On 8th March 2022 while the world celebrated and congratulated women for their amazing contributions, surfaced a video of KK Shailaja, former Kerala Health Minister admonishing women for taking too long to speak against the atrocities of men, in regard to the PS Sujeesh case, a Kerala tattoo artist who was arrested over six complaints of rape, molestation, harassment and sexual assault. Though the netizens gave mixed reactions, if you believe this to be a particular case that warrants no scrutiny, you’re grossly mistaken for the media is filled with victim-blaming.
If there ever was a way to expose the public’s covertly ingrained sexism and misogyny, victim-blaming would be first in the list. India has set itself onto a comfortable phase where influential people jump at the chance of forcing the blame of any misdeed or crime upon the victim or perhaps, the survivors. The first time I learned women were the real criminals for letting men rape them, I was in 10th grade. I learned that women were directly responsible for men’s choice of abuse towards them. While talking about Nirbhaya and countless “desh ki betiyaan”, my tutor declared that women shouldn’t be out at ungodly hours as well as shouldn’t interact with boys if they don’t want “something bad to happen to them.” I looked at his daughter and was not able to understand the fact that if Nirbhaya was out at an ungodly hour then weren’t the rapists too? If talking to boys meant inviting to be raped then maybe I shouldn’t sit beside this guy in class who begs to copy my notes.
In 2014, Asha Mirje of Indian National Congress had said, “rapes take place because of a woman’s clothes, her behavior and her presence at inappropriate places.” I was traumatized because I had no idea about the connection “clothes” and “places” had with abuse. I still cannot comprehend this ideology, because I have heard news of women wearing skirts and women wearing Niqabs being harassed, and women being raped in their own homes. During a political rally in Uttar Pradesh, in 2015, former CM Mulayam Singh Yadav said, “Should rape cases lead to death penalty? Boys are boys, they make mistakes.” This systematic misogyny helps promote rape and shelters any who dare commit this crime.
Out and openly rapists have been defended, and out and openly victims have had their character been assassinated. Anything and everything has been presented as excuses for rape but the actual criminals who commit it. India’s political and rape capital Delhi reported at least 5 rape cases per day in 2021. From denim and ripped jeans to cell phones and onground meets, every technique has been adapted to distort the narrative on rape but these so called “reasons behind rape” will never be able to justify the practice of rape culture.
KK Shailaja on International Women’s Day took the dais to openly call out the survivors saying that “if you don’t have the courage to speak up and if you don’t have the integrity, then what is the point of your education?” Women behind KK Shailaja could be seen laughing as the Minister took a dig at the strength and dignity of these survivors. Standing up at a stage in front of national media on the occasion of Women’s Day and taking a jibe at women for taking too long to speak up is in no way motivating or inspiring, as many had suggested. A few also condemned the Minister’s speech saying that it was “callous and misogynistic.” It was ignorant and misogynistic to presume women should set aside their trauma and fight against injustices- injustices despite which these criminals run free while the victims are blamed and shamed by this “concerned society” at every corner. “Why are you (survivors) waiting years to file a complaint?” Does the former health minister mean to imply that traumas come with expiration dates after which the survivors are not entitled to justice?
There are countless KK Shailaja, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Tirath Singh Rawat, Azam Khan and many more who collectively demean and assassinate courage and dignity of these victims. Amidst the people who commit such atrocities, the only people being admonished and judged are the victims of these crimes. No surprise since under Section 155(4) of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 (now scrapped), it was essentially the rape victims who were put on trial and the accused would often walk free if they could prove that “the victim was of generally immoral character.”
Words have always retained a powerful position. What most people don’t realize is that words have the ability to crush us beyond repair and traumatize us for life. And these very words when said to protect the wrong are injustices in their own. These words when said to crush mutiny in women are abuses against women as well. This concept of distorting narratives to protect the few and of using women and their past and their free-willed choices to justify abuse upon them. Yes, rape is a sensitive issue but sensitivity shouldn’t only be for the accused who stand to lose his life if wrongly convicted, but also for the survivors of these crimes who spend their whole lives but can never overcome this trauma.
What we can control is the usage of insensitive words to describe situations we can’t even begin to comprehend. This verbal abuse is a dangerous territory which breeds misinformation and disrespect towards the survivors of such vicious crimes. Curating films on the pain of survivors and monetizing on it has always been easy but to openly defend them is perhaps not India’s forte.
Juhi Salim is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Zaina Shahid Khan