New Internationalist

Should we ‘Bobbitize’ the rapists?

Anti-rape protest in India [Related Image]
Protesters show their anger after a gang rape in Delhi, 2012. Ramesh Lalwani under a Creative Commons Licence

Confused, conflicted threads of thought. Irrational, often incoherent responses. Thank you, Glenn for Comment  6 on my Fighting Sexism blog. It resuscitated the blog and brought in fresh responses from Indian women who understand and empathize with my reaction, indeed, my rage, at alcohol-related domestic violence. It forced me to stop and think seriously about violence.

Glenn’s comment provoked several new responses to a blog which apparently confused many readers. And after much thought, after really intense analysis of my deepest feelings, I must confess that my gut reaction is vastly different from my self-professed philosophy of nonviolence. Let me explain.

Glenn wrote: ‘you, as presumably a good left-leaning, violence-abhorring person, advocated forming a “vigilante team to beat up drunken men who enter the village”. So, to be clear, that’s “other” men, not the man who beat his wife, but “any” other man, whose only “crime” was to get drunk. You think women should get together and violently beat men for doing nothing more than drinking? Because one man was violent when drunk, therefore others “might” be violent when drunk?’

First of all, Glenn, left-leaning does not imply violence-abhorring. History teaches us differently. But that’s another story.

Glenn’s comment came hot on the heels of a news report I read in The Times of India about a young girl, Sumitra*, who was raped by her uncle, a tantrik priest who had been called in to heal her. Most Indian readers could not believe that a teenage Bihari girl could fight back so fiercely – but in fact, the girl was raised outside India. On 1 July while in Bihar, Sumitra fell ill. Her mother, who thought that she was ill because of supernatural spells, called in the priest. Tantrik practioners are believed to have enormous skill in healing and hurting, in casting or cancelling spells – much like voodoo high priests. The man took the girl into a secluded room, away from the others, to exorcise the evil influence. He then gagged and raped her. He summoned her back the next day for a second  exorcism session.  Now here lies the twist in the tale.

The girl said nothing to anyone. But when she returned the next day, she recorded his conversation on her cell phone, then castrated him with a knife. Although local police and others tried to hush up the story, she went to a women’s police station and filed rape charges.

Now, according to my deeply held views on nonviolence, I should be horrified. Instead, I joined millions of people around the world who, after reading this story, reacted: ‘Good for you! Way to go, girl!’ We’ve had our fill of stories of rape and child abuse. Even the most rational people have begun to demand effective punishment to make our streets safer.

So there’s a wave of exultation, because one bastard, scum-bag rapist got a taste of his own medicine. For once, justice neither delayed nor denied. What’s not to cheer about? Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. But I was jubilant, and cannot pretend otherwise.

I realized too, in my deepest core, that if I needed to, I could, with no compunction or remorse, hit, shoot, stab or do anything, however repugnantly violent, to defend women or children, or anyone defenceless, against a rapist or evil abuser.

And herein lies the difference. I cannot and will not support the perpetration of violence in any manner or form. But when women who have to face drunken, violent husbands or, in the case of Sumitra and thousands and thousands of other women who have been raped, defend themselves, then their actions cannot and must not be judged from the moral high ground of nonviolent principles. At this point of my life, I realize that, to use a cliché, life is complicated. And no amount of moral posturing or high-brow debate on the rights and wrongs of violence, is going to make life different for women like Sumitra, I understood  her feelings completely. And I empathized with her totally. So, I confess to celebrating her act of extreme violence. There I have said it!

Now I await your responses.

 *name changed

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  1. #1 Nathan 08 Aug 14

    Well, that last sentance of yours should certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons.
    Although I can wholeheartedly understand where the sentiment comes from.
    It can be a cruel and sometimes evil world. I think in the name of genuine self defence against and any violent or life threatening attack any person would do what they can to defend themselves or their family, even the most ardent pacifists amongst us.
    Well said Mari, very brave.
    And best of luck

  2. #2 SGT 08 Aug 14

    Like Nathan I believe I am a pacifist. I believe in non-violence as a core principle. Yet I must confess that when I have been physically attacked I have retaliated violently. Mari's blog gives us pause - to reflect more deeply on our notions and positions of non-violence.

