We’ll admit it. When we first read the headline conveying a man had decided to take the law into his own hands and mutilate the genitals of his daughter’s alleged rapist, ultimately killing him, we smiled. Not because we thought it was humorous, but because it seemed just. Call it a variation of Newton’s 3rd law but it’s basic human instinct to want to see perpetrators of a crime punished with an act as extreme as the one they have inflicted upon others. And it seems disproportionate that someone should get off with nothing but a few years of prison, or get away scot free, for a crime as heinous as rape. Besides, it’s easy to sympathize with a father who methodically extracted his revenge and then turned himself in at the police station. At least he was willing to take full responsibility for his actions. Much more respectable, surely, than the 45-year-old monster who could rape a 14-year-old girl and warned her of dire consequences if she dared to open her mouth?
So what’s wrong with this picture, then? Because there is something gravely wrong that only appears in the details. And it’s made most clear in the rabid comments below some of these articles, that applaud the father’s actions.
# 1: His reasons for not reporting it to the police were all wrong. In fact, they’re representative of one of India’s biggest problems when it comes to rape—-allowing it to dictate the victim’s honour.
This was a pre-meditated plan by the father, who studiously avoided filing a formal complaint. Even though he later admitted that it was never his intention to kill his tenant, the real reason he refrained from reporting it to authorities when he found out 2 weeks earlier was because he feared that his daughter might get a ‘bad name.’ Of course, this is far more reflective of a society that shames victims into feeling as though they are some how less worthy after being raped. It’s time we all took the burden of changing this narrative upon ourselves and allowed rape survivors to re-socialise themselves without bearing this kind of stigma. Case in point, this campaign that glorifies men who would marry a rape victim. Its heart might be in the right place, but the damage mindsets like this are inflicting are far more dangerous (and impactful) than we think.
Moreover, it’s time we accepted rape is much less about sex than it is about control. Situations differ, but in India, women’s bodies have become a battleground which can be used to build up or destroy family honour. Or sexual harassment is used as a tool to maintain the deeply imbalanced power relations between the genders.
# 2: Revenge without legitimate proof is still a terrifying concept.
India is the last country that can allow anarchy to take rein. The fact remains that the father did not have any proof of his tenant’s acts and hence, we cannot rule out the possibility that he could have inflicted this kind of torture on the wrong man. We know this isn’t the case because he told police in his statement that he was further infuriated when the alleged rapist didn’t apologise and started making lewd, angry comments instead but we cannot rule it out either, for the sake of future cases like this.
In fact, all we have are articles to go by and they seem to be providing completely different accounts. In an Indian Express article, it’s noted that the father “called the medicine supplier over to his house saying he wanted to discuss some issue. He served him dinner. After the meal, the father overpowered the man and tied him to a chair. He got heated tongs and burned the supplier’s genitals before strangling him to death.”
Other accounts claim he only meant to mutilate his genitals and never thought it would lead to his death. The question of strangulation doesn’t arise at all.
While we do appreciate the frustration of dealing with such a slow-moving judiciary, an insensitive police force, and so many other bureaucratic hoops , it’s of more value for us to work towards fixing those systems than it is to let people take the law into their own hand if we really want to bring down the volume of such horrific occurrences. A few cases might be solved quicker in this manner perhaps, but the number of innocent accused people who would end up suffering is not a casualty we should be ok with. And make no bones about it, it’s the privileged sections of society that would wield the power here.
Conclusively, like we said earlier, we really do feel for the father. When he mentions his fury upon seeing the rapist looking happy with his family while his own daughter was suffering, it’s impossible not to relate. By all means, understand his plight and let’s hope the charges against him take the circumstances into account before punishing him too harshly. But don’t glorify what he did, because that’s not the answer. And don’t miss out on the finer nuances—-ones that reflect everything that’s wrong with how we deal/think/talk about rape—-just because it’s convenient.
Words: Mandovi Menon
[If you could relate to some of this article, you should also read our piece on ‘The Myth Of The Impoverished Narrative’ that discusses the importance of changing the rape narrative in India.]