Yet another woman has been raped in India. She’s part of the crime statistics this time because she happens to be a foreigner, a traveller, a vlogger, and, most importantly, alive to tell the tale. It will be difficult to ignore the crime. As I have mentioned elsewhere about travelling, getting recorded in the crime register, too, is a privilege. Nobody would like to hold their breath for it, though. Gangraped and brutalised, the Spanish woman, along with her partner, is set for a long ordeal in her quest for justice. 

The incident has raised a storm on social media, while most mainstream news outlets are still hungover after a week of pre-wedding festivities. Women and men from across the world are sharing their experiences of travelling in India. From globally acclaimed academics to young students, almost everyone has an unpleasant India story. While we should be collectively drowning in the Indian Ocean of shame, some of us are valiantly fighting for the country’s honour. From the usual ‘not all men’, the weaselling defence now is ‘not all of India’. 

A Project To Defend National Honour

Really, countrymen? When we designate that some places are more unsafe than others-like most of the Hindi-speaking belt is perceived to be faring worse on the safety index than Tamil Nadu or Kerala-we are losing the argument even before starting it. Let’s not even mention the over-the-top parochialism that goes with it. The biggest irony in this grand defence project of India is that the warriors are calling out critics for ‘racism’.

I have visited more than 20 countries by now in five different continents. This is a privilege. The only time I have been sexually harassed is in my own country. This is a sad reality. Our privileges take us far but fall flat in our homes-that’s the irony of any privileged Indian woman’s life. Nobody is safe on our streets. Our privileges give us a protective blanket that can be blown off by the storm of someone’s bigger privilege. Or an accident.

A Dysfunctional Society

Accidents can happen anywhere to anyone. The aftermath of an accident is what separates a functional society from a dysfunctional one. If actions and words are directed more towards telling the victim how they could have avoided the accident or how they should be responding to it than addressing the cause, it’s a sign of a dysfunctional society. In the case of sexual violence against women, this show of brokenness and dysfunction is like a deja vu.

Another interesting phenomenon of our times is the unprecedented degree of party politics over sexual violence. I have always maintained that sexual violence needs to be politicised, especially in a country like ours where electoral politics is both the bane and boon of our everyday lives. Victims are worthy of attention and action only when they are electorally important. But these days, nobody-from Manipur to Sandeshkhali-seems to be important. 

Politics Over Sexual Violence

Political bickering over sexual violence has not made India safer for women. In fact, quite the opposite. Despite clarion calls for societal change and systemic reforms, India has not become safer. Women have just learnt to live with the risks. The fear of sexual assault is probably one of the factors that drives women’s social mobility. Women already know what places, people, or situations are to be avoided if they want to stay safe from rape. Whether they can or not is a function of privilege. And privilege, too, is a dodgy accomplice.

All of this should punch us Indians in the gut. It does not. Instead, we are busy figuring out how the victim in this case escaped violence in the more precarious neighbourhood. We are already thinking of this as a global conspiracy to defame India. We are offering our sympathies suffixed with the word ‘but’. We want to do everything to ensure it doesn’t tarnish our image. We are googling “witch-burning” and other instances of violence against women to lob at the Westerners who dare call into question Indian society’s treatment of its women. We are doing every single thing to protect our honour. Except for one thing: ensuring men do not rape women with impunity. 

Women Do Move On, Not Because Of, But Despite Men

Everyone-from governments to families to corporates to cliques-wants to save their own. But this concern is not extended to women. Women have understood it. There isn’t even a fig leaf to hide the apathy that violence against women meets. 

Rape isn’t the most horrible crime inflicted on women’s bodies. It certainly is the most gendered one. Women are now beginning to learn to move beyond the trauma of sexual violence. No thanks to men in their lives or larger society.

(Nishtha Gautam is a Delhi-based author and academic)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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