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Not just in the Slums, Rapists live among Us Too

(I know of two rapists who were never charged. How many do you know?)

One afternoon, more than 20 years ago, at a college youth festival in Kochi, I was with a bunch of friends at a neighbouring college canteen. A few boys known to my friends (friends of friends) joined the group. The sun was high overhead and a degree of ennui had seeped into our mindless chatter. Sitting on wooden benches, munching vadas, we had let the conversation drift and drag: from the usual to the boring. It was just a regular, sweaty afternoon. The scene so commonplace: a few college boys chatting up a few college girls.

But that afternoon is tattooed deep in my memory- singled out from the rest of my college afternoons- and singed there. The boy with the curls, sitting opposite me, began to casually talk about the woman he had raped in Chennai. His tone was not loud or bragging- just a bored shrug. And he inferred he was not alone in this evil act- there was a bunch of them- maybe four or five. It was surreal. Like a bad dream. I wonder, now, if the others had heard him above the din of the youth festival. Did the others listen like I did? In a matter-of-fact voice, he said that he had been involved in a rape. He could have been discussing the tasteless vada for all he cared. I still remember he looked down at some point, no, not out of remorse, but to drink his coffee and he continued in a dull tone that the police had been after him. His folks, he said, had got him out of the situation. The reason, he droned, why he had to move to a college in Kochi was to get out of the sticky situation.

Rape to him was just a “situation” that had to be handled. Maybe greasing palms and pulling strings had helped him get out. But what was appalling was the banality of it all. The casualness of his tone was disturbing. Did he perhaps think it was just a cool thing to say? It was, perhaps, for him as mundane as brushing his teeth or driving a bike or eating chips. I was shocked out of my depths. My only response was utter silence. Years later, I know from far, that he, a middle-aged married man, has two children and lives somewhere in Kochi. I know nothing more. I don’t know anything about the victim, whether she died or she was able to construct her life as coolly as he did. Did she get out of the situation? I only know I was just shocked into a stupid, idiotic silence. 

I must recount here a similar story about a childhood friend’s brother. We heard from very reliable sources that he and his gang of friends were picked up by the police for rape. They had gang-raped a girl who lived around the corner of his house. We never heard about any case against him. He, too, had got away without being charge-sheeted. He had been let off.

No, let’s not stereotype a rapist. These beasts don’t just rise from the slums they also live among us. He could be your friendly next door neighbour, your friend’s friend or even an elderly uncle. And in the state of Kerala, the fathers of the rape victims are often the first accused. Read this report:
 In 2011, a young girl, Soumya was pushed out of a speeding train somewhere between Ernakulam and Trissur. The rapist then jumped off the train and brutally raped the injured girl. How horrifying! She later died at the hospital. A few years before, a young woman was murdered on a train, near Ernakulam, when she visited the bathroom early morning. 

The death of the 23-year-old rape victim in Delhi has forced me to introspect. Examine things that I have failed to do. The shroud of silence I have worn that has aided the decay and death of a society’s conscience. I, too, am culpable - for not speaking out. Every time I board a bus and try to avoid a grope; every time I use the loo on the train and hurry back to my seat worried about my safety; every time the rickshaw man lecherously looks at me through his rear-view mirror; I must remember that it was my silence that made these acts permissible. Every time, I rush back home before 8 pm I must remember it was my silence that legitimized the male monopoly over the public space at night, the male monopoly over violence. My refusal to speak up, in a way, has sanctioned violent sexual acts in this country. (A TV channel reported there are one lakh cases of sexual offenses pending with the Indian courts.) And now I must ask: How much longer can I keep running away from this unsafe society? And where will I run to? When the only armour I am endowed with is  my fear!
(I know of two rapists who were never charged. How many do you know?)


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