A thirty-year-old man rapes a teenage girl in Kashmir. No outrage, no anger, nobody raises an alarm.
Nobody questions this power that men in the society function with, and the lack of fear that comes with it.
No one wants to see the inherent problem; Masculinity and Patriarchy, the problem with men.
“Oh my god, how is this even possible in our religious and spiritual society?
Where is this coming from?”
“Oh we don’t know…”
Well, you don’t want to know. You want to live with a lie of a ‘pure society’.
Showkat Ahmed of Brari Aangan Village of Anantnag exactly knew how much power he has as a man and how he will be shielded by the society, after committing a heinous crime of raping a teenage girl.
He’d threatened her and thought the case would never come out, like the majority rape cases in our spiritual valley, Raesh Waer.
Months later, the teenage girl complains of pains in the abdomen. In the hospital, she is declared eight months pregnant. The rapist was a close kin, an occasional visitor.
It happened only a few kilometers away from my home in Anantnag. It could be closer, it could be any of us, I wonder and shrug.
And no, it is not a miscreant from a ‘Kharaab Khaandaan’.
But it surely was our collective erasure of the society’s vices and shame.
Sexual harassment is a tabboo topic in our society, it brings cultural and religious shame to us. This, coupled up with the fear women have of moral and haraam policing, doesn’t let the majority cases get reported.
And the few cases that get reported are a rarity when parents of the victim are supportive and understanding, and see no other resort but a legal intervention.
In another case, a three year old girl was raped.
But what do we do when we come across these heinous headlines?
We call it “rotten society”, “criminal behavior”, or chant an Astagfurullah or two, and scroll on.
Our anger doesn’t even last a minute. That’s how dispensable women’s issues are to us. Sure, we have other major issues related to our threat to existence but that should not be an excuse to brush off women’s issues under the carpet. Should a rape and murder or any other harassment of women be deemed a non-issue?
Don’t talk of the rapist as the “other”, someone who is a monster, who suddenly dropped from thin air, one that you don’t recognize and have nothing to do with. Let’s acknowledge this; the rapist is a product of the society, the culture, the patriarchy and misogyny we all are a part of, and somewhere have nurtured.
The moment we give men the power to control women; their lives, their mobility, is the moment we should be ready to own the rapist as one of us.
Rapes are a product of our toxic masculine culture, where women are a disposable labour force, baby making machines and the guardians of the family’s honour.
Is there any other role women have in our society? Remind me if there is, because I can’t think of one.
Interestingly, even today, in many Kashmiri households, an earning woman is not a normal phenomenon wherein she is trying to mature financially, rather it just means that the woman has earned a more sellable persona to increase her likeability in the marriage market. She is earning for her in-laws. Her labour is for them, her body for their heirs and her earnings, their revenue.
Street (sexual) harassment in Kashmir is the most common yet conveniently invisibilized form of harassment.
I don’t know of any friend who hasn’t felt an unsolicited penis while traveling in public transport. Sorry if it’s not sophisticated language, but the intent is to make you face the reality.
When our society doesn’t bat an eye over such issues, normalising them by saying ‘men will be men’ and as a solution, policies the women and in no way holds the men, the perpetrators, accountable, be ready to own the rapist as one of you, as you.
Then there’s the superiority complex men have over women, or shall we call it insecurity that men have.
All a woman can be is pretty, presentable and later labour for men.
No, their opinions don’t count. When you express an opinion, they’ll laugh at you, infantilize you and tell you that “you are cute”.
In my higher secondary days, a mob of men would be waiting to stalk women outside the gate of my school. Some would follow us on scooters, bikes or cars, making our existence uncomfortable. And we in turn would feel helpless and realise our unfortunate position in the power structure of our society.
Every moment of a woman’s life is spent on strategizing how not to get raped.
Imagine living everyday with a fear of getting raped, in your house, in your streets, in your school, in every possible place you can think of.
Our misplaced notions of Haya and modesty have never allowed us to make a space for discussing sex, sexuality and reproductive health. We have never discussed good touch and bad touch with our children, not given them a comfortable space to talk about any unsolicited advances they might experience, or how saying no is more important than being polite.
I remember a case from my college years, where a guy would hit a girl with a leather belt right outside the coaching center where she studied. And this boy was known to the girl. These kinds of boys are our family, who take cues from the culture where men can abuse and/or hit women without any kind of accountability and punishment.
Why are women the ones to be morally policed and controlled all the time? Why are a large percentage of murders of women committed by family or intimate partners? Despite so many cases of rape by men, why are they, the real perpetrators, still left to live their life like nothing has happened?
Sexism and objectification of women has been normalised in everyday all-male conversations. Ask your brothers what they mean when they say, Pahalgam chu gasun, dapanaiy tati chu bahaar aamut.
The amount of harassment women face at these picnic spots in Kashmir is unprecedented. The over-bearing and threatening masculinity, muscle power, their cars and loud music, the hoots that make the existence of a woman cumbersome.
Why can’t women be allowed to breathe? Why do we let this get normalised?
This culture where women are not considered human, but an object to satiate a man’s sexual desires, can not be called a ‘pure’ or spiritual culture.
Such normalisation and internalisation is the reason that the rapist of that teenage girl and the 3 year old girl were not called out.
And neither should the increasing incidents of rapes shock us, because we created the perfect environment for these rapists to grow.
Each and every member of the society who has been nurtured by patriarchy is complicit of rapes that happen here.
Men, the moment your friends cracked a sexist joke, shared unsolicited pictures of women in your circles, and you remained silent, made YOU complicit of the rapes that happen around you.
The moment you saw a woman in your family being yelled at or hit, and you decided to ignore.
The moment you used religion at your convenience only to police a woman.
The moment you imposed your interpretation of deen on women
Congratulations, you gave misogyny an inroad into your ‘pure’ society.
When the definition of a shareef ladki (good woman) is one jisko mohalle mei koi nai jaanta (who no one knows) and a woman who roams around freely is an ill mannered one, we are sending out a loud message to men: there are some women you are allowed to morally police by any means necessary.
When we advise women on morality (who even decides what morality is?) and make distinctions between good and bad women, we are giving legitimacy to the fact that they will face ‘consequences’.
For a change, try treating women as humans and balance the skewed power equation between men and women, so that rapes won’t have a reason to exist.
A rape is not about sex. It is about power.
Muntaha Amin has studied Film and Media from Jamia Millia Islamia. Her research work revolves around representation politics, religion and gender.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir. Feedback and counter-views are welcome at [email protected].
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