Stop banging on their door!
Shashi Tharoor raked up a storm of sorts in the cyberspace (once again) by tweeting, “Unless her parents object,she should be honoured&the revised anti-rape law named after her. She was a human being w/a name,not just a symbol.”
Before that, he also tweeted, “Wondering what interest is served by continuing anonymity of #DelhGangRape victim. Why not name&honour her as a real person w/own identity?” To me, this tweet provides the answer why he should not have jumped the gun and suggested naming the law after the victim. If he does not know what interest it serves, then he should read and critically evaluate the whole process of victimization, survival, and empowerment.
Others like Anupam Kher and Javed Akhtar have come out in support of Tharoor too. Reading their comments is quite disconcerting. Let me break it down.
There have been examples of naming laws after victims in India and abroad. But each case is different. First and foremost, Indian public figures need to stop comparing everything with a US-yardstick. The two societies are very different in terms of political, criminal justice, and socio-cultural environments. The victims and offenders are often seen as ‘individual’ acts in the US, while in India it is usually ‘collective.’ For example, just couple of days after the Sandy Hook massacre, a father of one of the victims came out and expressed his condolences for the perpetrator’s family as they had lost a son too. On the other hand, despite being a very individual culture, media and politicians respect the process of grieving for all families even in the U.S. So, Indian film and politics walas should not try to compare apples and oranges. It is methodologically flawed and intellectually dishonest.
I understand that the people suggesting that the revised law be named after the victim have good intentions. They want to talk about her as a real person. But their contention that not revealing the victim or the family’s identity is a cultural or gender bias is not completely correct. I agree that in India, majority of crimes against women, and even sexual abuse against boys and men, go underreported for the fear of social stigma. There is also a mindset that once a woman is raped her life is over (as indicative in Sushma Swaraj’s initial statement). Javed Akhar tweeted, “i believe that hiding a rape surviver ‘s name is based on an unacceptable archaic belief that she has lost her “izzat””. Yes, in some cases, in most cases, it may be true, and it must change, but it is not true for every single case.
This is where I feel that Javed Akhtar and others are looking at victimization in a very black and white context. They need to understand that whatever ‘tag’ they give, there is a loss, a hurt, a harm, a violation caused to the victim and her family. It is not like a film where everything must be alright within 180 minutes. The Indian media and people in public sphere are calling the rape victim a ‘survivor.’ That’s fine. But they must understand that the actual process of moving from victimization to survival to empowerment is long and different for everyone. This is why it is imperative for them to give this family its space, time, and much needed respect. As a criminologist who has been teaching and doing research in the field of crime and justice for over a decade, I would tell you that there is ample literature, including extensive victims’ accounts on rape and sexual violence, where anonymity or privacy helps them move on; it helps them not to get defined by that one criminal act. People in all walks of life must respect it. That respect comes from bringing the perpetrators to justice, creating a safer environment for people, and working toward overhauling social, cultural, legal systems that have been failing the nation’s citizens. Please stop intruding upon the victim’s and/or family’s space for mere symbolism.
The point of ‘izzat’ that Javed Akhtar makes, comes into play when (and if) any victim (much after and independent of judicial process) wants to talk about what happened to him/her; and at ‘that’ time, don’t socially alienate them; rather, acknowledge them, accept them. But it is up to the victims or the surviving family members to take a call on that. It may happen in 2 months not even in 20 years. Given them space; don’t keep haunting them or asking them every few weeks!
Again, I am sure that these people have positive intentions, but as they occupy influential cultural and social space, they must think through some of the issues that are more complicated. Yes, Shashi Tharoor, Anupam Kher, Javed Akhtar emphasized that the law would be named after the victim only if the family wants to do so. Earlier, Anupam Kher was not happy with the privacy surrounding the last rites of the young woman, while her brother has gone on record saying that that is what the family wanted.
The point being, by making such suggestions over and over again, these people are putting cultural pressure on the family. They are forcing them to live in constant fear of what next. Just let them be! They have been violated enough. Be there for them, but don’t keep constantly banging on their door.
My heart goes out to the victim’s family. I hope that they find strength to move on.