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India: By trivialising the word ’rape’, we endanger all women. Ranjit Sinha should know that

13 November 2013

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Comment is free / The Guardian, 13 November 2013

By trivialising the word ’rape’, we endanger all women. Ranjit Sinha should know that

The use of the word ’rape’ for anything unpleasant threatens the hard-won progress India has recently made tackling the problem

• ’If you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it,’ says India’s top police official

by Priya Shetty

Indian demonstrators against Ranjit Sinha
Demonstrators demand the resignation of India’s CBI director, Ranjit Sinha, who compared the legalising of betting to ’enjoying rape’. Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

A feature of India’s rape crisis over the past couple of years has been the number of spectacularly offensive remarks about rape made by high-ranking Indian police officials and politicians.

This week, the chief of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Ranjit Sinha used rape as a misguided analogy in a statement about gambling. "If you cannot enforce the ban on betting, it is like saying: ’If you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it’," he said, trying to make the point that if betting could not be made illegal, then the state should earn revenue by legalising it.

Sinha’s comments reflect an attitude that trivialises rape, and often blames women for sexual assault. Such attitudes threaten to undermine India’s recent hard-won progress in tackling the problem.

The CBI chief’s comments may simply have been an unfortunate case of crassly misjudged language, but the fact that the head of India’s version of the FBI should make such a comment, considering the CBI is in charge of several rape investigations, again shows the unenlightened view of rape held by many who wield power in India. It is hard to imagine such a senior figure in the west being able to dodge the comment with a mere apology. But while the Indian media and the public are frequently horrified by such callous remarks, those in power stay silent – in this case there has been no major public condemnation from his peers.

Indeed, the leader of one of India’s political parties, Abu Azmi, recently said: "Women should not venture out with men who are not relatives. What is the need for roaming at night with men who are not relatives? This should be stopped. Such incidents [as the Delhi gang-rape] happen due to influence of western culture."

Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh angered many earlier this year, after a 22-year-old photographer was raped in Mumbai, by suggesting that a "promiscuous culture" that allows kissing in public made the city less safe for women.

There are dozens more examples, but these comments can’t just be written off as insensitive remarks from morally uptight officials, even in a culture which is comfortable with Sinha keeping his job after an apology. Here’s why: the Mumbai police commissioner blamed India’s low conviction rate for rape cases in part on "false complaints" from women. When one of India’s most senior officials is blaming victims for the low conviction rates, it seems hard to imagine that he is doing everything in his power to protect women from sexual assault.

Uneducated comments that trivialise rape aren’t just the preserve of bumbling Indian officials of course. In 2010, heavyweight boxer David Haye boasted that his upcoming match would be as "one-sided as a gang rape", a comment for which Haye never really apologised. Though Haye’s lack of apology is perhaps unsurprising considering that Hollywood continues to cast convicted rapist and former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in a series of blockbuster films.

In popular culture – music lyrics, comedy shows and online blogs – the word "rape" has become a catch-all for anything negative. As the Guardian’s Kira Cochrane says: "The use of the word ’rape’ to describe all kinds of bad experience – from getting beaten up in a boxing match, to having your hairdo completely ruined – has recently become usual, average, shruggable. Just as the word ’gay’ has been twisted by pop culture, used to refer to someone or something a bit uncool, the word ’rape’ is now regularly used where ’nightmare’ or an apt expletive would previously have been in order."

This should concern all of us. Women continue to be mentally and physically brutalised around the world. When that brutality isn’t taken seriously – and what’s more, when it is talked about flippantly and without regard – it speaks of a deep inhumanity. Language is a powerful weapon. Defuse the power of the word "rape", take away its value to shock and terrify, and, for women at least, all is lost.


The above article from The Guardian is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use