Your brother has an affair with a married woman. What do you do? Tell him he’s an idiot, or perhaps that he’s playing with fire? Or do you support him whilst telling him he’s making a big mistake? Perhaps there are circumstances as to why this has happened and you don’t feel it’s your place to judge? Or perhaps you simply don’t care – after all, it’s not your life. But what if it was made your business in the worst way? What if, simply because of your brother’s indiscretions, you were going to be raped?
This sadly isn’t a “what would you do” or a “what if” game. I’m supposed to be doing work for a client as we speak but I can’t. I’m completely and utterly enraged. I’ve just read this Amnesty International report about two young Indian women, 23 year old Meenakshi Kumari and her 15 year old sister who have been sentenced to rape because their brother has eloped with a married woman. I say “sentenced” loosely. After all, they are not guilty of any crimes, but they will be the ones to suffer, seemingly because it will make their brother suffer, too. I can’t believe I’m writing this… I’m shaking.
Truly, I don’t even know where to start. Firstly, rape should never, ever be used as a tool for punishment. It’s a violation of anyone’s human rights, even the worst person you can imagine. Even if it were being used against a guilty party, I would say exactly the same thing. It drives me mad when people say “I hope you get raped” or similar, because it ignores the complexities involved in such a heinous crime. It shouldn’t be used as a throwaway or trivialised in any manner, and in my eyes, using it as a form of “vigilante justice” isn’t even okay. Rape is scary used as a weapon and for control, but this latest ruling with the two sisters in India is the most barbaric thing I’ve ever heard.
The gall of people to somehow equate justice in any context with rape shows a complete lack of empathy, and one can only hope, a lack of understanding. Sadly, it perhaps even demonstrates understanding some aspects of the consequences only too well, in the most masochistic manner.
This has actually gone through a ‘genuine’ village council. It’s an unofficial council, but sadly that doesn’t matter. Of course, they’re all male, and of course, they’re unelected. I’m not condemning all men with that last statement, it’s simply fact, and I’ll endeavour to unravel why I’m hardly surprised for you now, with an explanation.
As far as I understand it, in certain parts of India (particularly more rural and less educated/progressive parts), there seems to still exist absolutely abhorrent divides between gender roles. Now, as a man in these parts, your sisters are most likely expected to protect their honour at all costs, and all their worth and their very existence most likely rely on factors involved in this imagined notion. This will involve remaining pure and not bringing any shame to the family, and so on.
Women, then, can be used as tools. The ultimate humiliation is to strip women of their honour, and bring shame onto a family member. This council clearly thought this was fitting in some way, but it ignores the fact that these women (sorry, one of them is basically a little girl…) are innocent and do not deserve to be treated in this way. That they think they can just own their autonomy like this actually sickens me and makes me want to throw things across my room.
Of course, it’s not just a gender divide that exists in some parts of India, it’s a class divide, too. The men of the council are from the powerful ‘Jat’ caste, as was the woman who eloped with the girls’ brother, but the girls and their family are from a lower caste. Despite this council being illegal and completely not allowed by the supreme court of India, we’ve all seen cases in the media where rape has sadly gone unnoticed because of the influence of the caste system in the less modern areas.
I’m not going to pretend to fully understand the caste system there, and I don’t want to make too many comments on something I have no real experience in. However, I know that certain members of society get away with much more just because they’re of a higher ‘caste’ than others. Sure, that arguably extends to the UK with regards to class warfare, too, and of course we’ve all heard allegations against the gentry about awful incidents of paedophilia and child abuse. However, thankfully we don’t practice systemic rape intended to humiliate, demean and degrade the individuals in question.
They’re perpetuating their social control because they think this man is lesser than the woman he had an affair with and crucially, because they think his sisters are even lesser than he is.
Misogyny Upon Misogyny
I personally don’t even think the brother of the Kumari girls has even committed a crime. Adultery is punishable as such usually due to outdated notions of religion or other cultural practices. I’m not keen on the concept of monogamy as absolute standard if I’m honest but even when I think the worst cheating has taken place, it’s still not a matter of law. To be honest, it’s probably seen as such because of yet more misogyny which probably dictates something stupid like “you’re being punished because you took my woman, now we will take yours”, or something heartbreakingly similar which – note – places some kind of ownership over women and their families.
The Real Victims
No matter where you live or the complex issues that may surround your relationship with anyone, including your family members or partner, you are not the property of anyone. You should not be used in revenge plots. Perhaps if attitudes to women weren’t so gross in the first place these sick men would realise that they’re hurting the women far more than you’ll ever hurt their brother.
Sure, it’s got to be absolutely atrocious to watch your sisters get raped and to worry about them. I wouldn’t undermine that for a second, and we all process horrific things accordingly, even when they didn’t happen directly to us. But I’m guessing at least some of those feelings would be rooted in the notion that they’re now not pure, and they’re yet again let down by the family. This is further highlighted in the second part of ‘his’ punishment: the girls will be paraded, naked and with blackened faces to add to their shame. Sounds a bit like Game Of Thrones, right? This isn’t a f*cking TV show, this is real life.
Let’s make it clear. This isn’t the girls’ brother’s fault; but it is not his punishment. No matter how much it hurts him, it will hurt them twenty billion times more. As a Rape Support Worker I know exactly how hard it can be for people to overcome the trauma of such experiences, and with a situation like this, there may not even be any support available to them.
Any chance they might have of becoming a strong survivor is potentially limited by their circumstances further. Their community may ostracise them (after all they’ve been through) because of the ingrained system of patriarchy so firmly embedded into their roots. They will suffer physically and emotionally, and sadly, it will most likely shape their entire future. Women are all too often caught in the crossfire in the matters of men, and all too often it is their lives which get ruined.
No person’s body should be part of the terrain of conflict, no matter what the situation is. Yet you can see how little these girls matter to the people who are supposedly in charge of making the moral decisions for the ‘good’ of their village. These girls are anyone’s for the taking, whether that’s to teach a lesson, obtain gratification without consent or anything else.
Speak For Those Who Cannot Speak
Some people won’t speak out because they’re afraid of seemingly insulting cultural practices or appearing patronising. However, I’m not afraid to say that the rights of women should come before the rights of those who seek to take them away in the most barbaric and archaic way possible. No, I’m not saying that the people in the courts there don’t deserve rights – the irony of that isn’t lost on me. I’m saying rape should NEVER be used as a tool for punishment, no matter what you have or haven’t done.
These girls may be silenced, but we have a voice. You can sign this petition here to hopefully get through to these oppressors and hopefully make them understand and show some humanity. Share this article or this petition with anyone you can think of to make yourself heard.
If this article brings up anything negative for you, you can talk to someone in confidence. Whether you have been raped, or a victim of honour based violence etc, Peterborough Rape Crisis Centre I work for takes calls from women all over the country on Wednesday evenings 7-9 or Saturday mornings 10-12. Their number is 01733 817 399. At other times, please visit the Rape Crisis website, or Karma Nirvana is great for issues of abuse within ethnic minority or religious communities. Men can head to Survivors UK.