First published on the 30th of December 2012 on Loyarburok
Early yesterday morning, an Indian woman died from severe internal injuries after being raped by six men in New Delhi. The global reportage of an unnamed rape victim is an unprecedented event for a crime that is depressingly commonplace and downplayed or sensationalised in the media.
For once, rape is not just a statistical data or a small news item but magnified to global proportions, thanks to the women and men who revolted in the streets of New Delhi against the complicity of their police force, government, and society in perpetuating sexual violence. Outside of India, men and women who do not normally sit up and express outrage about sexual violence suddenly are jolted into concerted protest.
A few hours after we hear the news, the details of the injuries the victim sustained begin to trickle in. Mourners worldwide absorb every detail to make sense of their anger and in some cases, to be perversely titillated. Many will wonder; first, how bad were her injuries that she died from them? Second, will the perpetrators be punished? The six men have now been charged with murder, but will they walk free later? In India, only 25% cases of sexual violence end in conviction.
The fact that she was a middle class medical student with a bright future cut brutally short should not be a factor why we – as a world – should care and why the horrific attack became newsworthy. We should care because rape must be taken seriously as a crime used to humiliate, avenge, and degrade an individual and whole communities. Rape is not sex or something she ‘deserved’ because of the way she dressed or behaved.
We must scrutinise how exceptional the media attention on this particular case is. Every month, India is mired by a slew of brutal sexual assault and rape cases. Extreme caste and gender inequalities contribute to a culture of misogyny and violence. This year, India has even been described as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. But all these have failed to move us until now.
Do we really think that because women are treated much worse in India, we have forgotten that rape occurs in Malaysia, too? Call me cynical if I point out that our collective attention and reaction are animated by media-assisted events. In other words, the reason behind our partiality to this one case in India lies in the high level of media coverage by major news providers. A similar argument can be made for how our attention span on an issue is significantly shaped by the speed and ephemerality of social media feeds.
We may not have cared at all, if not for the epic newsworthiness of the event. In fact, pick up any random local newspaper today and it is likely you will come across a similarly horrific case of sexual violence in the country, in your home state, or just around the corner from where you live. The media-manufactured nature of our outrage may be veiling our own hypocrisy about sexual violence against women and its roots in society: gender inequality. In 2007, Nurul Jazlin died from similar intestinal injuries as the unnamed woman but we did not march out in protest.
Just over a month ago, young Malay women and men of a similar age to the rape victim in New Delhi posted mocking tweets about why women get raped. Below are screenshots of their tweets:
The tweets above may be even more sickening now in light of the nameless woman’s death. Our collective sin of hypocrisy is dwarfed by the banality of evil above. Can we still blame a woman for how she dressed and behaved now that a casualty of rape is mourned on a global scale? If we think media manipulations have nothing to do with our sorrow and anger, why do we mourn this one time? One woman cannot be a sacrificial lamb to stand in for all the thousands of named and unnamed women and girls who have fallen victim to sexual violence.
In the meantime, we should laud every act and gesture that underlines how unacceptable sexism and misogyny is in Malaysia. We are witnessing the germ of this change from the top with the proposed banning of sexist language in Parliament. How is this connected to rape? Rape occurs because we live in a rape culture and a continuum of violence made up of ‘small’ things like harassment, threats of rape, sexual objectification of women, and Ombak Rindu. Every small act and word that shifts the blame on a woman for the unwanted attention and abuse she attracts adds to the impunity of sex offenders. Rapists rape because they believe they can get away with it.
Rape is not more egregious in another country. Protesters in India carried a banner with a message that is both chilling but all too true anywhere in the world: ‘Today is it was her, tomorrow it could be you’.