Freethought Activism

Dress Is Not A Yes

A recent trend of comments by persons in positions of power blaming women for dressing provocatively and ‘inviting’ rape has delivered a fresh blow to the cause of women in the country. We would like to condemn such statements in the strongest of terms and register our protest against persons in influential positions making vile statements which reek of insensitivity and irresponsibility.

Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code defines ‘Rape’ to be unlawful sexual intercourse by a man,

  • with his own wife under the age of 15 years or,
  • with any other woman under the age of 16 years, with or without her consent or,
  • with any other woman above the age of 16 years, against her will, without her consent or ,
  • with her consent , when her consent has been obtained by putting her or any person in whom she is interested in fear of death or hurt or,
  • with her consent , when the man, knows that he is not her husband and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or bel ieves herself to be lawfully married or,
  • with her consent , when at the t ime of giving such consent , by reason of unsoundness of mind, or intoxicat ion, or the administ rat ion of any stupefying or unwholesome substance, she is unable to understand the nature and consequences of that to which she gives consent .

The very definition of rape incorporates in itself the essence of the crime, the absence of consent. Rape is a non-consensual violent act which means to humiliate, subjugate and terrify the victim. It affects the victim’s body and mind, subjecting them to immense physical and psychological scarring. It is the most contemptible and heinous offence possible. Rape is not a statistic-strata-class-genre-type based offence. A rapist targets the infliction of harm on the body of the person, not their clothes, family background or behaviour. A woman from any walk of life, in any profession (including sex-workers), fully clothed or not, walking alone or not, married or not, with child or not, without distinction, could be a victim of rape, but, under no circumstance can she be said to have been the reason for it. A woman, at all times, is entitled to her right to give or withhold consent and anything done against her will is an offence, nothing less. The rapist is a criminal, with no condonation or mitigation plausible of the crime, and the victim could never be the trigger or the causation for the crime.

Rape is also an offence which requires the victim to be exceptionally strong to even begin to admit being raped and if at all she chooses legal recourse, she needs to be stronger while taking the insurmountable road to justice, through FIRs, identifying the offendor(s), bearing stigmatisation and providing testimony while being made to relive the horror every minute of seeking justice, which often comes too late.

Women live in a dichotomous situation within a patriarchal society where they have to adhere to male defined boundaries of safety and decorum, trusting them to be protectors while having to deal with the added, unwelcome burden of being the upholders of family honour in situations of breach of their personal rights. Women are ferociously guarded by men in families and communities in all aspects of social interaction because they are considered incapable of being independent and needing monitoring. Yet, in cases of rape, when the protectors become the perpetrators, subscribing to a notion that the woman could have possibly predicted or controlled the crime seems to become an easy explanation however impermissible by logic. It also covers the need and embarrassment for the society and the police to sit up and admit failure in protecting or assisting women in situations threatening their life, liberty and dignity. It also sadly and shockingly, suggests that the rapist deserves some sympathy because the woman put him in a situation where he could only succumb to temptation, and the woman should share the blame, if not take it totally and allow aspersions to be cast on her character and intentions. It binds the woman in more chains of responsibility for her own safety as well as the breach of it while letting off the rapist for being helpless before temptation, making the victim the offendor. It is an unacceptable statement on the society, its apathy and basic understanding of how this crime is a power tool in the hands of the rapists to assert power, show contempt and scar a woman for life; also highlighting lack of measures to suitably address the issue of protection of women.

In this scenario, misogynist comments, promoting blaming the victim, are not mere social gaffes, retractable at will, but vile statements defiling the character and humanity of an entire gender. They are defamatory, made in denial of the fact that women are equal human beings, equal participants of this democracy, equally protected by the Constitution of this country and also holders of the same fundamental freedoms enjoyed by the men. They are entitled to roam the streets, dress as they please, speak and interact and enjoy all the privileges as men, in the same quantum of liberty. Misogynist statements made by people in powerful positions, especially men, such as ministers and police personnel are patriarchal echoes of shoddy reasoning and gender intolerance while being extremely dangerous because such notions being propagated from public platforms, coming from power-wielding men, they are deemed to influence opinions and imply sanction, now that the plausible explanation is made available. When there are sections of the society fighting for a sea change in outlook and policies for women, such comments are a huge setback to the efforts. Every woman is entitled to safety, life with dignity, liberty and the State is equally responsible for the protection of each and every woman in its territory, without exception.

The merest reference to any sort of responsibility attributed to the woman in being the victim diminishes the gravity of the crime by promoting a conditioning within the society and especially the perpetrators; to hold women accountable for their safety from wrong-doers with a hollow and ridiculous excuse for debilitating transgressions of their bodies and suggests some sort of willingness on part of the victim to be raped in the tone of “asking for it”. It shifts the accountability, quite ironically, from the perpetrator to the victim and dilutes the seriousness of the crime and the outrage caused to the victim.

Irresponsible statements inimical to women, promoting a culture of shame and silence, or worse, asking them to be ‘more responsible’ should be taken note of and strongly dissuaded and if repeated, be punished with disciplinary action against the speakers to instill a sense of responsibility that comes with the power in position.

About the author

Priyanka Rath


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