    We must differentiate as she points out between acts of self defence and acts of perpetration. Perpetrators of violence - whether at the individual household level or at the larger nation state level - must be prepared to have their violence met with violence.

  3. #3 Joe 08 Aug 14

    Well, now. I find all of this understandable, and probably also agreeable, enough. But none of it has much of anything to do with ’form[ing] a vigilante team to beat up drunken men who entered the village.’ That's the question on the table, no? Or did I miss an answer to it?

    Perhaps your earlier statement has some unique cultural context in which men only ever drink before perpetuating some awful act of violence. But if that's the claim, however farfetched it seems, you should spell it out. It certainly isn't clear to most of your readers at this point.

  4. #4 Ludwig Pesch 08 Aug 14

    Sad but, to the best of my understanding, so true: as student in Chennai it dawned on me that marriage for many poor women was an institutionalised form of slavery-cum-rape at the hands of husbands they neither could choose nor hope to escape. (Plenty of poor women there, most bravely going about their daily work of raising several children of their own in addition to minding those of well-to-do households.
    I wonder how much has changed since (30 odd years later), with alternating periods of a woman Chief-Minister. (South Asia's strong (or ’big’) women, too, must have tried to make a difference in this regard while in power; but that's hard to gauge, be it in Pakistan or India (both assassinated), in Sri Lanka just as in Bangladesh.
    On the other side, the fisher women passing my home on the Bay of Bengal were regularly seen chasing and beating their drunken husbands (just in time before they could spend all their earnings, the night's catch these women had just sold in the morning). Alcohol obviously played in their lives as a cause of domestic violence, something children grew up with while the guardians of the law routinely ’earned’ their share looking the other way ...
    I hasten to add that alcohol, contrary to public perception, played a similar role in educated middle class society; yet with education came both, a determination and the strategies needed to hide the problem from public discussion. Here self-righteous entrepreneurs would earn their large fortunes that enabled them to donate to major charities (tax-exemptions readily available for them, unlike the beachside bootleggers whose activities I witnessed on a daily basis).
    It hasn't really ever since is obvious from this blog.
    What a difference from what we have learnt about Adivasi society, right here in Mari's blog; i.e. that informed choices have become available (again) to its youth through - good education!

  5. #5 Communal 09 Aug 14

    BC/SC/ST/FC should live in separate states

  6. #6 mari 09 Aug 14

    Joe, Nathan n Glenn

    As you may have gathered from the comments on the previous blog, re alcohol in India, perhaps the use of the word 'vigilante' was a mistake. But the cultural implications are strong. Since the majority of Indians are not used to alcohol, consumption happens in a weird manner. Its not social drinking as in a pub or party in the UK. And poor women all over India, (not middle-class or rich) have made banning of alcohol an election issue. So you can imagine how strong womens' feelings are on the subject.

    To do justice to this and explain it, I will have to write another blog.
    Thank you for taking the trouble to write in. appreciate it.


    Indian men

  7. #7 Sushma 09 Aug 14

    I think it's a question of the oppressor getting his ’just dues’.

    We can wait forever and a day for the legal sytem to dish out justice, I far prefer folks taking things into their own hands. A sort of rough justice - I have absolutely no compunction about rapists being castrated.

  8. #8 Christina 09 Aug 14

    Your position here reminds me a bit of the police's position in this case:

  9. #9 Aloke Surin 10 Aug 14

    Mari, you have certainly stirred up a hornet's nest of comments on this contentious and emotive issue. I tend to agree with those who think that the notion of ’non-violence’ is valid and practicable only up to a certain extent. Desperate situations do need desperate remedies and in the case of sexual violence perpetrated on women, I personally think there is absolutely no room for turning the other cheek. The argument that a rapist too has ’human rights’ rings hollow. Deal with them in the same manner that hardened criminals are dealt with.

  10. #10 mari 11 Aug 14

    Watch video: Bangalore woman chases, kicks molester

    I think more and more women, frustrated with inaction and no justice are fighting back.


  11. #11 Chandrika Sen Sharma 11 Aug 14

    Mari - I confess to feeling the same! I don't think i can hurt of violently attack another person - too much ’in-his-shoesitis!’ However, no one knows how they react when fighting for their lives of the life of a loved one! I hope never to be faced with that choice!

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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