In India, pestilence comes in deathly cycles. Drought, flood, dengue, extreme heat/cold—all have seasonal patterns. Only morbid human behaviour seems to flow like a perennial river, available in all its contortions, across seasons. Even so, with lynchings and rape, we seem to be witnessing a most bizarre tidal glut. They are of course two entirely different species.
Lynching is a public act to be consumed by eyes and minds. Rape, by contrast, is a form of violence we would assume falls in an unlit realm, away from the public gaze. At most, a depravity of a handful of men out to prove themselves by a sort of ritual violence on the species that threatens them most.
But a curiously familiar—the force-multiplying effect of media—seems to be playing out here too. Since the Nirbhaya case of 2012 that triggered endless public debates, the instances of rape (often accompanied by brutal murder) seem to have only increased. Did all the public airing of gory details have a perversely prurient effect? Like the videos sold on the cheap in the countryside that swears by honour? Just this fortnight, Haryana logged two cases.
One in Sonepat-Rohtak, the other around Gurgaon. One was a local girl, the other a single mother from the Northeast. One had her skull smashed in, the other has to live with the thought that a friendly acquaintance had turned her over to predators. And then, for variation, the Kerala godman case.
Some of the post-Nirbhaya debates had been about what punitive measures are appropriate for rape. The godman’s castration—politicians had minor quarrels about whether the girl was right—fits right into that, especially since he is a hardened criminal who relied on an old power asymmetry. We are nowhere close to answers.
But other, very disturbing questions also loom. How can we talk of creating gender empathy when we, as a society, seem to be normalising violence through media and actually generating a new imitation cult of rape?