceptual shock”, an encounter with a woman who deviates from the prototype constructed by the patriarchy. This “conceptual shock” is used as justification by the rapist, as he views the victim as a “bad woman”. The social awareness of how patriarchy is conditioning the prototype of its women is crucial. For example, in the documentary of “The Nirbhaya rape” 2012, when Leslee Udwin interviewed the charged rapists, one of the rapists expressed his “conceptual shock”. Mukesh Singh emphasised that the rape victim invited her own rape by being out on the streets at night when she should have been at home “cooking and cleaning”. Adding further, he said that she should not have resisted the rape; if she had not fought back, if she had submitted meekly and quietly to being raped, he and the other rapist would not have thrust a rod repeatedly into her vagina, pulling her entrails out and battering her to death.
The fantasy of taming the opposing community starts with disciplining the anatomy of the Othered woman.
The social injustice of rape culture will not cease without a true societal commitment to examining and addressing the social, political, and cultural power that the male community possesses over women and children. This differential power infiltrates every aspect of the world, through every patriarchal structure of society, particularly the family and gender relations, accompanied by the resultant attitudes and beliefs about female inferiority. This needs to be dismantled. The struggle is real and the resistance towards it is inevitable, until we achieve a equilibrium that celebrates egalitarianism, in its tonality.
Featured Image: Women wearing colourful Saris Rajasthan India © ALAMY
Parul Verma is a scholar, political analyst, a post-graduate in Clinical Psychology and Culture and Colonialism, and an International student ambassador for Education in Ireland (Government of Ireland). Her work analyses the political-psychological-economical imperialistic regime in the Middle-East (specific to Israel-Palestine issue) and the on- going communal rise and minority lynching in India. Her work has been published in multiple international media outlets and academic journals. For any query or feedback, contact her at [email protected]
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Das, Veena. “Language and Body: Transactions in the Construction of Pain.” Daedalus 125 no.1 (1996)
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Buchwald, Emilie, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth. Transforming A Rape Culture. Minneapolis: Milkweed, Editions, 1993, 1995, 2005.