Since it broke, the news of the 11-year-old child with a hearing disability who was sexually abused by twenty men at her apartment complex in Chennai over the past few months has taken the city by storm. People are outraged as is evident from Facebook posts and ‘Is Chennai another Kathua?’ questions and the fact that little else is being spoken about.
I find myself yet again in a place where I have neither the means to process the scale of violence nor possess the language required to speak about it. I am not in denial. Neither is it disbelief. I’m quite aware of the extent humans may go to, especially when power and the impunity that it comes with shelters them. So it’s probably fatigue that is coming from failing to protect this child and to build a better society for our children, and waking up to realise that so much work being done against sexual harassment and violence is somehow not adding up. I’m of course a novice in a movement that has seen decades of hard work by fabulous people; yet I feel this exhaustion in engaging with the discussions.
“Atleast now can we accept that rape has nothing to do with what she was wearing or her lifestyle? It was a 11 year old kid,” said a post. And I was glad I came across it for in the comments section of that thread it was dawning upon people that rape has only to do with power and control, not temptation and a lack of self-control. Maybe the next time the rape of a woman who has been out drinking comes out (it’s a glass half-empty kind of day), less number of people will shame the victim.
Another post said, “We should blame the mother. How could she not know of her child’s whereabouts or realise her demeanour change over so many months?” No, we cannot blame the mother because the only persons to be held accountable are the accused, not just here, but in every case of sexual violence. If anyone else needs blaming, we could point the finger toward ourselves, for the silence we maintain about abuse, for the ways in which we will protect those we love and respect, and the shame that we shroud anything sexual with. And no, the mother cannot be called naive for believing that the apartment she was sold would be safe for her daughter to run around and play in and for trusting that the men employed to watch out for her daughter would not violate her. These are the very basics of the environment we want to build for children, and if we don’t have it, we must only do what it takes to change it.
Because no child should or can be protected each second of the day, and though it sounds counter-productive it’s the men in our lives whose every minute needs to be accounted for, like another post on Facebook suggested. Unsurprisingly, people are angry, emotionally charged, murderous. There are demands for death penalty, for stoning the perpetrators, for chopping them up and every other kind of graphic violence that people wish the accused in this case would be subjected to. It would do well to only conjure these trials and methods of seeking justice in our heads, because the bitter truth is that criminals we wish we could burn or would burn in hell have human rights too, though now might be the wrong time to engage with the social media mob on this. And no violence or painful lesson imparted to men accused of heinous crimes is going to save the next young man from being born with the patriarchal spoon, if we remain impassive to processes that victimise and cultures that silence.
The fatigue is coming from being asked when and where the protest is, I realise now. Well, protesting is a fundamental right you have as a citizen of this country and all it needs is energy and empathy to organise one. Enough with the same people screaming hoarse. Its time we all spoke up and did a little something. Channelise that anger, let me know the date and time, and I’ll be there.
The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton