The problem with being a perennial cribber is that the moment you take a break to catch a breath, the world turns tables to embarrass you, to tell you that you slacked.
I am on a fellowship with the World Press Institute in the United States with nine more journalists from different parts of the world. It’s no less like a reality show since one travels to 16 cities in 5 weeks. On one such trip, on our way back to the Twin cities from Ely I got a call from back home, “Did you hear about Todd Akin’s remarks on women? I was surprised you didn’t even discuss it with me.”
I have wanted to write on the abortion debate forever. And like the million other things I want to write on but keep procrastinating and simultaneously fussing, bugging my friends and mother with my customary question, “but why I am not doing anything?” I had put this too on the back burner. I am a master at making excuses to myself-why not take a few days to soak in the mood about the issue before writing or my body clock is still getting used to the American time, let me take some rest or when will I get a chance to observe the rabbits in the burrow right outside my apartment, should I be wasting my time on the laptop?
Anyway, I neither knew who Todd Akin is or his recently expressed nostalgia for chastity belts with locks and keys. Now I do. For those who share my levels of ignorance, Todd Akin is a Republican candidate who represents Missouri’s second congressional district. He recently told a news station in the interview, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
According to RAINN, US’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, over 207,754 people are sexually assaulted, 54 percent cases are never reported and 97 percent of sexual offenders never spend a day in jail. On the contrary, I know for a fact, that in India at least 80 percent cases most are unreported, uninvestigated and unprosecuted. India’s National Crime Record Bureau’s last survey from 2010 suggests that 20,262 women were raped and there was an absolutely abysmal rate of conviction in the reported cases.
Even If I chose to ignore the vast chasm in the rape figures between the United States and India even when India is far ahead demographically and far behind in being an egalitarian society, what brings them together is the religious fundamentalism that continues to maneuver voters for autonomy and power.
Like any another woman in India, I know how it feels to be perennially at the risk of being sexually molested, harassed, tortured. And then also being blamed for leading it on because of the clothes I wear, or because of the time I was out, or laughing too hysterically at a crowded place or just wanting to eat a meal by myself in a restaurant.
When Republicans in the United States launch on a discourse about which rape is legitimate, I swell with the restlessness to recount the views of all such misogynists back in India. Right wingers like Ram Sene who physically assault women for going to pubs and violating their cultural norms or a top cop making public statements about how girls invite rape by moving around late at night. In fact, a friend often snaps back in good humour, when I teasingly tell him not to bother me or else I will call the women’s helpline, “The first thing they will ask you is what are you doing at a guy’s house at night?” And that is what happens.
The abortion debate clearly shows how distrustful United States is about letting a woman use her agency, her ability to use her brain just as a normal human being. And that’s why its okay to psychologically rape her second and the third time. In rape, the burden proof is much greater than any other crime. Where a woman need to prove that she resisted it. And if she does not have any bodily injury, she did not struggle and if the man does not ejaculate inside her, then she is lying.
In this day and age, across continents people just can’t get over attaching exoticism and women. They want to fantasise all kinds of magical, divine things in our bodies. And that’s why when I read Republican Stephen Friend’s quote, ‘Rape, is obviously a traumatic experience. When the traumatic experience is undergone, a woman secretes a certain secretion, which has a tendency to kill sperms.’ That’s wishful thing and how I wish it was true but it isn’t. I wish I could request him to write a book on such a world for women, full of mystic and magical powers. It might even sell more than Potter or Narnia and I promise that most buyers will be feminists.
The old, white men of India extend the argument by wanting to treat women as goddesses. Which means that all notions of chastity, honour, morality and divinity are incumbent upon women. And that is why just a week back in Bangalore, another rapist was asked by a judge to marry his victim in 20 days in order to obtain bail. The idea that a woman’s grace (even though she is a goddess and all) is dependent on a marriage with continued access to a man’s gone berserk virility. The idea is to keep a woman in a cocoon and rape her day in and day out in a marriage. Because forced sex within marriage is okay. And of course, men should be a given a chance to play out their ghoulish exuberance for their reproductive successes in case woman is impregnated.
During my last month in the United States, I have been asked several times about the regressive attitudes towards women in India and how things have still not changed, women still wear purdahs and not sent to school. And I have tried to explain, without an iota of defensiveness and patriotism that women are fighting individual battles and the very fact that I am sitting there and having this conversation with them is proof enough. However, even when India is supposedly taking a step forward and United States is moving backwards when it comes to women’s emancipation, what brings them together is their single minded focus in believing that a woman is her vagina.
Consumerism often preys on those who are habituated to taming. It exploits the young, naïve emancipated ideas of freedom. It twists the idea of freedom to sell and to condition minds. A nation obsessed with fair complexion has cosmetic companies telling women, with ambition and patriarchy are told that a fair skin will make them a better pilot. Its presumed that vanity is potent enough to fool women and make them believe the fair skin equals to good pilot logic. And with more and more discussions about women being open about their sexuality, this discourse created another market, targeted at the so-called emancipated women, who can afford these products and talk about feminism, equal opportunities and justifying the customization of their bodies according to prescribed requirements of the male consumerist world in the same breath. And that’s why it makes it easy for the opportunistic companies to tell us to use vagina whitening creams to bring back the spark in our romantic lives and use a vagina tightening cream ‘to feel like a virgin’. The idea then is that women in every possible way use all their money, vanity and brains on their vaginas. First to seduce a man and then keep him a perennially seduced trans state.
So I know, in case my forthrightness offends a man tomorrow and it turns out to be a revenge rape with stones or thorny sticks hurled inside my vagina, it will not be rape according to the Indian constitution. They will ask me why I am yet not married and how many male friends I have. Why don’t I live with my mother and what are my work timings. Do I consume alcohol and what was the reason to go in a place crowded by so many men. They will put two fingers inside my vagina to test its laxity and how habitual I am to sex. And based on the analysis of my character they will finally decide on the possibility of a woman like me getting raped.
So be it. United States and India can theorise, mystify and rationalize rape. I am even empty of any condemnation for their unity in misogyny. I want to laugh out of a kind of despair and yet not explode out of my chair. Even if I am pushed into a pool of semen tomorrow, I will figure out for myself. As a woman, I have a lot of complicated living to do and like any other woman, rural or urban, I know to use my agency every single day of my life, without asking for permission. To kill, to abort, to punish, to laugh, to live.