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Dec 02nd 2021
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Home Special Coverage News Rape: patriarchy and selective historiography

Rape: patriarchy and selective historiography

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Highlighting patriarchy and uneven gender relations could help check cases of rape in the long run.


The spate of horrific rapes in Haryana has drawn national attention to the abominable phenomenon of rape. Various diagnosis and prescriptions have also been suggested on the causes and the ways to prevent these rapes.

The progressive liberal tendencies and ideologies will link the phenomenon of rape to the prevalent uneven gender equations and so what follows as a preventive measure is the need to empower women and strengthen liberal norms in the society. The conservative opinions also have a wide shades of understandings.

Not too long ago a police top cop in Hyderabad linked rape to clothes girls wear, and was applauded by the Rashtra Seviak Samiti (a women’s organisation under RSS). There is a caste equation also involved in caste based atrocities where dalit women bear the brunt, the worst of which was witnessed in Khairlanji. During communal violence, women of 'other community' are subjected to this humiliation. In a way bodies of women become the site of contestation amongst these social groups, where women are regarded as the property of men.

In the spate of recent shameful incidents, the notorious Khaps gave the dictat that the marriageable age of girl should be lowered to 15 years as the girls now reach puberty before 11 years of age. Omprakash Chautala, before retracting his statement later, said “In the past, especially in Mughal era, people used to marry their girls to save them from such atrocities. Currently a situation of similar kind is arising in Haryana.” This formulation has lot of holes in it. Does marriage prevent rapes? Married women are also subjected to this atrocity is a well known fact.

Is it that the early marriage for girls started because of Mughal atrocities on ‘Hindu’ women? The latter formulation is also a part of social common sense prevalent in sections of society. Many instances like Padminis’ Jauhar (putting oneself in the fire) to prevent humiliation by rival king and the army is supposed to be one such example.

There is no doubt that many women might have committed such suicides to save themselves from anticipated situation. But is it that the Mughal rule or the rule of Muslim kings in different parts of the country stands out for such horrendous ignominies, while rulers of other religions were protecting women? Perhaps not! When Shivaji’s forces went to plunder Kalayan, apart from other loot they also brought the daughter-in-law of Kalyan’s ruler as a gift for Shivaji. It is another matter that Shivaji sent her back with full honours.

The plunder of wealth and humiliation, rape of women by different armies was, and remains, a part of highhanded behaviour. Armies in the past, irrespective of being Hindus, Muslims or Christians did it and are doing it even now. One shudders to even think of atrocities, which took place in Bosnia and Rwanda. Closer home this plagues Kashmir and the North East. The case of Manorama, who was abducted, raped and killed by the Indian army, will be etched in the memory of the nation as a dark spot on national conscience. After this event many a women protested in the most shameful way, stripping and carrying a banner “Indian Army rape us”.

The phenomenon, cutting across religious lines, is a result of the armed might of kings, generals and armies. To attribute it to Muslims Kings in India and army alone is a part of ‘communal historiography’ presented in a selective way. Incidentally, communal historiography is a way of presenting history through the prism of Kings’ religion, which was introduced in India by British to pursue their ‘divide and rule’ policy. One should also remember that the armies of Mughal kings had both Hindus and Muslims. The Commander-in-Chief of Akbar was Raja Mansingh and Aurangzeb had Mirza Raja Jaisingh as his associate.

As such child marriage, early marriage and marrying the girls before they attain puberty had become a part of religion so to say. In the nineteenth century when reformers were calling for a raise in the marriageable age of girls, the conservative sections argued that the Hindu girls must cohabit with their husbands before their first menses. During a debate on raising the age of consent for girls it was argued that raising it to 12 years would increase the possibility of a girl having her menses before cohabitation, so such a move by the state will tantamount to the ruler interfering in Hindu religion.

The trends for early marriage have been debated for centuries; those for an increase in the marriageable age could only succeed gradually and more so after Independence. Amongst Muslims conservative sections have been demanding the lowering of marriageable age for girls. But all conservative sections think alike, as the real issue is not religion but control over lives of women, strengthening patriarchy. This patriarchy has been presented as the part of religious practice, and in that way the imposition of patriarchal norms becomes easier.

Early marriage ensures total slavery of girls, apart from other miseries which result from early child bearing, and responsibility of household chores. An early pregnancy is also a biological risk to the mother and the child.

The struggle as such is between attempts to rid society of patriarchal control on one side and re-imposing the feudal norms in current times on the other. It is no wonder that Khaps, which are the most assertive in Haryana and other regions of North India, is one area where atrocities against Dalits are the maximum and the sex ratio is the lowest in the country. The agenda of these male only Khaps, in this area is very visible in the form of caste and gender subjugation. The Khaps, which are illegal, have been asserting and giving dictats on intra-gotra marriages. Cases equivalent to honour killing are also visible on and off.

The likes of Chautala may retract their statements due to political pressure, but their articulations do express the reality on ground. The need for social reform, women’s education and empowerment, is one of the ways to overcome fatwas of self appointed lawmakers. The Khaps need to be done away and Panchayats with 50 per cent reservation for women need to be empowered as per our constitutional norms. The interesting point of the Haryana phenomenon is that most victims, women and Dalits, both are facing atrocities.

While multiple theories and opinions on why rape as a phenomenon prevails, the major cause of this phenomenon, patriarchy and uneven gender relations need to be highlighted. Doing away with Khap and promoting grass root democracy through Panchayat system will lead to a more just society sans the likes of Khap.


---Ram Puniyani is a human rights activist working towards communal harmony in India.


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