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Swiss Tourist Rape ‘unfortunate’ for All the wrong reasons

Posted by Newsroom On March - 20 - 2013

Swiss Tourist Rape 'Unfortunate' for All the Wrong Reasons

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By Sandip Roy

The gang-rape of the Swiss tourist in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh was front page news in newspapers across the country. The reverberations of the shocking story were felt well outside India’s borders. Even friends from as far away as California, emailed me the story.

But while going through the newspaper, it was an inside page that shocked me even more.

Under the headline of news about the Nation, there were eight stories. Six of them were about violence against women.

Apart from the rape of the Swiss tourist in Madhya Pradesh, a two-year-old girl was raped by a ward boy in Shajapur district in Madhya Pradesh while her mother was delivering another child. A villager heard the child’s screams and rescued her.

A 16-year-old girl from Moradabad set herself on fire after being allegedly molested by three boys. She died on Saturday at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital.

A 37-year-old woman who worked as a labourer got on a bus near Indore on Friday and was raped by the bus conductor, the driver and a passenger when it reached the terminal point. The passenger was allegedly drunk.

A 24-year-old researcher pursuing a Ph. D. in nanotechnology was found murdered in her lab in Agra with multiple stab wounds. Police said she had been tortured for about 30 minutes and are not ruling out sexual assault.

A 20-year-old girl died in Katni district in MP (again) when a youth whose marriage proposal had been rejected by her parents set her on fire. That was a sidebar to a story where Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir warned against the “baying for blood” that is the “knee-jerk” reaction to these gangrapes.

Whether the media now has an unofficial “rape beat” or whether the December 16 gangrape has forced it to suddenly pay more attention to stories that were always there, one thing is tragically clear from this collection – rape is not an exceptional crime in this country. Nor is the harassment of women in public places.

“I feel like I’m living in a human zoo, a wandering attraction that invites attention, all of it unwanted,” writes Sarah Elizabeth Webb in The Hindu. “I can’t get up and move to a separate part of my cage to escape the negative attention because in my cage, there are no bars and the men simply follow.” That column was written before the Swiss woman’s rape, when the issue at hand was more about gaping and groping. But even Webb admits that for all the Hollywood stereotypes about the promiscuous Western woman “sexual harassment and sexual assault are not a unique experience to Western women in India.” It happens “across the board.”

The Swiss woman’s rape, which made frontpage headlines, was remarkable only because the victim was a Swiss woman. Her story is nightmarish but not so rare. The Madhya Pradesh home minister Uma Shankar Gupta’s bland bureaucratic response is predictable, pushing the blame, yet again, towards the victim.

She didn’t follow the laws he said. As foreign tourists they were supposed to inform the police about their whereabouts. And he trotted out that same worn banal platitude that Manish Tewari of the Congress had managed to come up with after the Delhi gangrape – “unfortunate”.

“What happened is unfortunate for our nation,” said Gupta.

The subtext is it is “unfortunate” for our nation because now our Eat, Pray, Love image abroad is turning into Eat, Pray, Rape. It is truly “unfortunate” because that crime is so unexceptional. The real shocker here is that this keeps happening over and over again, that even two-year-olds aren’t safe in a hospital.

That even after all the outrage over the Delhi gangrape in a bus what looks like a copycat rape happens in another bus. At least when it comes to follow-up, the Swiss woman is a little luckier than most. Her story became front-page news unlike the labourer in the Indore bus. An English-speaking academic was found to translate for the Swiss couple in the little town on whose outskirts she was raped. Six culprits have been quickly nabbed and the police say they have confessed to the crime.

Kader Khan, the main accused in the Park Street rape case from February 2012 in Kolkata is still missing though that trial is underway. No one has yet been arrested in the case of the three young sisters who were allegedly raped and thrown into the well in Bhandara.

Now a forensic report is contradicting the post-mortem report and saying the girls were not raped. Either way they are dead. And no one has been arrested. “The first day when we filed the complaint, the police didn’t act on it,” their mother told the media. “Had they looked for the girls, my girls would have been found.”

It’s not that the outrage over December 16 or the law the cabinet is trying to thrash out in an all-party meeting will be a magic wand that will suddenly turn rape into a rare and exceptional crime. But if the reaction from the authorities to an allegation of rape is quick, decisive and stops blaming the victim, that will be more than a step forward.

We should not be ashamed about what happened to the Swiss woman because she was a foreigner. The real shame is that an entire page in the newspaper is filled with stories about violence against women, stories from across the board, from a 2–year-old to a labourer to a Ph. D. student. And those were only the ones that were reported over one weekend.

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