My daughter has stopped asking me the meaning of ‘rape’.
She is nine years old and there was a time when she would read the headlines in the newspaper and ask me, ‘Mama, what is rape?’
As a parent, there can be nothing more heartbreaking than having to explain the meaning of rape to a child. You are robbing him/her of innocence in a world where they are anyways growing up too fast.
Or at least that is what I used to think.
It is even more gut-wrenching to see a child shocked no more.
The Hyderabad rape and murder, so gruesome in all its details, is all over the news and social media. First the incident reports a 26-year-old veterinarian doctor raped and burnt to death. Then the gory details of how the four perpetrators had planned the entire thing, how they had punctured her scooter, pretended to help, then attacked her. Each day, more details emerge how they forced her to have alcohol, how they raped her while she was unconscious, how they smothered her when she regained consciousness and finally, how they burnt her.
As a mother, my soul weeps when I read about her sister’s last conversation with her “keep talking to me, I am feeling scared”. As a woman, rage growls within me when I hear of what the cops told her father “she must have eloped, the toll plaza is not under our jurisdiction”. As a citizen, I want to give up my citizenship to a country where the minister asks why did she not call the police.
But it is my daughter’s lack of questions this time that bothers me the most. Have we normalised rape so much that nothing shocks us anymore? Has she read so many headlines about rape that she no longer feels the need to ask me about what has happened? At nine, does she already know too much?
It is this “normalisation” of rape that is the curse of our times. When I worked at Gaon Connection for a brief period I translated a series they had done into English. Gaon Connection, firmly entrenched in the grassroots, reports from our villages. The series, Raktranjit, talked about young girls from villages in Uttar Pradesh, where rape was a daily occurrence. Females of all ages are targets. At work, at school, in public spaces and even inside their own homes they are not safe anywhere. One girl, still in her teens, was attending court hearings with her child. She had been raped by a higher caste man when she went to his house to help out with the household chores. Two sisters lived in fear in their own home after henchmen of the village strongman had barged in to molest them in the middle of the day. Another young girl stands vindicated after a decades long legal battle ended in the conviction of four politically connected men who had just picked her up from the road, raped her in their vehicle and farmhouse and then just dumped her on the roads again, some crumpled currency notes thrust into her hand.
And life goes on.
When the Nirbhaya case happened, outrage had erupted. Enough is enough, we had shouted. Castrate the bastards, we had demanded. Hang them till they die, we had chorused. Change mindsets, the wise among us had counselled. The same three-ringed circus is going on now. The same people are saying the same things. Castrate. Hang. Kill.