The bodies of marginalised individuals become the space where the politics of their marginalisation play out. The bodies of women especially, are subjected majorly to sexual violence among other different kinds of violence in an attempt to not only dominate their individual selves but also all that they are believed to be associated with.
It is almost startling when the fact that violence and power are inherently political is not acknowledged, or outrightly refused by statements that point towards the apolitical existence of the self, or question the political lens through which events and problems are observed. The society exists and functions through structures of power that are created, destroyed, and maintained through different forms of violence. The societal structures enable certain groups and communities to exist at the centre, resulting in the subsequent marginalisation of the others. Different and overlapping marginalisation lead to levels of subjugation of communities and individuals.
It is in an attempt to maintain this marginalisation that those in power often resort to different forms of violence. Sexual violence is one such form. To look at sexual violence and harassment in the binaries of crime and punishment only, sans the ‘politics’ of it, is not only futile but also a dishonest failure to look for its root causes. Rape, a form of sexual violence inflicted in most cases by men on women isn’t so much about lust as much as it is about power and control.
Shoma A. Chatterji, in The Citizen writes, Rape is not an ‘act of lust’ perpetrated by men who cannot control their irrepressible libidos. Men’s motives for rape mostly arise out of their socially imposed need to exercise power and control over women through the use of violence. Most rapists are not psychopaths, as their cinematic and televised portrayals sometimes suggest, but are ‘normal’ according to the prevailing social standards of male normality.
The more complicated the marginalisation, the more is the vulnerability to this sort of violence. Talking in the context of the very recent Hathras brutality, where some upper-caste men raped a 19 yrs old Dalit girl, it clearly is an issue of the power dynamics surrounding the structure of caste, making the sexual violence inflicted a form of caste violence and atrocity. Sadly, this one is just one of the many cases of such brutality on lower caste women, especially Dalit women in strictly casteist backdrops. Not only in the commitment of the crime, but also the treatment of it by the local authorities as well as by the central government, where there were sit-in ‘protests’ in support of the accused, and even a complete denial of the act having occurred, is a very clear reflection of what the caste of the alleged rapists and the victim has to do with the entire scenario.
The act of rape takes away the self from the body of the victim, and snatches away the power of choice that one has in terms of one’s own body, thus attempting to push away the victim from existing as a whole. The trauma of it, however, does not culminate at the individual level. The purpose of such violence is to attack the sense of self of entire communities. “Although the touch may be sexual, the words seductive or intimidating, and the violation physical, when someone rapes, assaults, or harasses, the motivation stems from the perpetrator’s need for dominance and control”, says an article in Psychology Today. Before this, the Kathua case, the Unnao case, among others, and the responses to these are clear examples of the power play of politics. Even the mass rapes that are committed during communal riots and wars, or the rape of the women of the villages of Kunan and Poshpora have a prevalent common thread of the commitment of the act for the purpose of displaying a certain kind of power.
This kind of setting also stems from the patriarchal belief that the honour of the family/community lies with the women, and raping is an attack on that ‘honour’. As a result of this, men fight each other for power and honour, and the bodies of women act as their battleground, reducing their very human capacities, and their economic and political rights to properties of men. From Helen to Draupadi to Cleopatra, women have been fought over, regulated, and protected just like lands and property, and have been reduced merely to weapons for gaining power, and with it, a false sense of accomplishment.
Alfisha Sabri is a student pursuing English Literature from University of Delhi.
Edited by: Varda Ahmad
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.