Jokes apart, two fairly serious things occurred to make us rethink our rape narratives. One, in Dimapur, Nagaland, an angry mob stormed a prison and pulled out a prisoner, suspected of raping a local woman. Images of the violence inflicted upon this man were then liberally shared all over the internet: in one, you can see him hung up, as if crucified, his head hanging low, his body already limp. News reports have taken to calling him the ‘rapist’ in inverted commas, tsk-ing over how violent we are.
The crucifixion image is especially powerful, because it rewrites his crimes, makes him a man who dies for us instead of by us. It makes him an innocent man, and the media took this one step further by interviewing his mother and telling us all how “devastated” she was. To top it all of, the victim/perpetuater was also suspected to be an illegal refugee from Bangladesh, which apparently made the crowd even more angry. A chance to point fingers and call stranger danger is always welcome.
Of course, hanging up a man and killing him is no better than what the man’s actual crime was, and no one is denying that. Violence should never be met by violence, says the Indian government sagely, before ordering up a whole round of death penalties for various people. Of course, also people who ordered a ban on The Documentary, the British Here-Is-The-Rape-Problem-In-India docu-mentary, are nodding their heads. “This is what happens when we don’t ban things,” they think, conveniently forgetting that the ban led to more rage and more covert watching of the film than letting it air would. In many ways, a country is like a teenage daughter en masse. The more you tell it not to do something, the more it wants to.
But back to rape narratives. One of the reasons the people in charge didn’t want to air the documentary was because they thought it would tarnish the image of glorious India or some such rubbish. And you know what? They were kind of proven right when a German professor refused an internship to an Indian man because of “India's rape problem.”
That is an excuse I have never heard of to turn someone down for a job, and it is right up there on the creativity scale, perhaps even better than that old standby to turn down a perfectly qualified woman: “But what if you meet someone, get married and have babies and, therefore, become a potentially bad employee?” Yes, it’s not a great reason to turn someone down for a job, and the professor has since apologised, but I couldn’t help have a little shot of glee pass through me when I heard it. People are being turned down for jobs because of India’s rape problems, which means the rape problem is bigger than the woman who will just not shut up talking about it at parties ruining the taste of your whisky-soda with her outrage.
This means that it’s a problem that potentially men will also have to deal with. Like the people who ignore the garbage mounting up in the alley next to their house until they have fancy guests coming over and then they think, “Oh dear, I should clean up that alley.” Maybe this will be the wake-up call India’s men need to clean up their alley, so to speak.
Because men, we want to be on your side and fight for you. Because, cities, we need you to keep your anger in check so that we can argue for proper justice for your victims. Because we need to clean up our messes, but it’s best if we can all see the mess instead of sweeping it under the carpet.
(A version of this appeared in mydigitalfc last week.)